‘As if it matters how a man falls down…when the fall is all that’s left, it matters very much.’ – A Lion in Winter, James Golden*
Bear with me here, people, because I’m going to talk baseball for a second. Which is really not my strong suit. But it’s just a metaphor.
What’s more interesting in baseball? When the batter makes a base hit, runs to first, but gets tagged out before they get on base? Or when the batter steps up to the plate, points to the bleachers, and then swings as hard as humanly possible— an strikes out? Both have the same end result: the batter is out. But the latter, at least, has ambition.
I’m all for ambitious failures. There are several that come to mind. Aaron Sorkin’s Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip was certainly not lacking in ambition, as both its text and subtext was, “We are going to deliver extraordinary television that will raise the bar”, which it utterly failed to do. Now, that said, I enjoyed the show, even though the show-within-the-show completely failed to be the highly charged, cutting edge political satire that the show held itself up to being. But you could consistently see a program trying to reach further than its grasp.
Another that sticks with me is last year’s Sucker Punch. I could probably write pages and pages about Sucker Punch, in terms of attempted messages of empowerment and feminism, and where it may or may not have succeeded and failed, and how it attempted far too much with its everything-and-the-kitchen-sink action sequences. But one thing you can’t say about Sucker Punch is that it didn’t try to accomplish something big and bold. In trying, it crashed, but on some level I think that crash was spectacular. And you have to admire that kind of failure, at least over the failure of milquetoast sameness.
John Scalzi once gave me some great advice (and a roomful of Workshop attendees, so I’m not claiming it was a personal moment of exchanging wisdom) to “embrace the power of sucking”. That writers should constantly push themselves out of their comfort zone, and accept that what they are going to do could very well fail… and that’s okay. And as someone who has faceplanted more times than he could easily count, I totally agree: you learn a lot more from your failures.
Especially the spectacular ones.
*- Or, at least Aaron Sorkin credits it to A Lion in Winter in all the TV shows where he uses that quote.