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part of a small rebellion | by maryann johanson

curated: has the Internet killed cultural criticism?

Signs point to yes.

And, like, ya know, if you want to demonstrate that I shouldn’t feel like this is killing me:

paypal.me/MaryAnnJohanson | patreon.com/maryannjohanson

posted in:
critic buzz | Net buzz
  • Patrick Freeman

    My dad used to say, “Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach.” I later amended that to “And those who can neither do nor teach become critics.”

  • Patrick Freeman

    Did the Internet kill the cultural critic or are they killing themselves?
    When it comes right down to it, what is a cultural critic?
    Someone who has and voices an opinion about some created work. Is that opinion reliable? Is it unique or somehow more worthy of an audience than any other opinion on the matter? I guess that depends on the critic.
    To know the answer one must take the time to read (or listen to) what that critic has to say about a variety of works over time. And because there are so many “critics” these days it might take some time and effort to pay any kind of meaningful attention to even a small group of them.
    I’ve personally chosen to “follow” your own writings for the past couple of years, as well as listened to a few who post on youtube. And what I have found in all cases is that personal feelings get in the way of an honest and fair critique. To someone reading or listening to any reviewer once or twice this fact might go unnoticed but I have learned to take it into account and so I might be more tolerant of a critical opinion than other moviegoers would be.
    You are one of the few who states your biases up front but not all critics are so open.
    Another factor to be considered is that, not only is art subjective in its own right, it’s also subject to the momentary mood of the audience. If someone is in a bad mood then they might be less receptive to the comedy or lightheartedness of a particular movie than others. And the opposite is certainly true as well.
    So then what makes a “cultural critic’s” opinion any more worth listening to than anyone else? It might be easier to ask what makes that opinion less worth listening to.
    I’m probably a little more analytical than some so it might be a little easier for me to put into words some of the reasons that cause me to at least question the value of a particular critique. But I suspect that millions of moviegoers just get turned off and avoid any reviewer whose opinion varies from their own, without even thinking about the reasons they feel that way.
    As I stated above bias is a big issue. Over time I’ve learned to pick up on the biases of reviewers even if they haven’t been as open about them as you have. But sometimes, for the life of me, I can’t make heads or tails as to why a critic took a particular stance.
    For example:
    Anyone who has read more than a half dozen of your reviews might get the feeling that you have anger issues. You seem to hate men, particularly those in any position of power. Also you seem to be pushing an affirmative action agenda with regard to women in film, either in front of the camera or behind it. I see that and I take those things into account when I read your reviews. For the most part you are fairly consistent in this. I wasn’t going to see Jumanji anyway but because I know something about you I wasn’t surprised to hear you trash it. But I was completely thrown off by your high praise of Rampage. Two ridiculous movies about video games coming to life, yet they get the exact opposite reviews. Again, because I’m familiar with your writing I don’t have to look it up to see what you thought of Pixels. (OK, full disclosure, I just looked it up. No surprise – you red lighted it)
    But the point is that people want reviewers to be consistent. Trailers today can be the furthest thing from a reliable representation of what a movie will be like. So who is a moviegoer to trust?
    Chris Stuckmann had this to say about Rampage. “I’ll put it this way, if you saw San Andreas, or Journey 2: The Mysterious Island, both films that stared Dwayne Johnson and directed by Brad Peyton, just like Rampage, you know pretty much what this movie is going to feel like. All three of those are the definition of popcorn films. This is an extremely cheesy film with some truly awful dialog.” Now THAT is consistent reviewing.
    Your own review of Rampage: “Raises the bar on big dumb fun, with The Rock’s social-justice-warrior badass and his…” WTF???
    And then it hit me. “Social-justice-warrior”. There it is in glaring headline. Your political agenda jaded your opinion causing you to give a pass to a really stupid movie. And not just a pass but a green light.
    Personally I don’t just take the word of a movie critic. If a movie looks stupid, as so many do, I skip it. But others might look to your opinion to help guide their decision. They might have put out $16 expecting “dumb fun” and got hit with a extremely cheesy film with some truly awful dialog.
    This is just one example. I’m in no way suggesting that you are the only one who does this. Probably every “cultural critic” is guilty at some point in their career. So then the question remains, how is that critic’s opinion worth more than that of any other person? And if it isn’t then why do we need “cultural critics”?

  • Bluejay

    Commenter argues that cultural critics are irrelevant, in a 900-word post on a cultural critic’s site explaining how he followed her for 2 years, checked in on her reviews of various films, and read her closely enough to be familiar with her biases and political opinions.

  • Patrick Freeman

    I merely pointed out ways in which critics might be contributing to their own demise.
    However, if you wish to form your own misinterpretations you’re entirely free to do so.

  • amanohyo

    A critic’s opinions can be worth more than those of an unknown stranger on the internet (or the average rating of a large number of strangers) because they do five things:

    1) Because they are exposed to more films than I am and often attend film festivals, they draw attention to interesting smaller films that do not have a large marketing budget or well known actors/directors/writers.

    2) They are able to place a film in a cultural context, by both comparing the film to previous films and by exploring how the film reveals interesting truths about the culture in which they were produced.

    3) Because they are paid to watch and think about films, they takes notes and examine films from perspectives that are different and more nuanced than my own. This can deepen my understanding and provide a reliable sounding board.

    4) A good critic is a good writer and it’s a pleasure to read well written, well organized thoughts. For those who have a taste for snark and schadenfreude, a negative review can also be extremely funny.

    5) Over time, as a reader begins to understand the tastes and biases of certain critics, they may find a critic or critics whose taste roughly corresponds to their own. These critics can serve as an indicator of whether or not a movie will be enjoyable.

    For example, before I watch most movies, I read the reviews of MA and Walter Chaw and “average” the opinion to decide whether or not a movie is likely to be worth my time. This is never 100% accurate of course, but it’s far better than relying only on promotional materials and amalgamated scores.

    Many of these reasons are only valid for people who understand that opinions on the internet about art are subjective, and who enjoy thinking about works of art in relation to ideas external to the work itself. For the majority of people, art is objectively good or bad and the only measure of a film’s worth is whether or not it is entertaining within the bubble of their individual experience while watching it.

    These people are unable to process the fact that different people have different, equally valid taste in art, and enjoy art for different, neither better or worse reasons. Shrinking attention spans also result in poor reading comprehension and less desire to examine art in greater depth. As the author points out, the “analysis” videos of “This is America” are a perfect example of this. They are almost all brief, surface level lists designed to generate clicks for the hot topic of the week.

    While I mostly agree with Manthorpe’s assessment that “In this new model, there is only love, hate and aggressively nerdy detail,” (there will always be a small audience for less hyberbolic, in-depth critiques) his following statement that, “the idea that you should write from a perspective of Olympian ignorance feels absurdly old-fashioned,” reveals the author’s common misconception that “classic” criticism was written from some mythical position of completely objective critical distance.

    As MA often points out, it is impossible to eliminate personal bias. All one can do is be as honest as possible about it. The flaw in most contemporary criticism is not that it’s deeply personal and biased, but rather that the filtering mechanisms favor content that appeals to our limbic systems and most of the audience and/or authors assume without any justification that everyone with different biases are ignorant and wrong. Cyclical consumption is now the world’s most lucrative and predominant team sport.

  • Patrick Freeman

    Well said

  • You will be unsurprised to hear that I have MANY ISSUES with how you have chosen to characterize my criticism. You would have a tough time cited any instances of where I have called for anything like “affirmative action” — a term I suspect you are using in the most pejorative way — or anything supporting the notion that I “hate men.”

    Also: Get used to women’s anger. It is not a bad thing, and it is not going away.

    But never mind any of that. You complain that I am not consistent. But by your own argument, by the very examples you chose to present, I am entirely consistent. Just not along the lines that you were prefer.

    They might have put out $16 expecting “dumb fun” and got hit with a extremely cheesy film with some truly awful dialog.

    Or, if they are familiar with my consistencies, they might have had a great time!

    You say you have “chosen” to “follow” my work. Clearly, you are finding something of value in it. Have you ever made a financial contribution to support my work? Even a single dollar, just once? If you have, thank you. If not, you are part of the problem.

  • Patrick Freeman

    I’m part of the problem because I’m not paying you? Well, that was something new to me. Thank you for pointing that out. Who knew?

  • Bluejay

    1. You followed her work for two years. You read her reviews, engaged with her perspective, studied her closely with an aim to understand her biases and detect “inconsistencies,” decided whether or not you agreed with her. In other words, you found value in her work and decided it was worth years of your time and attention.

    2. You offered zero compensation, even when she plainly solicits contributions on the site as essential for her work.

    3. You then use your two years’ worth of research on her criticism to argue that she’s failing as a critic, and question why we need to place a value on her opinions at all.

    Yes, this makes you part of the problem. It also makes you a dick.

  • TakeItEasy

    I follow only a handful of critics myself, and this critic is one of them. While the other critics are ones I follow because of some similarity in tastes, I follow this particular critic just to see an opinion on the other side of the spectrum. After stumbling on this site about a year back, perusing some of her reviews and seeing feminist issues raised, I find myself watching a movie, guessing her review of it and then coming on here for confirmation. And more often than not, I find I guessed it right. She is in fact fairly consistent with her criticisms.
    I too find her reviews “angry”. And from what I’ve seen this anger was not apparent in her reviews a few years ago; those reviews make for far more pleasurable reads. She has clearly taken a strong feminist slant with age and that in and of itself is not wrong.
    Your example of her reviews for Jumanji 2 and Rampage is a good representation of how she is blinded by any hint of purported male gaze in a film. More than anything though, it seems she is easily incensed by even tempered criticisms of her reviews and that’s what’s disappointing.

  • Danielm80

    If you’re wondering why a feminist is angry these days, you might try reading the news.

  • TakeItEasy

    Ah, everything makes sense now

  • Bluejay

    I see you are another person who finds value in engaging with her work. You may not agree with her, but clearly you think it’s worth your precious time and attention to read about what she thinks, to the point where you can consistently imagine how she would respond to a film in advance of reading her review.

    How about sending a few dollars her way, to thank her for providing you with an interesting intellectual activity? The links to support her are all over this page.

  • If you wonder why a feminist is angry, you can look right to your own comments:

    she is blinded by any hint of purported male gaze in a film

    First of all, the male gaze is real, not “purported.” And it’s present in all works of art produced by men. If I were “blinded” by “any hint” of the male gaze, I’d be blind 99.99% of the time. Perhaps you’re the one who’s blind to the male gaze.

    she is easily incensed by even tempered criticisms of her reviews

    I suspect that you and I would disagree on what constitutes “even tempered criticism” of my work.

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