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the film criticism aspect of cyber | by maryann johanson

because everybody on the Internet is an annoying, stupid little boy

Thomas Doherty in The Chronicle of Higher Education Review is lamenting how “serious writers on film feel under siege, underappreciated, and underemployed”… which is something I not only sympathize with, I live it. It’s unbelievably disheartening to be looking for work — as I’ve been — and find only ads for “voluntary” jobs, or ones that pay in “exposure.” Writing, of any kind, is even less valued today than it has been in the past, when it wasn’t terribly valued either.

Of course, Doherty is unlikely to consider me a “serious” writer. I’m not an academic, for one — I don’t even have an undergraduate degree of any stripe! But he believes that “the most common aesthetic reaction in contemporary film criticism” on the Internet is “It sucks.” Which is an indication only that he hasn’t read much film criticism on the Net.

But wait, there’s more. Doherty deploys turns of phrase he appears to believe are clever — such as “ectoplasmic Web-page billboards” — but that actually just demonstrate further that he really doesn’t know what he’s talking about. I love this one:

The ballast of traditional credentials—whereby film critics earned their bones through university degrees or years at metropolitan dailies—has been thrown overboard by the judgment calls of anonymous upstarts without portfolio but very much with a DSL hotline to Hollywood’s prime moviegoing demographic.

“DSL hotline”? Bwahahahaha!

But that’s the easy target. Doherty also misses the fact that there are Internet equivalents of critics who “earned their bones through… years at metropolitan dailies”: the more than a few Internet critics who, in 2010, have been working in a dedicated way as critics, posting their reviews online, for a decade or longer. (Such as, ahem, yours truly, who began this site in 1997.)

What I and my Net peers do, however, is nothing but “termite art.” And we’re all “young punks who still [get] carded at the multiplex” who “leapfrog[ged] over [our] print and video elders on user-friendly sites with hip domain names.” Oh, and the “Web slinger” is “a man-boy of the people, visceral and emotional, a stream-of-consciousness spurter with no internal censor or mute button.”

I can’t tell if this is intentionally ironic, but I think not, since Doherty thinks DSL sounds hip, but he Godwins himself at the end:

Many film critics would agree with the condemnation of “the spectacle of 22- and 23-year-old boys taking 40- or 50-year-old artists to task without being able to show a sign of technical knowledge.” (Actually, the Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels said that last bit after banning uppity critics from Reich newspapers in 1936.)

I’m 40, and I’m a woman. Am I allowed to take artists to task, or is that privilege exclusively reserved for 40- to 50-year-old male professors and newspaper employees?

This has been your WTF Thought for the Day.



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  • JoshDM

    This sucks.

  • Lisa

    To be fair, that sums up Aint it cool news. I’m still recovering from Harry’s Blade 2 review.

    I have a theory that lack of permanence translates to lack of respect. To many people, the internet is still an ephemeral thing. Your reviews can’t be read in a newspaper or a book, therefore there’s less respect for them. Tv programmes did not get much respect before the advent of video and now boxsets where you can rewatch the shows and analyse them.

    I think if you’re looking for a job in media or certain types of jobs, there is an expectation that you will work for free.

    I worked on a fashion show last year and was shocked to discover that working for free is de rigeur in the fashion industry because it all adds to your resume in the hope that you will eventually get a paid job out of it. I’m sure other parts of the entertainment industry work in the
    same way. And things are tough all over now.

  • misterb

    You see this all over the web – former print writers mourning the past. There’s no reason that film review would be any different. And to give the author his due, he’s a professor so he probably puts more value on academic standards than someone who is gainfully employed. In fact, the only point the article seemed to have was that university departments are going to have to start giving tenure credit for Internet postings. I’m sure that’s controversial in his circles, but completely beside the point in Internet film blogging.

    Technical note – it’s questionable whether you can call a Godwin on a Goebbels quote – definitely a grey area.

  • MaryAnn

    I got no problem with somone mourning the past. But at least be accurate about the present.

    To be fair, that sums up Aint it cool news.

    But AICN is hardly the full sum of film writing online. And AICN is hardly the equivalent of Sarris and Kael, or the academic film criticsm of the 1940s. It’s more like the equivalent of celebrity gossip magazines.

  • JosephFM

    Wasn’t “It sucks!” Jon Lovitz’s catch phrase on “The Critic”, back in the early 90s?

  • MaryAnn

    It stinks!

  • Shadowen

    “Yes, everything stinks.”

    There are some problems with commentary on the innerblagospheratoobs (the Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory springs to mind), but there’s as much legit stuff as there is mindless blathering. Well, nearly. Well, it’s easy to differentiate, anyway.

  • JosephFM

    Okay, it was the more censor-friendly version. Substantively the same though!

    But yes, this piece was seemingly written by someone whose entire impression of the web is based on the dumbass commenters and hate e-mail replies on his articles.

  • e

    To be fair, a good portion of the internet is “dumb-ass commenters”, but he’s just not looking very hard. The two film review sites I read have one good writer (here), or the other one, which has multiple contributors. I can get film news anywhere, but with a little searching I found sites that actually critique films in meaningful ways, just as newspapers did or do. And, there is no space constraint, so with disciplined critics, you can get even deeper into films.

  • iakobos

    Well, I’ve been to some site like he talks about. The reason I keep coming here is I generally like the same movies MaryAnn likes. The great irony is MaryAnn and I could not be further apart politically and religiously. Apparently, since we’re both Gen-xers that makes us have more in common (moviewise) than might first be apparent. But even when we disagree on whether a movie is good or not, MaryAnn’s reviews are done so well I can usually tell if I’ll like it or not simply from her review. I can’t say the same for anyone else on the net.

  • I wonder how the writer feels about quoting Goebbels to support his own argument.

    He points out that film critics are being fired left and right, so where does he think they’re going to go? The number of newspapers are shrinking, or being bought out by a central company that saves money by printing the same review in each of their papers. So eventually the over all quality of Internet movie reviews should rise, as laid off reviewers post their opinions on the Net when they get home from serving coffee to the money shufflers who are outsourcing all our jobs.

    Frankly, it’s not most of the reviewers who are the problem; it’s often the comment section below the review. I have friends who simply never bother reading the comments below articles; it’s not worth their time. One of the reasons I come to this site is because the comments section is a notch or two (or three) above those at other movie sites.

    But in the author’s defense, I first logged onto the Net in 1999. I don’t remember how long it took me to find Rotten Tomatoes, and I don’t remember how long it took me after that to find Flick Filosopher through RT, and I don’t remember how long it was until I stopped going to RT and started coming straight to FF, but I’m fairly certain it is more time than a professor spends on the Net. It was years before I found aldaily.com (arts and letters daily) or atimes.com (Asia Times), which are my other two favorite sites. It takes time to find the good stuff online, and he obviously didn’t take it. He’s a guy who goes into the bookstore, wanders into celebrities’ bios section, and thinks all literature is shallow and stupid.

  • TommyB

    I think the biggest problem for people who don’t use the internet on a regular basis is how to acquire the information you need or want.
    Information in the print media is already filtered.
    It’s easier to get an overview what’s relevant for oneself.

    On the internet on the other hand, you have a mass of information and you need to learn a method of filtering by yourself.

    So it’s true: You have quality writing and reviews on the net, but those are ‘swimming’ in sea of articles, opinions, blogs of people eager to tell the world their opinion, but who are stupid, ignorant, juvenile and can’t write.
    And if you are someone who doesn’t want to bother or isn’t used to putting energy and time in filtering internet information, you might get the impression that there’s only crap by unqualified people on the net.

  • Lisa

    I think there are a lot of obnoxious twunts on the internet and you do have to look hard to find decent sites. It took me years to find this one! The level of discourse is of a higher standard here but, as MaryAnn noted herself, that would not be the case in the comments section of Rotten Tomates.

    For a number of years, Aint it Cool News had a high media profile and I used to go there all the time to read it. Mr Morgan may have been thinking of this type of website when he wrote his article.

    I think the only things that qualify someone to be a film critic is that you have seen loads of films and that you can write reasonably well and intelligently. I don’t agree that you need to be an academic, unless you are writing a 6 page critigue on Mexican Horror films of the 1920’s for Sight and Sound. (That degree in South American Culture during the early 20th century was bound to come in handy one day!)

    I haven’t time to read the article now but isn’t he criticising people who have no experience and are just blogging badly written uninformed reviews, effectively? That clearly isn’t you!

    It may also be a Snobby/Catholic Church Latin Mass thing too.

  • JoshDM

    Part of the problem with AICN and other sites also stems from site / web development. I won’t go into it, but AICN is a big offender.

  • Paul

    I wonder if a good analogy to the Internet would be “Cheers.” You’ve got the pompus know it all(Frasier), the know it all know nothing (Cliff), the snide (Carla), the snob (Diane), the occasional cameo of a famous person passing by, and so on. Of course, this is being rather generous, since the Cheers characters were usually likeable verisons of these characters. Maybe all the Internet folks who go around with their obscenity laced tweets are the customers in the background.

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