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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

question of the day: What would happen today if film criticism were banned?

From This Day… in Jewish History, I learned this about November 27:

1936: Nazi Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels declares that film criticism is henceforth banned, freeing the Nazi-controlled German film industry to pursue its own agenda, which includes blatantly anti-Semitic films.

That’s a startling concept to hear today, when we’re being told that film critics are unnecessary and the traditional publications — major magazines and daily newspapers — that previously were the homes of the most prominent film critics seem to agree and are firing them or moving them to other beats. When we’re being told that the Web renders professional film critics redundant because moviegoers can all just read other moviegoers’ tweets and forum postings about a film and get the “real” scoop on a movie.

I don’t think it’s technology that’s the problem but attitudes: if more people cared about film criticism (and other arts criticism, and in-depth journalism in general), they’d be reading it. If film critics feel irrelevant these days, I think it’s more a reflection of our culture’s disdain for anything intellectual, not because the Internet has let everyone say anything to everyone else.

So here’s the question: Would there be an point to a ban on film criticism today? The Nazis were clearly worried about the German intelligentsia — would there be a reason for a similar governmental regime today to harbor the same fear? What would happen today if film criticism were banned? How many people would even notice?

(If you have a suggestion for a QOTD, feel free to email me. Responses to this QOTD sent by email will be ignored; please post your responses here.)



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  • If film criticism were banned:

    People will not be warned about the next Uwe Boll monstrosity and millions will perish like that guy in Scanners.

  • Well, here’s the thing… unless your hypothetical supposes a supernatural ability to actually ban something as ubiquitous as film criticism, it’s safe to say absolutely nothing would happen; nobody would notice because nothing would actually change. You can’t even stop people from murdering each other, and that’s been banned for millennia… how are you gonna stop people from talking about stuff they like and don’t like?

    In short, a ban on anything these days is empty words that can be safely ignored.

  • RogerBW

    The Nazis were stupid. Well, that’s not entirely fair. They were the first modern tyranny; they had a lot to learn about how to do it.

    Why bother to ban film criticism when you can drown it in a flood of adulatory reviews for the latest explodey demeaning rubbish? When most people can’t even verbalise a difference between reviews and criticism?

  • Accounting Ninja

    If film critics feel irrelevant these days, I think it’s more a reflection of our culture’s disdain for anything intellectual, not because the Internet has let everyone say anything to everyone else.

    Bingo. How many times does a negative review get taken as a personal attack? How many people misunderstand the snark in a review and think you are actually endorsing odious things when you are really making fun of them?

    Why bother to ban film criticism when you can drown it in a flood of adulatory reviews for the latest explodey demeaning rubbish?

    sigh…they already do that. :(

  • Mathias

    I’m not sure what would happen, but i feel fairly certain that if film criticism was banned today, it wouldn’t lead to a new holocaust and World War 3. ;)

  • Accounting Ninja

    Agreed. Lots of other, cultural things would have to happen along with that…and, it’s much harder to ban anything outright, on account of the internet.

  • Paul

    How do you ban film criticism? Do you have the SS go from cafe to bar telling people to stop talking about the merits and demerits of movies? Do you shut down the film as literature classes?

    If the American government banned film criticism, I’d brace myself for a lot of really bad movies coming down the pipe, and while I agree they wouldn’t be movies about killing Jews, I don’t think movies promoting perpetual American war in the Middle East would be a stretch of the imagination. Once upon a time, we had dime novels glorifying gunfighters and promoting Indians as demons in human guise. During the Cold War we had plenty of action books and movies along Cold War themes.

    But no, there wouldn’t be a point in banning film criticism. Most people like movies for emotional reasons, not intellectual ones. Most people see movies because of hype or friends’ reccomendations or because they liked the series, or occassionally friends dragging them to it (which is how I ended up seeing Fight Club and Mystery Men, both of which I ended up liking, and how I got my friends to see Donnie Darko).

    Film (or book) criticism is for people who care about how and why they work. It is useful for people who don’t want to be manipulated by film or literary techniques, but people who say they just want to kick back and enjoy it may want to be manipulated into an emotional state. I certainly know which movies to watch when I want to laugh.

  • Shaun

    It wouldn’t be as hard as some people are suggesting to ban film reviews. Take a look at China and the way the media is controlled. Banning film reviews could be as easy as an internet filter blocking the word ‘review’.

    What would happen? Well if you take the position that the quality of films would suffer then one outcome of that is that people simply stop going and the industry collapses. It happened in the early 80s to video games, when so many poor quality games came out that people could not tell which were good and which were dogs and the reaction was to stop buying them altogether.

  • Mathias

    I disagree Shaun.

    In 2009 America where 30% of the population is repeatedly and feverishly on the lookout for any evidence that their Nigerian President is taking away their freedoms, i find it hard to believe that the leader of the liberal, hollywood-lovin’ Democrats would band film criticism.

    That would be like George W. Bush banning abstinence-only sex ed.
    Simply not in keeping with their political ideology.

  • Shaun

    I dont see America banning anything anytime soon either, but nothing is set in stone.

    Picture this: American politics are scarily divisive, could a spark ignite the nation into riots? civil war? Martial law declared and rights repealed to bring order to chaos. Film reviews deemed inflammatory and Maryann deemed an enemy of the state!

    Besides, if I’m not mistaken weren’t some questionable laws passed post 9/11?

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