Crunch Time for Criticism

In recent years, film critics have been the most pessimistic when it comes to the general public's change in attitudes towards traditional arts journalism.

If you're under 45, ask yourself this, when do I ever buy a print magazine or newspaper? Your answer will probably be whenever I go on a train/plane journey. This is good, because you've made that leap from elitist to egalitarian. Why so? Well, by getting your news online, you're giving power to the people (in an entirely non-Bolshevik sense). The people who have a genuine passion for delivering news, opinion etc, and the majority of them do it on a shoestring budget, but with more and more people relying on bloggers and digital journalists, monetary appreciation has to come soon.

It's all thanks to the tech boom of the last decade, which dramatically shifted the way we consume our news. It's been so successful that traditional print journalists, once the Tsars and Tsarinas of the media industry, now feel uncertain about their future.

In the current issue of Sight & Sound (which I actually bought a print copy of, but I was at a train station) Mark Cousins writes about how the move to digital has forced critics, in this case film critics, to re-evaluate how they operate. In recent years, film critics have been the most pessimistic when it comes to the general public's change in attitudes towards traditional arts journalism. They're the ones who act all Joan of Arc, like they're being tied to the stake on top a pile of shredded Sunday Times Arts supplements, by the digital executioner. They assume it's the dénouement of cultural criticism, and before long it will be laid to rest in the same cemetery as VHS tapes and gramophones.

Speaking as someone who's made his way into journalism via digital means, I'm very pleased that these stuck-up stick-in-the-muds are running around like headless chickens. Because traditional critics are part of the problem, the majority act like they're prose geniuses, who must be coddled and praised as much as possible, they're the fountain of all film knowledge and if they think a film is crap, then everyone must.

What really irks me is when they critique independent cinema, which is all about the struggle to achieve your artistic dream; these people know nothing of struggle in the artistic sense. Now, I'm not saying that you have to experience struggle in order to understand it, but if you're critiquing a film that its writer, director et al have spent nearly ten years of their lives striving to make real, then you have to at least empathise with that in some way. But if you've spent the last decade in a cushy job at a newspaper, where you're treated like the King of Siam, then you can't possibly.

Safety and domesticity placate the power of good criticism and heighten blandness. A vast number of print critics suffer from this affliction, and that in turn is why so many culture vultures have given up on critics, in the traditional form.

Cousins makes a good point that critics need to become more creative, even embracing ignorance of particular genres - "As critics we should take our ignorance seriously. We should think our way into those aspects of cinema with which we are unfamiliar. Thinking and playing go well together. Film critics should play like DJs play. We should spin discs, segue from one film to another, keep the dance floor full. The critic David Thomson is a great player, dropping the 's' off the word 'movies' so that it sounds wrong, the very dissonance becoming a thought bomb."

Finally, although I agree with Cousins statement - "Criticism is about first-order things like creativity, knowledge, expressivity, protest, play, advocacy, enchantment, passion, activism and art. None of these were invented by the internet. Most of them are what it - the internet, a second-order thing - yearns for." The internet has greatly altered our tastes, yes you can posses all of the above, but if you don't fashion and execute it with some degree of uniqueness, you won't go far. A bog standard essay, critique will only get a few clicks, and knowing a bevy of Editors won't help you gain popularity.

Don't go thinking the internet is just as snobby as print media, now people accept criticism in any form or length. Mark Cousins ingredients for good criticism will always remain the same, but you require an extra large spoonful of creativity online.

We live in exciting times, the digital arena has grown exponentially, and where journalism, criticism etc is concerned it's become like a giant canvas that everyone has the opportunity to contribute to.


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