Ready to tackle some new depression with yet another article about the precarious state of the critic? Patrick Goldstein did just that yesterday in his Los Angeles Times column, The Big Picture: The End of the Critic. Culling sources ranging from his son to journalism students and other critics, he tackles multifaceted issues within the issue, namely the dearth of the print age, the rise of the blog and how crass commercialism can impact both.
Also discussed in the article is the role of the critic; elucidator versus arbiter of taste is a continuing theme, though it’s generally agreed upon that it’s the sharing of opinions that still matters. However the notion of critic’s ability to be honest while paying attention to their readers is still a confusing contradiction.
Surprisingly, an encouraging passage involved students who reveal themselves to be more discerning than one might think. Yet, reading through, one can find themself caught between concern about the state of writer’s opportunities and sheepish satisfaction at some of the more windbagier scribe’s decisions to opt out or move on.
5 thoughts on “The Death of Criticism Warmed Over, Yet Again”
Some good points, but the opening premise — re: the “sad plight” of criticism via the story of his son with the video games — is ridiculous. Since when, in terms of making choices about which album to buy, movie to see, etc., did most people choose a critics advice over a friend’s, or over their own personal experience with said thing? (Um, not to mention that the kid is 9 years old, for chrissakes. I mean, that’s a real stretch, thinking that that kid’s disinterest represents anything beyond a 9-yr old’s disinterest in what some newspaper writer has to say. Gee, you think?) Also, it kind of reduces the role of the critic to consumer advocate (not that that can’t be or isn’t part of it)–i.e., how effective the critic is at convincing someone to buy something or deterring them from doing the same. With the greatest critics, that’s a subsidiary effect at best, no? (As I think the writer himself notes later in the piece.)
Also, I’m kind of curious what, if any, residual impact all this bad news for the pros is having on the bloggers, etc. Because it seems to me that music blogging — as a way of sparking a conversation, of lighting a fire somewhere — is already a past-tense form in a way. Maybe I’m not visiting the right places, but what seemed like a groundswell of activity a few years back seems to have largely dried up. (I guess I’m saying here that I’m tired of the assumption in so many of these “death of criticism” pieces — not so much in the Goldstein piece specifically — that all the action is now taking place in the blogs. Really? Where and which ones?)
I think people get confused about what critics do, or maybe I’m confused about what I’m supposed to be doing as a critic. In my eyes, critics are not there to sway a reader to their preferences, to this book/album/movie over another; rather, they are searching for intrinsic qualities, good and bad, in the thing they are crtiquing and hopefully putting it into some greater context.
And blogs can help that out in that one does not have to come up with something saleable to get it out to people. I would hope that the people who are really drawn to writing about art or music or books or whatever would do so even if they weren’t getting paid for it, and blogs are a great way to do that. Do the musicians and writers and artists we write about only do it because they are getting paid for it? So what if you don’t have an audience?
John Darnielle had a succinct nugget on his lastplanetojakarta.com site yesterday about reviewing a record that was sent to him:
That’s the contract with promos, right? They send you a free one, you listen to it, and if you have anything to say about it, you do that.
Funny that the girl quoted as wary of critics mentioned her love of the Arcade Fire, a band who wouldn’t be where they are today if they hadn’t been championed by critics like Pitchfork.
Doesn’t the lede (?) imply “if you don’t listen to critics, you’re an uninformed consumer” (and about as savvy and experienced as any 9 yr old child). That example bothered me, too, as that implied an “attitude” that seemed to provide the basis for his following argument.
As to music blogging, I agree the well is drying up — most were hopping on the passing fancy, I think, and are now looking for something new. Fun for awhile, yeah?