Taking a look behind the scenes before publicly dismissing something
Lately I started a new thing: watching “behind the scenes” features of movies I didn’t like. At first this happened by chance (YouTube autoplay, to be precise), but now I do it deliberately and it is fascinating.
When doing that, one thing becomes clear: even if you don’t like something — it was done by people. People who had fun doing it. People who put a lot of work into it. People who — for a short period of time at least — thought they were part of something great.
That the end product us flawed or lamentable might not even be their fault. Many a good movie was ruined in the cutting room or hindered by censorship.
Hitchcock’s masterpiece Psycho almost didn’t make it to the screen because you see the flushing of a toilet. Other movies are watered down to get a rating that is more suitable for those who spend the most in cinemas: teenagers. Sometimes it is about keeping the running time of the movie to one that allows for just the right amount of ads to be shown when aired on television.
Take for example Halle Berry as Storm in X-Men. Her “What happens to a toad when it gets struck by lightning? The same thing that happens to everything else.” in her battle with Toad is generally seen as one of the cheesiest and most pointless lines:
This was a problem with cutting. Originally this is a comeback for Toad using this as his tagline throughout the movie:
However, as it turns out, that was meant to be the punch line to a running joke in the movie. Apparently, Toad had this thing that multiple times throughout the movie, he would use the line ‘Do you know what happens when a Toad…’ and whatever was relevant at the time. It was meant to happen several times throughout the movie and Storm using the line against him would have actually seemed really witty. If only we had been granted the context.
In many cases this extra knowledge doesn’t change the fact that I don’t like the movie. But it makes me feel different about it. It makes my criticism more nuanced. It makes me realise that a final product is a result of many changes and voices and power being yielded and it isn’t the fault of the actors or sometimes even the director.
And it is arrogant and hurtful of me to viciously criticise a product without knowing what went into it.
It is easy to do. It is sometimes fun to do. It makes you look like someone who knows their stuff and is berating bad quality products. But it is prudent to remember that people are behind things you criticise.
Let’s take this back to the web for a moment. Yesterday I had a quick exchange on Twitter that reminded me of this approach of mine.
- Somebody said people write native apps because a certain part of the web stack is broken.
- I replied that this makes no sense and is not helping the conversation about the broken technology. And that it is overly dismissive and hurtful
- The person then admitted knowing nothing about app creation, but was pretty taken aback by me saying what he did was hurtful instead of just dismissive.
Now imagine this person seeing this exchange. Hearing a developer relations person who worked for the largest and coolest companies flat out stating that what you’re trying to get your head around right now is shit. Do you think you’ll feel empowered? I wouldn’t.
I’m not saying we can’t and shouldn’t criticise. I’m just saying knowing the context helps. And realising that being dismissive is always hurtful, especially when you have no idea how much work went into a product or an idea that you just don’t like.
There is a simple way to make this better. Ask questions. Ask why somebody did something the way they did it. And if you see that it is lack of experience or flat out wrong use of something, help them. It is pretty exciting. Often you will find that your first gut feeling of “this person is so wrong” is not correct, but that there are much more interesting problems behind the outcome. So go and look behind the scenes. Ask for context before telling people they’re doing it wrong.