MovieBob - Intermission
How To Talk To A Critic (Assuming You Want To)

Bob Chipman | 3 Feb 2012 12:00
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People treat critics differently than they tend to treat other journalists. Columnists, for example - even the humorous ones - are generally granted a veneer of sage-like respectability, while reporters - despite the days of the pavement-pounding investigator fading faster every day - still get their romantic "seeker of truth" aura.

Critics, on the other hand, specifically entertainment critics, tend to be seen as an alien presence - often a hostile one. Part of this is the strange space between the consumer public and the entertainment industry that the critic often occupies. We see movies (or play games, for that matter) before you do, we interact with the famous names who make them and we purport to speak with some kind of authority on the subject, yet we're not technically part of the industry. A year ago I sat at a press table next to a famous actress - one who is probably wealthy and powerful enough to hunt me for sport if she so desired - as she gamely put up with my (and others') likely tedious questions about her new movie. An hour later I was trying to reason which fast food dollar menu would offer the heartiest portion for lunch. Yeah, I get it - that's weird.

It also has a lot to do with the perception that this job is some kind of elaborate credibility shell-game - why, after all, should I be getting paid to give an opinion on something? Anyone can do that! (And, yet, "Anyone" doesn't.)

What this all comes down to is that critics probably get more attempted interaction from their audience than other strata of journalism, but that it's balanced out by general negativity that pervades that interaction. Generally, people who go to the trouble of seeking out a reporter or columnist want to offer information or - at worst - a different take. If someone seeks out a critic, on the other hand, often that means they're looking for an argument. Or maybe a fight.

On the whole, I'm not opposed to that. I understand wanting to engage someone over an opinion piece. But there are a few things that I'd (perhaps selfishly) want folks to keep in mind before doing so that would make the whole process much more pleasant. Not, I'll stress, for my sake - I generally like getting angry, frothing-at-the-mouth hate mail because it's funny and helps me continue feeling superior - but for the sake of those who don't enjoy such things. And, as often happens when I have a series of thoughts that can be expressed in list form, I've decided to present them in column form (hence the title).

1.) "Hypocrisy" and "Less Than 100% Consistency of Opinion" are not the same thing.

The word "hypocrite" is applied more broadly to critics than in almost any other facet of modern conversation. With said broadness, it still manages to get completely abused by people who for some reason feel "I disagree!" is not a sufficiently analytical-sounding response to ... well, disagreeing. (This is the root of 99% of this list, BTW - people digging around for reasons that the critic is not only in disagreement with them but objectively wrong.)

Reactions to entertainment - yes, even among professionals - have a tremendous amount to do with context. As such, giving (for example) one film or game low marks for being too violent while praising the violence of another, unrelated film or game is not in and of itself hypocrisy. So, maybe think about not tossing that particular word around? Especially because, "Hey, could you maybe explain the logical behind this apparent inconsistency?" would probably get the point across much more effectively.

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