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.