clap clap blog: we have moved

Thursday, January 06, 2005
I wanted to reply here to the comments Todd made on the criticism post, just because I think they'll stretch out and I want to give 'em their due. Todd wrote:

Although the Slate movie club has been terribly disappointing, I don't
think it's emblematic of serious criticism in general. Your point about TV
coming already debased and thus providing more lively (detached) criticism is
apposite, but I don't want to read criticism about debased forms. The reason
they're debased is that they're readily accessible and I don't need a gatekeeper
to show me the way. I need a gatekeeper for slow Iranian films. I think that
comparing movie/book criticism to tv/pop music criticism doesn't really work.

Can a pop song be "great" in the same way a movie can be "great"? I don't
think so. 4 minutes of beats and vocals isn't going to illuminate the human
condition for me. (that's not to say that's all movies should do). But the
limitations of the pop form seem to preclude the kind of criticism I enjoy
reading about movies or books.

Dude, are you trying to bait me? Pop songs aren't as good as movies my sweet aunt fanny. Well, no sense getting into that, really, as I doubt I'm going to convince anyone on that, at least not today.

Instead, let me try and clarify something I thought was sorta the basis of my original post, although I guess it didn't come through, and to make a distinction clearer. What I was talking about was specifically criticism, not reviewing. Reviewing tells you "this is good" or "this is not good." But honestly, I'm not too interested in that, and quite frankly I don't need a gatekeeper, or at least not a gatekeeper that takes itself this goddamn seriously. I like critics who are there to sort of talk about things afterwards, to discuss what the movie's about, but I don't really need someone to explain things to me beforehand--I'd rather the work itself do that.

Now, if you want to talk about curatorial functions, that's something else entirely. Certainly I appreciate some pointing out things that are good to me, or warning me away from things that are bad. But look: David Brooks and I agree on pretty much nothing. His value as a critic is worthless, and to a certain degree what they were all bitching about is correct: critics make their judgments in a very public way and inevitably have something at stake besides their simple opinion. I'm much more likely to see a movie if someone I know, and whose tastes I'm familiar with, tells me to go see it. This is for movies. For music, well, I'm confused as to why people don't regularly call MP3blogs criticism, but they surely are, and indeed are probably the best form of reviewing ever invented, because they're actually giving you the thing they want you to hear, framing the context, and letting you go at it. This is not that far removed from being at someone's house and having them say, "Watch this show, I think you'll like it." You can't really top that. So in terms of gatekeeper functions--meh. Reviews are interesting as criticism, but in terms of pointing me towards things, a three line e-mail from a friend is much more valuable to me.

Now, you could say that reviewing was exactly what the movie club was about, but this was part of what was so annoying: given this opportunity to have a sort of grand debate about movies, they instead resorted to squabbling about whether X was good and why people who like X are bad. This is criticism? Who friggin' cares? This is not interesting to read except as gossip, and even then we all know that wordy gossip is bad gossip.

What I'm talking about is criticism as art, a separate form, able to be enjoyed on its own, and equal to any of the other forms of art we're familiar with. (This is not a new concept, I don't think.) So ideally it shouldn't matter what you're talking about--good criticism can be as easily about bad movies (Sontag, the only good thing she ever wrote, god rest her soul) as it is about Shakespeare. That good crit seems to coalesce around genres we're not currently taking seriously seems less about criticism and more about the way it's currently being practiced. I would be happy to read good criticism about highbrow stuff--I don't give a shit what it's about, as I've said. But I'm just not seeing it.