A critique of critics

Apr 162003
Authors: Paul Franco

It’s so easy and fun to criticize the work of others. That’s mostly what my job here at The Collegian encompasses: making fun of things that I don’t like. This wasn’t in the original job description, but it’s just the route I decided to take. It’s like I am the antithesis of what Homer was in the beginning of the episode in which he becomes the food critic: he likes everything while I seemingly hate everything.

Towards the end of the episode Homer develops a more refined sense of taste in the culinary arts and begins to serve up more caustic reviews (to Marge: “Your pork chops only have two moves: Shake and Bake”). He becomes a true critic: a person who believes they have better taste than the general public and accordingly demean those things the common folk enjoy.

In the wake of the French chef who killed himself over a bad review by a restaurant critic, I’ve begun to re-evaluate the critical power vested to me by Student Media. It’s been said by numerous people that critics resemble eunuchs in one way or another; namely eunuchs know how to join in on the fun the rest of the world is having, but by virtue of their deficiency in a particular department they cannot.

Being likened to a eunuch doesn’t do wonders for one’s self-esteem, but the spirit of the quote definitely rings true. I’m thinking many critics are musicians or filmmakers or chefs or et cetera that did not have the proficiency necessary to do what they love. (My bass guitar lies unused and not played in the corner of my room; a sign of my laziness at learning and perhaps an inept ear for music.)

The failure to create (whether through lack of skill or initiative) leaves two options: either give up and not be involved in the industry of your choice or become a critic. The choice of becoming a critic is an enticing one indeed and many people decide to seek out a publication in order to maintain a tenuous tie to the scene.

Once a critic finds a publication (it’s the most magical moment!) the position of power they hold can begin to go to their head. People may begin to assume they have some sort of knowledge concerning the area they critique and the critic begins to think that also. The general, the imbecilic public must be educated about what is good and what isn’t, and god knows they don’t have the proper filters we critics have.

On our pedestal we look down on our flock of sheep with bad taste. We’re dismayed that they bought 2 1/2 million copies of the last N*Sync album; that they went out in droves to see “Agent: Cody Banks”; that they tune into “Yes, Dear” on a regular basis. We throw them lines of wisdom and advise them to buy the new White Stripes instead of Justified (very clever Timberlake!); we tell them to see Spirited Away instead of Bringing Down the House (Steve Martin, how far you’ve fallen!); and we point out to them true Must See TV such as “24.”

The sheep sometimes look up from their contented grazing and listen, but still critics demean them as not getting the point, or as remaining sheep for listening to someone who isn’t a sheep (that’s at least my opinion). The critics are the self-appointed elite of the general public. They’re the council of elders voted into position by their own votes because they believe they know more than others.

Oftentimes critics do know more than the general public and that’s why people listen to them. Their knowledge, however, does not entail them being infallible. Just because critics are able to formulate their opinions in a well-organized and thought-out manner this does not mean their opinions cease to be opinions and are promoted to the status of revered facts.

Critics may know how a scene is constructed to point out certain symbolic aspects, or they can recognize chord progressions, but does this give a critic any special status above your run-of-the mill hater? Sure, such knowledge can lend to your appreciation of a work, but in no way is it necessary to create any more aesthetic appeal.

There is no pedestal for the critic and the general public cannot fairly be characterized as sheep. However, the niche carved out by the critic has become an important one in the entertainment industry and their opinions are often valuable and perhaps more refined than others. Always keep in mind, though, before a critic pisses you off and you take it to heart, that critics are like eunuchs, they know how to but they can’t. Flanders sucks.

 Posted by at 5:00 pm

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