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  1. #1
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    In Defense of Scmaltz

    I cannot stop thinking about this topic. Why is it automatically assumed that it is inferior, unsophisticated, undesirable, or even shameful to be sentimental, emotionally honest, and vulnerable? Why is it so bad and so scary to lay your pain and joy bare to all the world to see?

    I am thinking of the various David Wilson's programs that are often criticized for being boring, sentimental, or cheesy. Take for example The Way We Were he made for Dube and Davison last season. It makes perfect sense knowing their history. Take for example my favorite of all of Michelle Kwan's programs --- not any competitive program but the exhibition "Fields of Gold," after she did not win the Olympic gold medal.

    It occurred to me that intellectuals tend to celebrate perfect, flawless works that are to be admired. A creation is judged by how few blemishes it contains. Diamonds are a highly desirable object, because it is the hardest substance and resistant to cuts and scratches. We celebrate people and feelings that cannot be harmed and hurt. Strength and toughness. Pure beauty. The absence of vulnerability. The purer the better. Being earnest is far worse than being stupid or nasty.

    Yet that is not what people respond to. People respond to schmaltz.

    You can dismiss it as shallow, silly, simple-minded, and naive, but in reality emotions have a much stronger grip on our brain (or what is known as the heart) than intellectual thoughts. And what connects us is emotional empathy between any two people.

    Although admiration for something hard and flawless is powerful, it is no match for touching one's soft spot in the heart. The cortex of consciousness looks down on the lowly emotional brain, but even the rationale brain has learned enough science to realize that it is the emotional brain that rules our behaviors and instincts.

    (Well, what am I trying to say? It is late and I cannot sleep. I am rambling.)

    When honest emotions are laid out with no pretension, no shell of self-protection, no attempt to impress or manipulate, no intention to seduce or conquer, no dressing-up, no projection of fear, when all you give is "Look, this is my pain, my errors, my vulnerability, my true self, and nothing else," I think you get something that resonates.

    Perhaps emotions get a bad reputation because they are susceptible to manipulations by falsehood and because they have no advocate in front of the abstract mind. Yet, there is a distinctive difference between cheap, manipulative attempts and honesty. I do believe that most people can tell the difference when they are presented with something that is true and raw.

    Emotions are by nature not complex or abstract, not rationale, not cool, not flawless, not invincible. It takes enormous courage and strength to allow others, even strangers, to access one's most tender and vulnerable emotions. It takes enormous faith in human empathy and kindness to give a piece of oneself to others and expect them to treat it with tenderness and care. Most of us cannot. Most of us are afraid.

    I know a lot of Canadian skaters and their programs are considered too cheesy, too naive, too shallow, too simple, and unsophisticated. Yet I am often moved by this trust they seem to place in others and almost covet it, for it takes a generous and kind people to allow this sense of safety, so that one can lay bare one's emotions without the fear of being ridiculed or harmed.

    I believe art is a bond that connects people. In life we have enough reasons to hide behind each of our armors of pretension. Art is a place where people find refuge to be their true selves. Art demands a certain humility; it demands that you give a piece of you that is completely real. It may not count as high art, but it is real.
    Last edited by Jun Y; 07-18-2010 at 08:03 AM.

  2. #2

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    I think people complain about schmaltz because it isn't emotionally honest. Who says emotional connection and "high art" are mutually exclusive?

    Anyway, why are you stereotyping "intellectuals"? Actually, what do you even mean by that term?
    "Corporation, n. An ingenious device for obtaining individual profit without individual responsibility." - Ambrose Bierce

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    Quote Originally Posted by VIETgrlTerifa View Post
    Anyway, why are you stereotyping "intellectuals"? Actually, what do you even mean by that term?
    You don't know what I mean? Well, sorry but I can't help you there.

    Ugh. I spelled the word "schmaltz" wrong again in the title. I should absolutely stay away from Yiddish words from now on.

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    Is this an essay for an english class If skating's good, it's good. CoP probably helped to take a bit of the finesse and naturalness out of the free program so schmaltzy programs aren't typically as captivating anymore.

  5. #5
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jun Y View Post
    I cannot stop thinking about this topic. Why is it automatically assumed that it is inferior, unsophisticated, undesirable, or even shameful to be sentimental, emotionally honest, and vulnerable? Why is it so bad and so scary to lay your pain and joy bare to all the world to see?

    I am thinking of the various David Wilson's programs that are often criticized for being boring, sentimental, or cheesy. Take for example The Way We Were he made for Dube and Davison last season. It makes perfect sense knowing their history. Take for example my favorite of all of Michelle Kwan's programs --- not any competitive program but the exhibition "Fields of Gold," after she did not win the Olympic gold medal........
    I think VIETgrlTerifa hit the nail on the head. It takes an extraordinary skater to transcend technique and become one with the music, however much Peggy Fleming may have stated otherwise

    Schmaltz can be entertaining, funny and I see nothing wrong with it in the correct context if that is the main aim. However, as has been said, words like cheesy and schmaltz become labels for work where there is no emotional truth and where schmaltz clearly wasn't the desired effect! There are so many programs now where you can see the skaters thinking through from a choreographic point of view. Smile on this step at the judges - 'O' face here. Arms outstretched orgasmically after the three-turn, stroke face and look grief-stricken on a spreadeagle. I could go on and on.

    Of course they are athletes, not actors but the greatest skaters are able to move you or elicit a certain emotion which comes from being honest on the ice. Some skaters are able to take choreography and do just that - very rarely but still. Others clearly are just going through the motions without any understanding of what it actually means which is blatantly obvious.

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    that is so true, you can't teach that. It comes from the heart and is so obvious from the spectator point of view.

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    What I resent is people using "entertaining" as a bad word to describe a skate. I have no objection whatever to being entertained. And real, honest entertainment, intended as entertainment, is more pleasing to me than contrived, fake drama.

    In other words, I enjoy watching Ryan Bradley, when he's on

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    You got me lost at schmaltz Jun Y because there is nothing wrong with good skating and overdosed emotions .

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    I think most people can enjoy schmaltz to a certain degree. I know I can be pretty sentimental myself but even I have limits. Cheeze is just cheeze. Like chicken soup for the soul, there's a point where excessive sentimentality just makes something seem artificial and immature, shallow.

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    I think that quite often, yes it's cheese, but there are the rare times when it does come out right, like Dubreuil/Lauzon's Somewhere in Time FD, which was gorgeous and perfect for them and their relationship. But then it started to become a bit cheesier the next year when the stuck with that exact same theme with their At Last FD. Still gorgeous, but cheesier.

  11. #11
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jun Y View Post
    Why is it so bad and so scary to lay your pain and joy bare to all the world to see?
    Because it can often come off as manipulative and becomes all about "ME, ME, ME". These are not programs but I'd classify these moments as schmaltzy:

    1. Oksana sobbing and couldn't complete any jump throughout her "You'll See" program at the Ryder Pro comp after Sergei's death.
    2. Nicole dropping down to one knee and looking up at the ceiling at Worlds during the week that Fassi died.


    Those moments didn't feel authentic to me.

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    There's a difference between sentiment and schmaltz. It's like the difference between, say, Charles Dickens's books and the "Elsie Dinsmore" books.
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  13. #13

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    I like to be entertained.

    I also hope to see genuine emotion conveyed through performance.
    That doesn't happen often, in most cases.

    Both aims are valid.

    Under CoP "fake drama" often takes the place of attempting to convey anything to the viewer, IMO!

  14. #14
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jun Y View Post

    Emotions are by nature not complex or abstract

    Ummm... I beg to differ.

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    By definition, schmaltz isn't honest sentimentality. Schmaltz is defined as excessive sentimentality. Too much. Just too much.

    Also, the free online dictionary defines schmaltz as liquid fat, especially chicken fat. That's how I feel after I watch a schmaltzy program-like I've just eaten way too much liquid chicken fat. Bilious.

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    Quote Originally Posted by orbitz View Post
    1. Oksana sobbing and couldn't complete any jump throughout her "You'll See" program at the Ryder Pro comp after Sergei's death.
    God I remember that. Glad I'm not the only one who thought that was a tad bit...hammy.

    But then again, who am I to judge what "authentic" grieving looks like.

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    Quote Originally Posted by orbitz View Post
    Because it can often come off as manipulative and becomes all about "ME, ME, ME". These are not programs but I'd classify these moments as schmaltzy:

    1. Oksana sobbing and couldn't complete any jump throughout her "You'll See" program at the Ryder Pro comp after Sergei's death.
    2. Nicole dropping down to one knee and looking up at the ceiling at Worlds during the week that Fassi died.


    Those moments didn't feel authentic to me.
    Wow. They sure were genuine to me, especially Oksana. I get weepy just remembering that program. She sobbed *so* hard and never performed that number again. She was literally fresh off the plane from Moscow. Nicole felt real to me, too. These two moments, imo, shouldn't even be in the same thread as David Wilson's contrived numbers.

    -Bridget

  18. #18
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    Quote Originally Posted by VIETgrlTerifa View Post
    I think people complain about schmaltz because it isn't emotionally honest.
    This. This sums up the entire dilemma. I think we all respond to any performance (not just skating) that comes from an honest place. It's quite rare I think.

    OTOH I think some are entertained by schmaltz, which I define as "fake angst", (as kwanfan1818 once so eloquently described it), or equally fake "lovey dovey" - fake being the operative word. Like JJH said, it just makes me bilious. I dare to say I think it makes most people bilious.

    I don't think COP has anything to do with it. Long before COP skaters learn that they have to be expressive on the ice. Very few can find that expression from a truly genuine place so they fake it. Yawn. Gag. I think the greatest strength of Michelle Kwan was that her expression was so genuine and heartfelt. With Mao for instance we see it in spades in exhibitions but she hasn't quite yet mastered bringing it to competition ice. Lambiel oozes genuine expression. In a completely different way so does Ryan Bradley. OTOH I hated what Linichuck gave B&A 2 years in a row because there was nothing genuine about it. It was all faux angst.

    I think D&D for instance have the potential to show true heartfelt expression (we've seen glimpses of it in the past) but they seem to have lost it for now in their personal and/or inconsistency issues. D&L's SIT is a fabulous example of what you'd call "schmaltzy" that worked because the expression was true. It transcended schmaltz because it was honest.

    Like wyliefan said it's the difference between sentiment and schmaltz . The first is genuine (and can move us to tears) the second is fake and makes me gag.
    Last edited by alilou; 07-26-2010 at 03:47 AM.

  19. #19

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    We have to bear in mind, though, that performers -- not just skaters -- are always taught to "fake" something they don't feel. You watch something like, say, one of Busby Berkeley's big group numbers with hundreds of girls dancing, and you know not every single one of those grinning girls was feeling over-the-top exhilarated. Not unless old Busby was pumping something pretty groovy into the air.
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    Oh yes! And this is a perfect example of when a performance that doesn't come from a truly genuine place can still be hugely entertaining. I love those big Hollywood group numbers. But still, it is a little different than what's required of an individual performer.

    We all know really good acting when we see it, where the actor transcends acting and becomes the character they are portraying (I've just seen The Kids are Allright with Annette Bening and Julianne Moore - brilliant, totally believable!). I think expression in skating is somewhat the same. Some skaters stop acting and infuse themselves with the role/performance (V&M, Lambiel, Kwan) and others never get it and just act their hearts out and it all just comes over as fake.

    And there is also something to be said for the eye of the beholder. On this board at least one poster has said that they find V&M to be fake, and another that they find B&A's expression (in their Linichuck FD from last season) to be genuine. And for me it's the complete opposite. Go figure.

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