Maybe it’s me, but I tend to think of film critics and book critics and music critics as, well, pasty white men with beards. Their beards are generally tastefully trimmed and the color is reminiscent of salt and pepper. Hair is almost always slicked back, not in a sleazy way, more in a “I’m going bald at some point soon, so this is just an interim step” way.
This mental image is the only way I can explain why these critics are so often completely out of touch with the real world. They live in a special critic bubble, somehow thinking they’re opening the debate, never realizing that their opinions aren’t being considered. Film critics, for example, give disproportionate attention to obscure foreign film. They seem genuinely astounded that an American film can be funny and intelligent; they begin to wonder if Woody Allen has somehow reinvigorated his style and is working under a pseudonym.
Writing for the Guardian, Jeff Jarvis asks the all-important question:
Yes, who needs critics in an age when everybody’s a critic? And what is the role of the critic at a time when there is far too much entertainment for any critic to take in and review?
And answers it by quoting Terry Teachout (who echoes Jarvis’s thoughts)
“Middle-aged print-media critics who want to be read in the age of web-based journalism must start by recognising that they’re in direct competition with younger bloggers. If they don’t, they’ll vanish – and most of them will deserve their fate. If I were a newspaper editor, I’d be looking to the blogs for the next generation of critics.”
I often complain that the Los Angeles Times Book Review is a work of fantasy. It continues to willfully, stubbornly ignore the fact that people read a wide range of books. You can argue that the works actually deemed good enough or provocative enough for review deserve to be highlighted. I say, “Sure, but what about the rest of them? The stuff you refuse to acknowledge? Don’t you wonder if you’re losing credibility with the audience you’re pretending to engage?”
Because I see the LATBR as out of touch with reality — I assume it’s an exercise in self-indulgence. I appreciate interesting films from France, but just as all the trailers shown at the Laemmle chain have the same look and feel, foreign film often seems so emotionally removed, so culturally stilted. So often I try to make sense of it all, only to find there is no sense to make.
These are the films our current crop of critics embrace. I always figure they don’t get it either, so praise the obscurity and pass the popcorn.
Media criticism in major publications is waning because the critics have pre-defined notions of culture and, well, what is good. And while cultural snobbery is a time-honored tradition, it doesn’t pay the bills.