Is It Really a Masterpiece, or Is It Just Some Stuff You Liked?
At some point in my writerly life, I received this note: “If everything is weird, then nothing is weird.” In other words, one unusual thing on its own remains, well, unusual. So what happens when descriptive language becomes homogenized to the point that seemingly any gushing review could be about literally anything? We’ve all seen it: the language soup that emerges when anyone online consumes anything, the MadLibs-like discourse that occurs when people engage with art and social media at the same time. Gutted. An absolute masterclass. A meditation on. Chef’s kiss. Masterpiece. Staring into your phone, you feel both a part of something and downright gaslit as you rack your brain for what could possibly garner this extreme praise. You might even think, “Hey, I liked that thing, too!” but your thoughts stop there. Because to you, it wasn’t a “Masterpiece”—it was just a thing you liked. Which is fine! I love when stuff is just stuff. And besides, reactions to art and media will always be subjective, and that’s okay. In fact, that’s the point. But I feel like we’re moving away from the subjective and into a scripted, all-or-nothing approach to fandom. We seem to be screaming/crying/throwing up all the time. Seems terrible for GI health!
So if everything is a Masterpiece, then is nothing a Masterpiece?
To be very clear: I am not commenting on the quality of the work itself. Writers work hard to give us our stories, and they deserve praise (and more money—I’m looking at you, AMPTP!) . But as viewers, we owe it to them to not respond like bots. We owe it to them to at least seem like we did the homework, instead of parroting the first dozen tweets we saw post-show. Participating is fun, and I get that, but the subsequent uncanny valley of language continues to widen. We are copying and pasting our way to our own linguistic death.
The cult of critical language isn’t just repetitive, but superlative to boot. It feels like everything that’s aired in 2023 has brought out the internet Masterpiece Czars to hereby declare admission into the Book of Masterpieces. I assume these tomes reside with the Absolute Masterclasses in Storytelling and the Absolute Masterclasses in Character Study. Lists of actors who JUST WON THEIR EMMY get a separate, longer book.
My solution: Thesaurus.com. Per this website—it used to be a book—you can find other words that also mean “Masterpiece.” Your search may yield results such as “classic” (evergreen!), “gem” (cute!), or even a “monument” (dramatic!). You can find words that mean “good,” “pretty good,” or “I don’t think I followed, but I liked when the shiny man was mean to the tall guy.” If you weren’t fond of the content but still want to participate in the discourse, you can find faux- intellectual alternatives. Nothing says “Yes I watched it, no I don’t care” quite like the thunderous review of Interesting! Or, you can take the bold route, one that pays the ultimate homage to language: don’t post anything. Nothing shows your commitment to the preservation of language quite like not using any at all.
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*For each moot, we generate a cover image using DALL·E, an AI art platform that generates images using natural language processing. This image on the right was generated using the title, 'Is It Really a Masterpiece, or Is It Just Some Stuff You Liked? ' in the style of Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, Katherine Markovich's artist of choice.*