Friday, September 19, 2008

Critics: what are they good for?

Why does Judaism have kosher laws? It’s related to why we have movie critics.

I have no idea whether this article is a parody or not.

As the writer of the article is a critic herself, it’s very tempting to look at her piece as a kind of satire that she’s writing from the point of view of an adopted persona: she’s not so much making fun of critics, as she is lampooning the whole internet-generation mentality, where the collective long-term memory has less than three months, the dominance of fanboys wowed by explosions, monsters and superheroes, raging anti-intellectualism, the importance of the blogosphere over traditional media, and last but not least, an overpowering sense of illiteracy and impatience. The over-the-top use of her language, liberally sprinkled with “totally” and “superawesome” while at the same time knowing who Fritz Lang and James Agee are, leads me to believe this is a joke.

I can just imagine the author cracking up at the idea there are some people out there that find themselves agreeing with the article.

On the other hand, there is a possibility all this isn't just fun and games. First, the obviously sincere envy and distaste for film critics, a print medium job that she correctly point out isn’t as relevant as it used to be in the age of blogs.

You get to see movies for free. You get paid to watch movies. You work part-time and get a full-time salary. You enjoy a private screening of "The Dark Knight" weeks before my buds and I queue up to pay big bucks at the multiplex. And then some of you have the nerve to badmouth Batman and the Joker! Show some love for the folks who keep you in lattes and DVDs.

Another interesting point that the article brings up: what exactly is the function of the critic?

I’m regularly known for having contradictory opinions. In fact, I’ve always thought that to agree with a large number of people on anything is a weakness. However, I’m just some random asshole on the internet beholden to no one but myself. I get paid nothing, I am not in a newspaper with an official position where I have to represent the moviegoing public.

As the article itself argues, “What we crave is consensus, write-ups that mirror the majority, the movie tastes of the teens and proles who rule the box office.” And also, “Shouldn't it be in the job description that if a critic sees a movie with 300 wildly applauding folks, it's against the rules to write as if that doesn't count? Like one fan wrote to a nit-picking critic: "If you do not like 'The Dark Knight' ... you should be fired because you do not speak for the people."

In other words, the film critic can be seen as having a position that isn't just giving their opinion, but is service-oriented. This is why we have film reviews in the entertainment section: to help people make decisions over where to go on a Friday night. If the film critic doesn't sync with the mentality of moviegoers, their ability to function should be questioned.

What the article seems to argue is that there is a disconnect between professional film critics and moviegoers, who are usually of an older generation, went to film school, and approach films from a different perspective. The article brings up the case of wildly popular comic book movies that critics don’t seem to "get." If that’s the case, how relevant is the function of the film critic, consulted not for their personal opinion, but for a recommendation as to the enjoyability of a movie? And if there is this disconnect, how important does the film critic become in the age of the blogosphere?

And this is something that is worth thinking about even if you don’t share the author’s anti-literacy and obvious anti-intellectual anxieties.

On the other hand, the average person is a moron. At some level, the function of the art, movie and food critic is to tell the average person they’re morons.

When the entire world was caught up in the mass hysteria that was TITANIC, the film critic of the L.A. Times had the stones to stand up and say the Emperor had no clothes. (If only someone had the guts to do the same to the schmaltzy, emotionally manipulative, dishonest FORREST GUMP as well!).

Here in Miami, there are two awards given for restaurants by the Miami Herald: one is given by reader poll, the other by professional food critics. A couple years ago, the award for “Best Japanese Restaurant” was given to, of all the places in this city, Benihana’s. Yes, Benihana's, the Applebee's of Japanese steakhouses. In an eighties ROLLING STONE magazine, there was a reader poll award given for the best guitarist in rock history, and the mental defectives chose the guitarist from the Bay City Rollers.

To answer the question at the beginning, the reason Judaism has kosher laws is a recognition of our humanity, that as human beings we don’t just shove anything in our mouths like an animal would.

And that, friends, is why we need movie critics. Because there is beauty and ugliness in the world, and it takes education and knowledge to discern one from the other. Food critics don’t just love every piece of teriyaki they shove into their mouths like the proles do, and critics know the difference between “Transformers” and “Dark Knight.”


Anonymous said...

Nice article but i have to disagree with you on Forrest Gump. But then again, that's the point isn't it. Critics and movie-watchers are not meant to have a perfect harmonious marriage

Aldous said...

Hi, Julian.

I guess I agree with you for the most part, even about "Titanic" and "Forrest Gump". Terrible movies. I want my money back.

It's not as simple as a critic saying "I love this" or "I hate this".

And a critic is someone you can get to know...

If a critic I know and like happens to hate something, and gives a good argument as to why it should be avoided, that may be all I need to decide, "Yes, I will definitely go see it."

I don't follow the reasoning about kosher laws. They are made by men for other people to follow. They are about power and control.

Criticism is about opinion.