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Terence Fletcher is not exactly a stand-up guy. He made it to our recent list of the 10 best movie villains of 2014 and is all-around one scary dude. Played by JK Simmons in the film, Whiplash, Terence Fletcher is an abusive and aggressive band conductor at a prestigious music academy where students dedicate themselves to their art hoping to achieve ultimate greatness. And while most of Fletcher’s comments are foul-mouthed and out-of-line, JK Simmons thinks his character makes one specific good point. Simmons finds Fletcher’s idea of the ‘good job’ culture and the harm the two words can do is particularly accurate.
While Fletcher goes far beyond just eliminating the words ‘good job’ from his vocabulary in attempting to inspire students, the original idea behind his method (sans the throwing of chairs and homophobic slurs) isn’t wrong, according to JK Simmons. In a recent interview with The Guardian, Simmons touched on the idea of encouragement, and what exactly his character means when he says that ‘good job’ are the two most harmful words of the English language.
"There’s a kind of numbness, a sameness, a lack of motivation in ‘good job’ culture. We’re raising a generation of kids who are being overly praised for incredibly minor accomplishments. I think it’s counter-productive."
Simmons uses the example of parents watching their kids playing on a playground. When the child goes down the slide, the parents cheer. But Simmons points out that there is no reason for celebration. Gravity did all the work, not the child. And that is what Fletcher touches upon in the film. He tells the student protagonist, Andrew, that all he wanted to do was push someone far enough to become great. When he ponders why jazz is disappearing, why there are no extreme talents like there once were, he blames it on those two little words, ‘good job’.
A story referencing Charlie Parker's dedication often comes up during the film about how Jo Jones threw a cymbal at Parker after the young Parker messed up a set. Parker vowed to come back better, and practiced relentlessly until his next performance where he played one of the best sets ever heard. While Simmons does not commend abuse, and Terence Fletcher is definitely abusive, I have to agree with Simmons and his character's idea that over-praising is probably more harmful that criticism.
It’s far too prevalent though. Why does everyone get a sticker on their homework just for completing it? Shouldn’t completing your homework be expected? Shouldn’t stickers be given to those going above and beyond? Regardless of whether or not you agree with the dangerous overuse of the words ‘good job’ within our modern society, Whiplash is a brilliant film that explores the depths a person will go to fulfill their dreams, and well worth a watch.