Quite often reviewers are told they have no idea; it’s quite often that reviewers take a view of a film, album or show that is stand-alone – it is, after all, just an opinion. That line is trotted out and made to seem empowering whenever a disgruntled reader/viewer/listener proudly says it. But of course it’s the truth. Reviewers know that.
I’m no stranger to being the critic thinking something is awful when others love it. It happens quite a lot here. There are ‘key’ artists or albums I just don’t get. I’ve never understood the appeal of The Arcade Fire for instance.
Many of you despise things that are popular – of course you do. And you do this more than critics but with less awareness. You always rave about an act like The White Stripes being successful and selling heaps of records, you trot out the idea that the critic must be jealous of that success – but mention Britney Spears or Celine Dion or Andre Rieu and suddenly sales don’t come in to it; suddenly it’s about taste.
I’ve also always been baffled by Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti. This is some awful, pointless music. But tell a hipster that! I saw the band and it was one of the worst efforts by an international act I’ve ever seen. Well at least I assume they were trying to play, someone should have told them to all have a go at the same song – together.
What about when you feel like you’re the only one who loves an album?
This happens for critics just as much as anyone else. I give albums five stars and people delight in telling me they’re crap. I used to work in a record store and watch five-star albums not sell (bad example now I suppose, since most records don’t sell from stores these days).
Sometimes I listen to music and like it instantly, love it in fact but, as it’s unfolding I get the feeling that it will be polarising – sometimes I get the feeling that I am probably the only person who like that. And I get told that, from time to time, after my review. I like that feeling – of being one of the only ones to like something.
We need to embrace this – this is our own taste. We all like to say that we’re confident with our own taste but we’re not. We’re not because we argue with reviewers when they don’t say what we want. We say outlandish things all to justify our love of an album or artist or film or show. Why not just be happy enjoying it?
The role of the critic is changing. With the internet all of us are experts. And here, online, guess what? There’s no spelling test! Heck, there’s no IQ test. We don’t have to be persuasive, articulate and thoughtful; we don’t have to back up our disdain or love with years of listening, of working through the antecedents, of understanding the context; of developing an understanding. Online we can get away with just saying: your a hater [sic-as!]
I like this quote from novelist Hari Kunzru: “Critics praise work that doesn’t upset them. So much looks like art but just tastes of cardboard”.
I’m happy with my own taste. There is no club for critics – we don’t always agree. Some of the biggest arguments I’ve had – and enjoyed – are the ones with other critics. Because we don’t leave the room upset with each other, the trail of emails does not descend in to name-calling and smug, petty point-scoring (I guess I’ve been lucky to never deal with C.K. Stead). It becomes about respect of opinions. And I don’t go out of my way to have conversations with other critics and reviewers, but it happens, sure. Some of them, underneath it all, are nice people. Just as some of you are (probably) nice people – underneath it all.
You bring your own taste to everything – and I think that’s one of the best and worst things about critics. We are admitting to our own taste every time we write something, dropping clues, or feeling proud in announcing aspects of our cultural personality; our knowledge and interests of the art, ever evolving. We are, with each piece of writing, furthering your understanding of us and furthering our understanding of ourselves. We could just say this one sucks and/or this was choice-as! And in the end, that is exactly what we are saying. We feel we need to take 1,000 words to do that, rather than four or five.
So don’t stop disagreeing, being baffled by critics – don’t stop arguing or shaking your head in amusement/bemusement. Because critics will continue to disagree with the popular vote a lot of the time, will be baffled by the public – will not stop arguing and shaking their heads in amusement/bemusement. We do it because it’s a job. We do it because we are interested in the subject. We do it because we have a lot of love for the subject. We’ve worked hard to be heard. And we do it to be heard, of course we do – from there you take our opinions and make your own. Your opinion can become stronger from considering that of a critic. You don’t have to agree with it, finding the holes in the opinion of a reviewer is easy and will help strengthen your view.
Just don’t stoop to the retarded logic that a reviewer should find things they like and write about that. That job already exists – it’s called marketing (and/or advertising and/or PR). And you know what Bill Hicks thought of marketing. You hate just as much as any reviewer – and this is reflected in what you leave out, what you choose to not listen to or watch.
Keep reading, keep reacting, keep forming your own opinions and finding your own taste, developing it. Use the critic to bounce off – or ignore the critic completely (though, if you’ve read this far and are contemplating replying you’ve failed in that area once again).
And keep telling critics they know nothing – write your hate-mail. It is good for the critic to hear. It is good to take on board. Who knows, every now and then you might even punctuate and correctly spell your message that the writer is no good – and that you could do his/her job.
And maybe you could.
The only thing, now, that’s really stopping you is the fact that the job – as such – no longer exists. It’s back to being a hobby. A part of a job, at best.