S = AO Scott (16 years old reviewer, self-proclaimed "institutional weight" of American criticism, who doesn't know how to define criticism when asked to)
C = David Carr (11 years old hypothetical whiner unable to conciliate LIKE with evaluation, and wants ALL critics to AGREE with his whimsical crushes)
THE CHEAP SHOT (New York Fucking Times)
C : "Whoa! Welcome back to The Cheap Shot which is a show about the intersection between inculture and covert product placement for Diet Coke and iPad. If this was TV we wouldn't have to downgrade our discourse cause we already are at the widely accessible level of Fox News's cheapest controversies."
S : "THIS is obviously NOT TV. But this raises the questions : 'What is the press? What is the NYT? should we ape the worst TV makes to beg for attention? Are we dying out? Does it show we are desperate for advertising money?' "
C : "Whoa! Here is a pause from our sponsors offering this Public Service Announcement for those of our readers who might not have learnt basic English in school. Since The NYT is only read by children, let's bring the discourse level to the lowest common denominator. As Dubya said, no child left behind... "
PSA :TO LIKE : I like, you like, he, she likes, we like, you like, they like, EVERYONE likes. And it doesn't require ANY qualification. Regular verb of the English language referring to a SUBJECTIVE feeling a unique INDIVIDUAL experiences; "to feel attraction toward or take pleasure in. Synonymous : to enjoy" (Merriam-Webster). Antonym : to dislike (same shit)
TO CRITICIZE : A person QUALIFIED to pass judgments on matters of cinema aesthetics and artistic achievements, through film studies and a considerable amount of film viewing, may deliver an EDUCATED OPINION on a work of art, after a thorough attention, enough reflection time and with the appropriate critical distance to the subject.
"to consider the merits and demerits of and judge accordingly. Synonymous : to evaluate" (Merriam-Webster)
These two verbs DO NOT signify the same thing, they are not interchangeable within the same argument. With one you speak of AFFECTION, with the other you speak of CRITICISM. It is impossible to mix them up.
When two persons argue over the SAME point, one says "I criticized this movie A" and the other rebukes "You said you didn't like this movie A". No, NO, NO! Evaluating a movie doesn't deal with audience feelings towards it, it doesn't judge people's personal reactions, it doesn't patronize people's affection. There is nothing personal in producing an artistic evaluation. And vice versa : one says "I like movie A" and the other retorts "Prove this is a masterpiece then!" No, NO, NO! It is possible to LIKE really bad movies without having to justify why, it is possible to LIKE mediocre movies without trying to shove it in any critically approved top10, it is possible to LIKE a blockbuster like a billion other spectators without making a statement about its timeless merits on a canonical scale.
Not everything you LIKE is or will ever be considered a MASTERPIECE. Nothing wrong with that. It doesn't mean your feelings are wrong. It doesn't mean criticism is worthless. Get over it.
C : "Whoa! I had no idea. If I opened a dictionary before starting this mock-interview, I wouldn't look so stupid now..."
S : "Dead on, pal! And if my definition of criticism wasn't clouded by decades of anti-intellectualism, I would have said it myself"
C : "Whoa! Fancy-pantsy critics at the NYT don't watch TV and give a 'MIXED review' to critic-proof summer movies such as The Avengers. Why? Why am I making stuff up to overblow hypothetical controversies?"
S : "Yeah we are the lowbrow-hipsters. Walking paradox if there ever was."
C : "Whoa! So mister Critic, do you think it is possible to CRITICALLY pan a commercial blockbuster if it has too many fans? Or should you shit your pants and pretend it's the best film of the year just to pander to our artistically uneducated readership?"
S : "Dude, do you think there are people who read an intellectual paper like the NYT and don't know the difference between To Like and To Criticize? between a personal connection with a cultural product and the evaluation of an artistic achievement in cinema?"
C : "Whoa! Of course. If I didn't know and could still find a job here at The NYT, there must be tons of confused Americans out there. Just look at our political elections, our news channels... and that's the serious side of our society! Confusion is the new gold standard."
S : "So true dude, let's not misunderestimate [sic] the power of American anti-intellectualism. So basically, now I have to explain why it is OK to review a movie regardless for its mercantile exploitation and its fanatical following among consumers?"
C : "Whoa! Exactly. So tell us, what is the point of paying you for the job you do at the NYT?"
S : "Well, I'm only speaking for myself here, but I heard there was something called movie reviewing. Movies come out, you watch them before the general public, and if you can jot down a quick run down of what's going on during the movie, then you're a movie reviewer."
C : "Whoa! sounds pretty simple to me. Reverse engineering of a movie pitch. Why can't you DO your job then? Sam Jackson's tweet said so, therefore I believe it."
S : "I don't have to know how to do a decent job, didn't you see that the NYT publishes inane papers like Dan Kois's anti-vegetable diatribe or Rosenbaum's anti-Bergman obituary? It's not like we have any aspiration for intellectual standards here. You should know, you're a free loader too."
C : "Whoa! So I'll just shut up and listen then."
S : "Yeah, I'm the boss here, everybody bows to my critic's pick. Cause MY taste is supreme, and I'm never wrong. I don't even know why I'm not the only name signing the NYT reviews, they all should be my ghost writers."
C : "Whoa! But you're spoiling the fun for millions of fans... Why so mean?"
S : "Because fans are irrational, their depth of field only sees their object of desire and everyone attacking it. They have zero perspective in a more global scale for the rest of the offers available that could be compared to that movie, and they have a very short term imperative : to win all possible critical accolades that will justify their emotional admiration, regardless of all other films that might deserve it more."
C : "Whoa! You lost me there... Could we go back to the talking points on the Hollywood memo our CEO demanded we recitate? Let's remind our readers that here at the NYT we are open-minded about summer movies, which everybody knows are called 'critic-proof', and that we review them
S : "Oops. Lemme add that we
C : "Whoa! You're just defending your posse."
S : "If I was a critic I wouldn't answer to this moronic bait. But since we play-pretend, I'll just ignore the fact you try to dismiss the discipline of film criticism in general as a mere corporate clique only formed of acquaintances I have personal interest in protecting. Instead I'll just play along and validate your anti-intellectual side-stepping."
C : "Whoa! May I pronounce random words like 'warm' and 'cuddly' just to interrupt your tentative explanation of critical evaluation?"
S : "You just did, dude. Thanks for cutting up my sentences in manageable soundbytes, so I can never reach too deep a level of conversation."
C : "Whoa! No problem. I'm here for the punctuation. Wait a second. I need to suck up to you here. I love whatever you write in the NYT *awkward tap on the shoulder*, cause you're America's favorite critic for people who think weekly reviewers are the highest possible standards of critical discourse. And I don't understand anything to world cinema standards anyway."
S : *blushes*
C : "Whoa! Let's cut to a candid interview of another NYT staffer who doesn't know how to defend an intellectual discipline against the discredit of populists.
Random source who crashes art exhibition luncheons : "Everybody looking at arts seriously, in the bars, on the Tweeter, all vote. Art criticism is a mess. It's liberating."
C : "Whoa! Thanks for your 'insightful' contribution, random source. We'll just ignore it and move on."
S : "After spending all my time looking down on movies, on my peers, on online reviewers... now that I'm on TV, I'll fake humility and define my job as merely formulating and clarifying my own ideas, to enter in a discussion, to engage in a discussion "
C : "Whoa! I've never seen you participating to an informal discussion with spectators, bloggers, other critics or even your own readers, outside of the NYT office..."
S : "Shuddup! We're pretending I'm Mr. Nice Guy."
C : "Whoa! Sorry to blow up your carefully adjusted cover dude. It was almost believable. Now. If you please, indulge my retarded analogy, where I equate negative criticism to destroying the artwork itself in halves. As if an external evaluation of one prevented everyone else from looking at the piece, whole and untouched."
S : "This is not a progressive kindergarten, douchebag! What critics pursue is excellence, truth, beauty... everything that characterizes my assembly-line industrial reviews at the NYT."
C : "Whoa! There is no such thing as OBJECTIVE excellence, OBJECTIVE truth, OBJECTIVE beauty. There is only YOUR SUBJECTIVE version of it."
S : "If I was a critic, I would kick your ass all the way to the MoMA... or to a decent Art School. There you would learn the reason we use the word ART, and ART CRITICISM. It is precisely because people thought some ancient artifacts deserved to be salvaged from the dereliction of passing time, careless handling, looting and destruction. Without OBJECTIVE canons of beauty, generations after generations of fads wouldn't keep a consistent deference for the same pieces of ART, and make sure to preserve them for future generations coming after them.
But since I'm a failed American reviewer, I will agree with you by fear of the Anti-American bureau, which protects our declaration of independence from Auld European Values. OBJECTIVITY does NOT exist."
C : "Whoa! Hobgoblin!"
S : "Right. Let's bow to Ralph Waldo Emerson together cause INDIVIDUALISM, and the supremacy of personal subjective impressions are more important to our lowbrow culture than any millennium-old canons."
C : "What is the 2500 years longevity of appreciation for Greek Antiquity arts (sculpture, architecture, tragedy, poetry) in comparison to MY irrational LOVE for The Avengers TODAY???? Phidias is a figment of subjectivity. There is no way that golden proportions, harmonious compositions, delicate gestures, sense of scale, mastery of the tools, trans-generational, transnational emotions for the same piece of art would amount to anything we could call a pretty good approximation to OBJECTIVE STANDARDS for what is great art and what isn't."
S : "No idea what you're talking about, or else I would present a case to legitimize the profession of art criticism. If Roger Ebert can't find the words to define what is art before ruling out videogames, why would I know any better? In America, we don't need to bother with technicalities, just blame objectivity and indulge your own navel-gazing fleeting taste. It's just as good. And the best thing is that nobody will ever expose your incompetency."
C : "Whoa! I admire your intellectual courage there. Not that my qualification in such matters gives much credit to yours. Sistine Chapel, The Strokes... same shit. So there must be... 'SOMETHING'. Since we're talking about ART, I'm trying to use undifferentiated words without obvious meanings, to show off that I never took a class in Art History vocabulary. Readers like to feel the writer is as dumb as them, to insure they will never LEARN anything from a newspaper."
S : "Instead of explicating this 'something' which would make our 'show' worthwhile, we'll just leave it at that, and feel good about moving the debate to this amazing cultural level of meaninglessness. Maybe it is impossible to define... who knows? If I was a critic, I'd know because the raison d'être of my job would depend on my understanding of this definition. Thankfully I'm not a critic, and I don't work for a reputable intellectual newspaper, so we're safe."
C : "Whoa! So it's not just because you say so?"
S : "I would hate to think that people formulate their opinion just based on what I say. I'm not interested in mind-control. I will just give a star rating to movies Hollywood distributors want me to see, bash major international film festival which make USA looks bad, and tell my readers what tickets to buy and which ones to boycott, and dumb down American culture as much as humanly possible. But other than that, if you ask me publicly, I will never admit enjoying controlling the mind of NYT readers..."
C : "Whoa! After failing to discuss intelligently about cultural concepts, let's just focus on OURSELVES, books WE wrote, OUR tiny little shameless PERSONAL lives, OUR SUBJECTIVE experiences, and we'll base our definition of what a critic should do or not on our frustrated feelings of being reviewed by others..."
S : "Yeah, doesn't sound any less professional and legit than anything we've babbled so far."
C : "Whoa! So have you, AO, -let me emphasize the condescending tone to childish levels - MELLOWED?"
S (pondering) : "... Maybe. But... but..."
C : "Sounds like a little."
S : "Again, if I was a critic I wouldn't feel my reputation of incorruptible ass-kicker threatened by such an inconsequential remark. But I'm not, so I feel I have to justify myself. And to do so, I'll summon my negative review of a CHILDREN distraction like The Lorax. It makes me mad. See! I ain't afraid of nobody, I can punch defenseless babies in their crib. I'm a tough guy. Look at me drum my alpha-male pecs over bashing superhero movies and children entertainment."
C : "Whoa! You're really making reading the NYT a waste of time."
S (cynically) : "Other than that I'm mellow."
C : "Whoa! Who are you to say you're mellow or not. Who appointed you emperor of all things good and horrible? You're a critic of the NYT, you've got a big box of lightning bolts on your desk. It takes a certain form of arrogance."
S : "Guilty as charged."
C : "Whoa! Now just repeat everything I spell out for you, so I get a testimony on camera of a critic who admits being a douche with an unbearable cynical tone in his voice, OK?"
S : "I'm totally oblivious of the way media can edit stuff and manipulate what an interviewee says, so OK. If I was a critic I wouldn't play along, but, you know, I'm not."
C : "Whoa! that's perfect. Say : 'I'm arrogant. I over-intellectualize beyond reasonable.' "
S : "I'm arrogant. I over-intellectualize beyond reasonable."
C : "Whoa! Repeat this : 'My constituency is people who wants their fun spoiled by me, people insecure and masochistic, people who need their lives ruined.' "
S : "My constituency is people who wants their fun spoiled by me, people insecure and masochistic, people who need their lives ruined."
C : "Whoa! We now really discredited the profession of film journalist, movie reviewer and film critic, while conforting the anti-intellectual reputation of the NYT."
S : "You're welcome. A job well done indeed."
C : "Whoa! By the way, let's edit this video interview as if we had never seen a well edited movie."
S : "Yeah, great idea! So it will match how badly framed we are. How could anybody question the critical authority of the NYT film pages now? Not any children under the age of 5 at least, we got this segment covered for sure."
C : "Whoa! They are the ones who push parents to buy stuff anyway. Let's focus on them, the rest follow suit."
- Repeat Whiner (David Carr) Season 2 Episode 5
- Subjective Reviewing / Deficiant Subjectivity
- Contra-contrarianism 4
- Art Criticism (Wikipedia) / Aesthetics (Wikipedia) / The Concept of the Aesthetic (Stanford)
- Dan Shaw, Film and Philosophy: Taking Movies Seriously (Wallflower Press, 2008)
- Thomas Wartenberg, Thinking on Screen (Blackwell, 2007)
- Call yourself a critic? (Sam Thorne; Frieze; March 2012)