28 décembre 2006

The blog war will not take place

Looking back on the Film Criticism Blogathon. Comments on As a Preface: Andy's Letters to the "Young Turks" 3:1 (Or something), Andy Horbal's contribution at No More Marriage!

Andy Horbal interestingly compares the emergence of the online community of Film Bloggers to the historical split of Cahiers critics with the establishment of classic criticism in the 50ies in France. There is indeed a generational confrontation between the seasonned professionals who worked all their life in the print world and the digital generation of homegrown film buffs who are born with TV, videotapes and DVDs. Their tastes, viewing habit, references and practice clash. But if the internet promises a technological turning point, I wonder if the press can become outdated this easily by amateurs.
I certainly agree the complacency of the populist weekly press has given up on true insightful analysis to discredit the values of critical thinking. However could we rely on the blogosphere to take over the job and wage a groundbreaking revolution like the Nouvelle Vague did?

There is no lack of potential online, some bloggers are superior critics to what we can read in newspapers. But the democratic blogosphere is an anarchical system in itself and we cannot consider "bloggers", in general, the next form of criticism that will make everything else obsolete like Bazin's Cahiers did. So when I hear the word "bloggers" tossed around like an end-all argument solution, I'm worried. "Blog" equals to "rant without credential", so this is far from "criticism".
Either bloggers want to dump the baby with the bathwater, and get rid of the idea of "critical evaluation" altogether, no need for legitimacy then. Or bloggers want to invent a new way to criticism, more informal, but not acultural.

The blogosphere as it is now is far too messy to produce any relevant upgrade of the critical reflexion. Individuals could however, but not as a mass movement under the banner of "everybody's word matter". If the internet does kill the press, it will declare the victory of demagoguery, the rule of "common feelings" and uneducated opinions. I don't care if analytical criticism has less influence on the box office than the fads of the "word-of-mouse", it's not the point. If the B.O. and the mass blogs win, criticism will die that's all; there will not be a new form of "criticism" without values that will come out of this. This is not the future I want to see happening for film writing.

Sure it is necessary to talk back to the old farts who dismiss bloggers without knowing anything about the internet, but we won't gain credibility by opposing the blogosphere to the press. As flawed and tasteless as it is, the long established system of print writers will always have the upper hand. So I'm not surprised they chuckle in contempt when bloggers suggest a duel. The terrain to fight is not technological (digital v. ink), but it's the generational discrepency. The cultural battle is one that could be won online today.

Truffaut's famous Politique des Auteurs article was a bold provocation that had the knowledge, the inspiration, the intuition, the genius to offer a sustainable theory that would direct the birth of a new era. Where is the blogosphere manifesto today?

Bloggers claim to power is based on the weight of the virtual multitude. The blogosphere evolved from a tool that was there. It might be the expression of a public demand for information-sharing, but there is no conscious design to replace the establishment with revolutionary values. All they do is to pretend they are print critics without education, writing skills or film culture... Far from revolutionary, it's a reactionary and degrading tabula rasa. Of course this type of summary opinions is easier to swallow for the anti-intellectual crowd (a reader demographic that didn't read the press anyway).

My point is that the "blogosphere", as an abstract entity, doesn't consitute a solid, organised, willfull alternative to the press. So the "Bloggers v. Critics" war is absurd. If we want to impose a certain credibility online, we'll have to define the new generation of critics by something more substantial and more refined than just "bloggers". The blogosphere is only a tool used for best or for worst. The vast majority of bloggers is useless as far as the constitution of a new culture is concerned. I believe the hope for future criticism is in the fresh blood, the new perspective, the 21st century culture of images. That's what the old critics have hard time to catch on, and understand. But just because bloggers are more familiar with the tools doesn't mean they have the critical standards to understand them better than educated critics.

The blogosphere is a success of popularity, not so much of quality. What I'd like to see announcing the revolution of the blogosphere era is not Truffaut's manifesto, but the equivalent of Bazin's "Ontology of the cinematographic image" for the web : the ontology of the blogosphere journalism.

I'm not interested to fight to impose "online diaries" as the substitute to the press. Film bloggers must earn credibility through hardwork and discipline. Criticism is not intuitive and improvisational, unless you're a genius. So "helping our case to earn legitimacy" as Andy says, first means to dissociate the insight from the mindless chattering. Thus the "online film critics community" makes more sense than just "bloggers", which includes all sorts of blogs more or less meaningful.

Sorry to sound so negative and elitist like that, but the popular enthousiasm for an informal "blogosphere" to become more meaningful than the press is something that can only hurt the level of film culture. Being open-minded and lowbrow inclined is one thing, but to consume free-for-all movies without reflexive distance is not criticism anymore.
The blog war will not take place... until proper weapons are developped by bloggers, for bloggers and appropriating the true potential of the internet-multimedia technology.

Andy's 5 recommendations (Exploring, Linking, Creating, Debating, Supporting) are perfect to lead on the right way for legit online critics. I've been too long so that will be for another post.

4 commentaires:

Jeff BBz a dit…

But I think that the anarchic de-centralized nature of the critical blogsphere is the revolution against the established press. The press and the mainstream ideas of a central culture bank or even police is surely as outdated as it is just a flop. I think it is a mistake to think that blogs will only overcome the mainstream press by beating them at thier own game. This is impossible, because it's their game. But more importantly for us, their game is the thing in itself that corrupts them and that renders them irrelevant. Why are we fighting for legitimacy against something illegitamate? Blogs are not the press, they are something entirely different.

I'm not argueing for anti-intellectualism either. But why is it our goal to prove how we matter? Why don't we just matter instead. It's like film before the other arts considered it a legitimate art form (wait, do they now?) What is this urge to be heard? To make revolution? Why don't we just go on mattering? Everyone forgets that the reasons revolutions never last is because once the revolution has occured it becomes the status quo. Instead of trying to remake the status quo, again and again, why don't we just ignore it all together, and go about mattering? Why are we always so worried about forming movements and taking control of things?

Do we need standards? Yes. Should we force those standards on all bloggers and make them conform to our way? Is that not what happens now in the mainstream? To standardize and "clean up" the "blogosphere" is to destroy it or at least its essense. This the true possilbity of the internet and of blogs. And this is the real threat that mainstream tastemakers, and lazy critics fear the most. But as a blogger, this is for me the most important and exciting part of it.

Finally, why do we need a manifesto? Is not our manifesto the culmination of a thousand cries in the dark, the thousand faceless film lovers and scholars worried not about fame or trends or money, but merely trying to learn and teach all that they can in the ever going conversation? Why do we always require manifestos?

Things are moving in a new direction, they may never change everything we know, but do they have to? And what if blogs disappear completely? Were they not worth it in the short time that they lived? Did I not learn and experience somthing great? And while we have them why not make them incredible, rather than always living in the shadow of our inferiority complexes?

All that said, Andy's recommendations are all wonderful and we must never forget that one of our main strenghts is that we are a community (of sorts). And we don't need special connections or money or power, to get into this community. Hell, I'm completely new here and have been lurking in the shadows reading posts without commenting. I hope to join what i feel is a very vibrant community. I haven't started a film blog but am thinking about it. Hi, can we be friends?

thats all.

HarryTuttle a dit…

Hi Jeff, welcome my friend. I'm glad you break the silence to speak up your mind. Interaction is more convivial than lurking.

I agree with you actually. There is no need for manifesto, legitimacy or standards. Let's see what happens naturally... fine.
But when the question that opposes blogs to the press arises we should examine if the problem is exposed the right way. And that was my take on it. I'm not advocating an active comformism to conscious standards, I'm observing the situation from an outsider point of view.

"Is not our manifesto the culmination of a thousand cries in the dark, the thousand faceless film lovers and scholars worried not about fame or trends or money, but merely trying to learn and teach all that they can in the ever going conversation?"

Exactly! but you already select the worthwhile part (thousands) of the blogosphere (millions!) in this definition.

"And we don't need special connections or money or power, to get into this community."

Indeed this is one of the most precious treasure of the online free-spirited liberty. Free culture. Voluntary work. Communality. (sounds so communist... hehe)

HarryTuttle a dit…

At Greencine Daily, 2006 highlights of the internet achievements and the evolution of the blogosphere toward awareness and significance.
So there is a positive side when the internet specificity is taken as a contructive complementation rather than a confrontational substitution.

HarryTuttle a dit…

Rosenbaum in a panel discussion at Variety :
"Certainly, the fact that everyone considers himself or herself a film expert of one kind or another, from literary book reviewers in the Atlantic to bloggers on the Internet, means that the range of discourse keeps getting broader, and this has both positive and negative consequences. In the '60s and '70s, I don't recall reading many film reviews quite as stupid as some of the ones I now find on the Internet, but I also don't recall finding many English-language film magazines on paper in those decades that were as sophisticated as the online Rouge is today."