MovieBob - Intermission
About Critics (Part 1)

Bob Chipman | 27 May 2011 12:00
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Contrary to what you may assume, I actually do read pretty-much every comment that is posted to almost every video or piece of writing I've ever put up on The Escapist or otherwise. It's good free reading material for the gym, for one thing, and for another I'm an incurable narcissist who has probably read every scrap of text ever written about him. I am a devout consumer of my own ancillary media presence, in spite of the very real issue of it only contributing to innate introversion and paranoia. I am obsessed with my own "comment counts," be they for this column, Escape to The Movies or The Big Picture, and I'm known to become genuinely unnerved when the count is low. It makes me feel feel like I've failed, in that the ability to provoke a response is my primary unit of measurement.

What I'm hoping people take from that is the following: I can hear you. I have heard you. If there's something you mentioned that you didn't like about the shows(s) and now it's gone, chances are your voiced displeasure actually did contribute. Conversely, when it comes to things that people openly don't like but that I keep right on doing, please rest assured that it's not because I'm not hearing the criticism - I'm ignoring it, an important distinction.

I've toyed with the idea of doing a "MovieBob responds to your criticisms" column, but I always end up stopping short based on how egomaniacal it would inevitably end up being (more egomaniacal than these first three paragraphs? Okay, you've got me there), but in a rare moment of external regard, it's occurred to me that a lot of what I'm asked about/criticized for tends to be stuff that has been asked of and/or thrown at film critics in general since the beginning of our profession. Thus, talking (mostly) about that stuff would not, in fact, qualify as simply talking about myself. Thank heaven for technicalities.

"Film critics are elitists."

Good gods, I hope so.

In my opinion, one of the worst things that has happened to public discourse is that the terms "elite" and "elitist" became four-letter-words. With apologies to the overly-sensitive, I happen to both accept and appreciate that merit still exists - that there are such things as superiority and inferiority, as opposed to all things being either generically equal or simply a matter of perspective. If that makes me an elitist, then so be it: I am an elitist.

The point of this criticism, of course, is that film critics (and critics in general, to be fair) are somehow out of touch with the common man, in which case, I'm given to ask if the people making it understand the point of criticism as journalism and/or literature. The function of a critic is not to summarize something and try to divine whether or not you or someone else might like it (though they may in fact perform said function tangentially); their function is to have (in theory) a deeper/richer/more informed background in a given medium than the majority and hold said medium to a (theoretically) higher standard for the good of all involved.

I bring this one up first, incidentally, because it informs so much of the other ones.

"Critics hate all popular movies."

This one is kind of fish in a barrel, but I feel somewhat obligated to get into it. It's at once a generalization and a provable fallacy, but it's also a dressed-down repackaging of the elitism claim above.

First, let me be honest: Yes, there is undoubtedly a small minority of professional film critics so married to their own sense of pop culture disconnect that they reflexively resent everything but a tiny subset of unknown films. I have my suspicions about a few, and while I won't name names I promise you that they are people you have probably not heard of who work/write for entities that are almost-exclusively read by other critics and fringe film scholars. No, it does not include the infamous Armond White - I think Armond is a nutjob, but he's a nutjob whose tastes, while questionable, have a visible internal logic beyond what's popular.

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