What’s the Role of a Critic?

Critics can tell us how they perceive a work of art (from books, to movies, to TV shows, to art, you name it). They can lay out well-reasoned arguments, detailing patterns they’ve noticed in such-and-such industry today (as in Emily Nussbaum’s “Shark Week“), for why an artwork is the best they’ve seen in years, or the worst. They can shape our culture’s tastes by providing their expert opinion in a field which they are intimately familiar.

Although critics are essential to several industries that rely on separating great work from sub-par or offensively awful work, they often get a bad rap. This is especially true thanks to the advent of the internet, which means that anyone with an internet connection and the ability to sign up for a free blogging website (such as this one) can comment on what’s good and what sucks.

And that’s great–I’m glad the conversation has moved from the elite, ultra-cultured critics of newspapers past and into the hands of, well, everyday folks like you and me. Sometimes gorgeously snooty sentences like “fraught fifties milieu” can put off people who just want to know whether a show is worth watching, or a book worth reading.

Sometimes, it’s hard to believe critics because they are so overly promoted by the industries they are paid to critique. I always roll my eyes when commercials proclaim a movie “the #1 movie in America,” citing a vague body of “critics.” Are we really supposed to believe three different movies released in the summer blockbuster season are “the best movie [they’ve] seen in a while”? I’m sure their reviews included some actual measurement of the flaws and strengths of these movies, but when taken out of context reviews all seem to run together and lose their weight.

And you know what? Sometimes, when you’re itching to see a movie with terrible (online) reviews, you just have to suck it up and buy your ticket and popcorn. I’ve dared to see many movies in this way (often children’s movies or genre films), and I haven’t been disappointed by following my gut. If I want to see a movie about giant robots controlled by champions of various nationalities, fighting Godzilla-like monsters in gorgeously directed fight scenes, then I’m darn well gonna see it. Sure, maybe some critics for fancy magazines hated Pacific Rim, but my friends and I adored it.

[Note: This post was originally posted on my first attempt at a blog on October 19, 2014.]

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