Let me paint a picture.
The year was 1997. I was 17 and on top of the world. My best friend and I were comic book kids to the bone, so it was only natural that when Batman and Robin hit theaters on June 20th that we ran right to a theater and plopped our money down to see it.
Now, Tim Burton’s Batman had come and gone. An over stylized and violent take on the character, it had really given a resurgence to the franchise, even if only built on the back of Jack Nicholson’s Joker performance. But after two over the top installments, his version crashed and burned. Something about Happy Meals. The post Burton Gotham world that grew in its wake was coated in black light neon. The Batsuit grew nipples. It was the Batman TV show smashed against Tron.
Clearly, this was Happy Meal toy material.
I’m pretty sure we knew what we were getting into. We’d seen Batman Forever. (I still don’t know why its called that.) But we went anyways. Our love for the four color superheroes could not be quashed. It was in the midst of the movie’s climax that it happened. The realization that this might be the worst movie I’d ever seen. At this point we’d already chortled our way through most of the movie in a laughing in lieu of crying kind of way. Poison Ivy was reeking real havoc on the Bat boys in a gangly actress that Hollywood pretends is a sex symbol kind of way. IE she was drugging them.
So Robin wanders up and tries to talk the evil plan out of Poison Ivy. She gives in, but only in exchange for a kiss. He caves and receives a big old wet one. She leans back and proudly extolls, “Now die!” and waits for her killer kiss to take effect. I remember this moment vividly. I remember where we were sitting in the theater. I remember someone coming in or leaving a moment beforehand – the theater bathed in sunlight for a moment. My friend screams out, “Ha, Ha! Rubber Lips!” On screen, Robin peels a thin rubbery substance from his lips and says, “Sorry Ivy, rubber lips are impervious to your kiss.”
This was the moment my expectations died.
There’s an idea that we all need to come to grips with and it applies to every aspect of our lives—including our art. Just because we love something and hold it dear, that doesn’t mean we should expect that others are going to treat that thing with respect. Whether we’re talking about your hot rod, Batman, your mother or your art. The world is a harsh place full of people doing and saying stupid things. And the things you love probably aren’t going to receive the respect they deserve.
So what does this all mean for us?
Let’s talk Batman VS Superman: Dawn of Justice. This thing got roughed up pretty good across the critical arena and a mix of reviews from the fans. Let’s be honest, critics are a prime example of people who get paid to crap on stuff for a living. Most critics have never created anything. To the critics I say, Nothing. They’re just not worth it. But to the fans…Come on guys! Batman and Robin. Go. See. It. Then watch Bats VS Supes and re-evaluate. When you plop your money down for a movie, (and this applies to all movies in my opinion) you should expect that Hollywood screwed it up. And when they only sort of screwed it up, Be Happy!
I hate to say that this is how I approach life. It sounds sad and pathetic. But IT IS how I approach life. And I tend to leave the movie theater with a smile on my face. When you don’t expect much, you give everyone a chance to over deliver. And that equation equals satisfaction every day of the week.
What does this have to do with my art? Or my mother? I hear you say.
It’s really pretty simple. The secret to a happier life and a fuller portfolio is that we all need to reign in our expectations. Expectations get you hurt. Perfection isn’t possible. Jake Parker has a catch phrase for this. Finished, not perfect. And that’s what we all need in our art. Likewise, we need to stop expecting that others are going to treat our art or our mother with the love that we do. The sooner we embrace this fact the sooner we’ll be able to move forward and improve our art. (Leave improving you mother to her shrink and your dad. OR your other mom. Or whatever.)
Most importantly, expectations can be linked to another important part of an artists tool kit: consistency. While having high expectations for your work can be damaging, the expectation of consistency from your fans can be critical. The thing is, the expectation isn’t for you to deliver gold—it’s just for you to deliver at all.
So the next time you get locked up and struggle to deliver art that isn’t quite what you wanted it to be, have some faith and deliver it anyway. You’ll be better for it. You’ll be making forward progress. And you just might build an audience.
And the next time a Batman film comes out. Just see the dang thing and be happy there aren’t any rubber lips.
Thanks for tuning in my Legion of Havoc. Be sure to tune your Bat Nipples to this channel next week for an article about how Quantity is always better than Quality. And leave a little notey-poo for me down below. If you don’t know what to say, use Bat Nipples as a writing Prompt. Until next week, go forth and Unleash the Havoc of your talent upon the world.