A Guide to Sacred Cows

A sacred cow is a work that can’t be criticized however fairly and doing so will instantly incur the wrath of fans and critics alike. Even non-fans will be quick to dispel any and all contrarian opinions lodged toward it. Consequently, I think the general perception is that all sacred cows are works of art that still hold up to this day. However, I don’t think that’s entirely right. In fact, after having experienced many works that could be considered sacred cows across various mediums, I’ve come to the conclusion that there are roughly three different varieties of sacred cows.

The first is what I like to call the Traditional Sacred Cow. This is what most people think when they hear the term; it’s a work that people still want to experience however many decades after its original release – often because it has aged well and it’s every bit as good now as it was then. Almost everyone thinks highly of it, and even those that don’t acknowledge that, while it’s not their cup of tea, it’s good for what it is.

The second type is what most people would refer to as the Cult Classic. This is a sacred cow that achieved this status despite not being a big hit when it was released or getting mainstream attention. From experience, I’ve found that this is a sacred cow you have to be careful around; sometimes you’ll find an underrated gem of a classic while other times, you’ll see why it never caught on in the first place, and in worst case scenarios, you’ll find something that’s flat-out bad. I think in these cases, the work in question was declared a sacred cow less because of how good it actually is and more because it managed to appeal to a small group of people and whatever detractors may have existed have long since moved on. In other words, the reason you often see five-star ratings for the Cult Classic is because the opinions of anyone who panned it have expired, leaving only the praise of its dedicated, and often rabid, fan base. It’s the difference between a 4.5 rating from 10,000 voters versus a 5.0 rating from 100 voters.

Finally, the third variety of this phenomenon is what I like to call the Mortal Sacred Cow. This is a work that, upon release, garners universal praise from critics and fans alike. During this time, having a single negative thought about the work is tantamount to killing someone’s dog. However, as the name suggests, this status has an expiration date and while the work may be praised in retrospectives twenty years later, you’ll often hear those reviews peppered with phrases such as “It was good for its time,” or “It was quite a trailblazer.” This may seem like future generations also appreciate it, but the truth is that these are the words of the people that experienced the work when it was released. When the new generation wishes to experience that which their parents sang praises about back in the day for themselves, it’s common for them to think of the Mortal Sacred Cow as boring, predictable, irrelevant, confusing, poorly thought-out, or any combination of the five. They’re not wrong for thinking that either. Perhaps they’ve been exposed to works that improved upon everything the sacred cow attempted to do, making it obsolete. Maybe the work actually was revolutionary, but the movement itself went nowhere and suffered a fatal backlash. It’s even possible that the work accomplished nothing more than catering to the cultural needs and trends at the time, depriving the new generations of any context or reason to care. In short, these works are the polar opposites of the Traditional Sacred Cow; they garner a lot of praise when they’re released, but they have no legs to stand on in the long run.

Naturally, Traditional Sacred Cows are the best because, whether they’re lauded as classics right away or vindicated using the all-seeing, all-knowing power of hindsight, they manage to be great for an indefinite period of time. Conversely, the Mortal Sacred Cow ceases to be great as soon as the people collectively move on from that work – the best it can hope for is to become a curious footnote in the history books. That said, I’ve always maintained that having a contrarian, yet valid opinion isn’t a bad thing. Sometimes that one work everyone loves just doesn’t click no matter how much you want it to.

6 thoughts on “A Guide to Sacred Cows

  1. A lot of the places I used to hang out on the internet, there was a lot of backlash against sacred cows, to the point where these forums treated them just the opposite way. I remember Final Fantasy VII in particular, where saying anything good about it would just lead to the rest of the forumites attacking you. Kind of a toxic environment, really.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah, I can see why you wouldn’t hang around those places anymore. I believe that as long as your opinion is valid, you shouldn’t be ashamed to have it. I do realize that what constitutes a valid opinion can be subjective, so when I say that, I mean as long as the opinion expressed isn’t hateful, bigoted, or the result of obviously faulty logic. Speaking of which, I’ve seen a few instances where someone will express a hateful opinion only to act absolutely incredulous that people could have the sheer audacity to not agree with them. I like to call that the Crazy Hair Rule. Basically, if one goes outside with a sufficiently strange hairstyle, then they’re not allowed to lash out at people who decide to take pictures of the crazy hair because they assumed the risks the minute they left their house. In other words, if someone expresses a hateful opinion, they don’t get to play the victim when they face an inevitable backlash.

      My apologies for the tangent.


  2. That’s the whole point with having a discussion in the first place, and one would thing the whole point behind bringing it up in public; gathering and talking out a variety of different viewpoints on any given thing. If you put something up on the internet, by nature you’re opening that up for others to challenge it. And usually, that’s a good thing. Opinions, good and bad, can always be challenged, and at the best you’ll end up with a better understanding of the work in question by talking it our with people who have different impressions of it. I really value that, and I really don’t get the ‘OMG everyone must have the same opinion or else!’ groupthink you see in some corners.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s my goal with these comment sections; I’m just one person, so I like to hear what others think of the game I reviewed or the subject matter of the editorials. It’s always interesting to see what route these discussions take. Communities that lash out at its members for being even remotely out of step with the crowd are not healthy ones.


  3. Very interesting read. As many art/entertainment terms/tropes I’m aware of, I never actually knew these were referred to as sacred cows. 😛

    Personally speaking, I can think of a good film to represent each category of sacred cow.

    Traditional sacred cow = It’s a Wonderful Life
    Cult Classic = Fight Club
    Mortal Sacred Cow = 2001: A Space Odyssey

    As I read your descriptions for each, those were the films that immediately popped into my head. I think one reason I love animated films so much is that, by nature, they lend themselves to a more timeless appeal. Now, there’s a lot of animated crap as well, but when done right, I think animated films have a universal timeless about them that very few live-action films could hope to achieve. Perhaps it’s my love of animated storytelling talking, but I might argue that the majority of traditional sacred cows in the world of cinema are animated, whereas their live-action counterparts usually fall into the other two categories (there are always exceptions, of course). But perhaps that’s just my take…

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think you have a great point. Whenever I think of certain animated films, it’s often difficult to determine when exactly they were made. It helps when the work in question was really ahead of its time such as Snow White. The same isn’t usually true of live-action movies; you can determine when they were made using various clues such as the presence of color, the age of the more famous actors, camera quality, sound quality, and musical accompaniment (granted the latter two could also be used to date animated movies). Though I’d say that old live-action movies are like early 3D video games – the ones that have stood the test of time have done so remarkably (such as the first two Alien movies).

      Admittedly, of the movies you mentioned, the only one I’ve seen is Fight Club. I think it’s good, possibly even great, but a just a tad overhyped (although it did end with a Pixies song, so there’s that). As far as David Fincher movies go, I thought The Social Network and The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo were more interesting.

      I take it that 2001: A Space Odyssey didn’t resonate with you? I find it interesting how later generations are more willing to point out flaws with that movie than those who were around when it was originally released (much to the frustration of the latter). There’s little doubt that works such as this were important milestones, but that doesn’t mean younger generations are wrong for passing them up. It’s like forcing them to use a typewriter before they’re allowed to use computers. In video games, a good example of a Mortal Sacred Cow would be Deadly Towers. These days, it makes everyone’s “worst NES games ever” list, but if what I heard is true, people were praising it left and right back when it came out (mostly because there was very little competition).

      Actually, if it’s one sacred cow I forgot to add, it’s what I would call the Regional Sacred Cow. As you may suspect, it’s a work that’s immune to criticism in some areas of the world, but is fair game in others. Apparently, Mother 3 falls in this category. It’s a sacred cow, and bashing it is sure to get you swarmed with angry comments… in English-speaking gaming circles, that is. In Japan, it’s actually the least acclaimed game in the trilogy. Though I believe nostalgia plays a big part in that consensus because it would be like saying that the original Metroid is better than Metroid Fusion. Sure you could say it, but from an objective standpoint, it’s a flawed conclusion.

      Liked by 1 person

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