Writers are often advised to "write what you know," a simple way of encouraging one to remain invested in their work by using their own experiences, feelings, etc. as a key point of reference. But when a critic does this, it's instantly seized upon as a reason to invalidate any opinion they may offered that opposed that of those doing the seizing. If a critic happens to belong to a racial/ethnic minority, anything they have to say about racial issues in a work is immediately suspect - they're "too sensitive" about the issue, and this has biased them against the work. Female critics (particularly female critics of videogames, lately) are roundly dismissed if they raise the specter of sexism or misogyny, doubly so if they've ever identified as "feminist," since everyone knows that means they're already walking around in a panicked funk looking to brand every poor, innocent male in their path as "sexist" for no good reason at all ... right, bro?
Meanwhile, though white heterosexual males in the criticism biz may be "safe" from that manner of backlash (after all, their personal/psychological preferences are simply the "normal" societal-default, or hadn't you heard?), they still have the permanence and searchability of the internet to contend with. If a critic ever had anything negative to say about a filmmaker, actor, movie-franchise, game designer, game developer, game franchise, etc. in the past, they can expect to have these opinions used as "evidence" of a longstanding, objectivity-invalidating bias should they negatively review a related work. "U R BIAS! U DECIDED 2 HATE THIS MOVIE WHEN YOU SAID IT POSTER SUXXORD ON OCTOBER 22ND 2011 AT 4:27AM EST!"
Game critics get this especially hard, given how frequently games sequelize, how little change often occurs between installments and the sheer volume of different factions hair-triggered for offense:
"You hate EVERY Call of Duty!"
"Huh. You're right, and that's VERY suspect since each one is so radically different from the others!"
"You never like ANY first-party Nintendo games!"
"Dang! You've found me out! It's obvious I've just been out to get them, since it's not like Nintendo's first-party titles, while different, maintain an identifiable 'house style' that I'm not personally in love with or anything."
"You just don't like it because it's a PS3/Xbox exclusive and YOU'RE an Xbox/PS3 fanboy!"
"Ye gods ... its true! And kind of baffling, since I clearly have the access to the machine in question required to play the game and thus very little reason to be 'pulling' for its success or failure. I am clearly a very, very silly person."
This is, to be certain, partly just me venting about the minor annoyances of my otherwise exceptionally rewarding job, but I wouldn't be writing this up if that was the sole motivation. I can handle being bothered "at work," but I really do think that this situation lowers the discourse.
Yes, unfair bias masquerading as objective journalism (or honest criticism) exists, and is a problem. But if we continue enshrining bland, rote, personality-free breakdowns (as though the quality of a creative work is a "fact" to be "reported" on) of movies or games as the "proper" criticism, instead of accepting that the manner in which all of our unique experience and perspectives color and inform our opinions is what makes our opinions worth sharing and worth hearing, I worry that we're losing a vital part of the human conversation.
A good critic's personal likes, dislikes, preferences and yes, biases shouldn't be treated as disqualifying professional flaws. They should be the reason we seek their thoughts out in the first place.
Bob Chipman is a film critic and independent filmmaker. If you've heard of him before, you have officially been spending way too much time on the internet.