So, the big news out of OCRsylvania this week is that there’s now a documentary about OCR.
It’s tricky to say what I want to say about it, because I don’t want to be a dick, but I hope to encourage reaction to it that’s constructive. I probably will fail somewhat at the first part, and probably the second part too, but let’s go.
Point 1: I think it is important to remember here that the person who has created something has done a much more impressive thing than someone who comments on it. So regardless of what the movie is, props to the filmmakers for planning, funding, and executing the project.
Point 2: I haven’t seen the film. So when I talk about the movie, I’m talking about the concept of a documentary about OCR, rather than this movie itself.
Point 3: This movie has parallels to another movie whose paths I’ve traveled in the same general vicinity of but haven’t crossed. Without giving identifying detail, at the time I was working for a professional association, and someone produced a documentary about the profession and how it was portrayed in the media. This subject was catnip to said profession. The membership magazine for which I worked had a monthly department devoted to it, and when people felt like complaining (a constant occurrence), “contributing to negative stereotypes of the profession” was a common and easily retweetable criticism. There were even association presidential campaigns that included fighting the stereotype as central parts of their platforms.
This obsession didn’t increase my respect for the profession one bit.* And while the movie’s premiere (which took place at the association’s annual conference) was a big event within said conference, it didn’t translate into the Oscar nomination the producers expected (I promise I am not making that up) or any kind of distribution deal or anyone that I’m aware of thinking about it once the conference was over.
Well, I guess I think of it periodically, whenever I need an example of how self-obsessed the profession can be. But the desperation for legitimacy embiggened no one, and the same could be said for OCR. It’s legitimate, regardless of whether there’s a movie about it or not.**
Neither gives me much reason to see the movie, apart from their assertion that the movie’s great and that it’s about an activity that I enjoy. Beyond that… it’s about the history of the sport, and it has interviews with prominent figures in the industry, and there’s something about the filmmaker’s journey.
But that doesn’t really tell me much about what the story actually is, let alone whether it’s well told. Is it a straightforward history, or is there some bit of focus or insight that’s noteworthy? The characters are eccentric, one of the reviews promises, but are they eccentric for eccentricity’s sake, or eccentric because that’s their brand and appearing eccentric is good for business, or because they genuinely see the world in a way that most people don’t and have adapted their actions to reflect it?
Is the story uplifting? Funny? A tale of interpersonal conflict? A lesson in how to build an industry? Or is it just a bunch of people shouting about how they matter? By not giving much information about what the story is, the reviews kind of suggest that it’s the last. I hope that’s not true.
Point 5: “OCR enthusiast” isn’t a victim class. The reviews claim that the movie will help OCR enthusiasts explain why they enjoy the activity to people who think they’re nuts. But I’ve never had any trouble with that. “Because I enjoy being outside, and in nature, doing obstacles that are unusual and challenging” has always been enough for me. And if it’s not, one of the really nice bits about being a grown up is that I have the wherewithal to not care.
In any event, it’s no more difficult than explaining why you enjoy, say, spending huge amounts of money to hit a little white ball with a variety of different sticks for three minutes over four and a half hours, or smearing pigmented ink on a piece of stretched canvas or using cards to try to win other cards by comparing the values on the cards, only sometimes some of the cards are worth more or less than the value they have based on arbitrary rules, but golfers, painters, and card-players don’t tend to feel the need to have a documentary to explain their hobbies. So I guess this might be point 3A.
Point 6: My rampant cynicism has shown throughout this piece, hasn’t it. So let’s pull that back a bit. It is cool that there’s a movie about OCR, and it’s okay to be excited, and I do genuinely wish the producers all the best with it. But the reviews I’ve seen seem to take enjoying the movie as a duty, rather than a natural reaction to it. If liking the movie is a duty, well, I get that. (My magazine from point 3 certainly pimped the movie plenty.****) But if it’s a movie that genuinely warrants wide viewing on its own merits, make that case.
* Which is a shame, because I think it’s fundamentally a force for good, even though it gets a lot of the details wrong.
** Although if you really want legitimacy from a movie, you need to get a porn movie take on it. That’s why everyone loves Star Trek so much.
*** Full disclosure: I’ve contributed two posts to ORM. I am not on their staff, however, and I’m writing this post without their approval or awareness.
**** Admittedly, less than the producers wanted. They believed it warranted a monthly column. Again, I’m not making that up.