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Silence of the Critics

Has Social Media rendered the Critic’s Profession Obsolete?

Photo courtesy of voigtlӓnder Vitoret

by Wesley Kirkpatrick

In the current age of social media, where everyone who wishes to share their opinions instantly with people across the globe can do so, the question of necessity for individuals to earn a living as critics has become topical. In order to answer this question, it is important to understand the true nature of a critic’s job.

Many may perceive professional critics similarly to the food critic in the 2009-Pixar movie Ratatouille: an old and bitter individual whose sole pleasure resides in the failure of others and rejoices in creating said failure. If this represented all critics, then it would indeed be difficult to argue in favour of the profession. However, the reality is that professional critics are employed by large media groups in order to produce reviews which meet the required standards of honesty and entertainment, not to deliver a death sentence. In their own right, critics are themselves artists, creating a piece of work which should aim to inform, but especially entertain.

In recent weeks, the question resurfaced, notably due to a back-and-forth exchange on twitter between Indiewire senior film critic David Ehrlich and the movie director David Ayer, in which Ehrlich called the first Suicide Squad movie ‘a dumb piece of sh*t that literally every sane person on earth hated with a passion’. This tweet warranted a response from Ayer, who replied by calling the nature of the film critic’s job a need to ‘grab eyes’. Whereas this may be true for some critics, this should not be the case for all – which brings us to the following fundamental question: ‘what differentiates a good critic from a bad one?’

There are several types of critics; the first is the elitist, who writes complex jargon aimed solely at other critics. The second is the individual who writes their reviews with the idea that the subjects of their reviews will read them and therefore write accordingly. Finally, there is the critic who writes for the only person to whom they owe loyalty: the reader! 

The reader should demand complete honesty and dedication from the critic, who in turn must comply, not by finding out how difficult it was to produce something, but by the nature of their job- by not caring. The critic does not owe anything to the subject of their review. Careful, do not misinterpret my words – this does not give them the right to be vile or defamatory towards them. I simply mean that the reader is the one who ponders whether to spend their wages on the subject of the review, and is the one without whom the critic does not have a job. So, at the end of the day, the reader is the one who deserves something in return from the critic.

Finally, the title ‘professional critic’ includes a certain form of respect. It is a seal of approval or competency, awarded by large media companies in whom they have placed their trust. It is up to you whether or not you decide to trust them as much as their employers, but as of today, enough people continue to respect their judgement enough to listen to their opinions. In that sense, as long as the majority of critics continue to provide insightful and entertaining content that people enjoy reading, then the profession does not appear to be going anywhere any time soon.


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