Today, anyone can be a critic. All it takes is a social media account, a phone and a few people willing to pause and read your opinion. However, as the saying goes, just because everyone can cook, doesn’t mean everyone should. Unfortunately, we are feeding this concept of ‘anyone can cook’ when it comes to criticism.
Advice is being taken more readily from sources who simply give a film a star rating or a few basic lines of feedback and, as a result, people are ignoring criticisms that dismisses such superficialness and delve into educated analysis. Why bother reading pages of critique when a one-liner from a peer can adequately tell us whether or not to go see a film or listen to an album? This cycle is swiftly killing reputable criticism.
Criticism in today’s world revolves around a cycle of instant gratification. We are all guilty of pulling out our phones and double checking our local cafes and restaurants Instagram feeds to satisfy questions over where or what we should eat. An image from social media is enough to placate our questions; likewise, a simple number of stars is enough to quell any doubts, regardless of its source.
As professional criticism is largely not a volunteer’s endeavour (people want to be paid for good analysis), publishers need to justify devoting pages, column space or articles to pieces which will be competing with any movie-goer or music devotee. In accordance with this competition, a critique needs to be attractive to the publication’s readers, therefore, creating a bias towards the message a producer wants. Whether that is to shock readers with a harsh rating or fit into a narrative of positivity, such a review will be toned in order to suit what the perceived readers desire at the expense of a more quality-focused, unbiased approach to the art.
People are more inclined to skip or skim a review in favour of looking at the seemingly ubiquitous star rating. So why bother with an in-depth critique?
Simply add an attractive number of stars fitting the current narrative of such reviews and seamlessly mesh into the wave of criticisms that saturate mainstream media. To be frank, you’re lucky if someone even enters the article when they can get the same information from a 30-character tweet, and even more so if someone pays you to write it.
Thus, when so much of a review is based around this sort of a rating, how does this diminish the quality and substance of a critique? With a focus on supporting a star rating aligned with generating readers, a review is bent and shaped so that the analysis matches the rating. Another bias that is formed and upheld so that theatrical techniques, sonic dimensions and dramatic devices are ignored in discussions where only the superficial elements that constitute the rating are touched upon.
Dimensions of film, especially, have largely lost their place in public criticisms. When was the last time an article discussed, in-depth, the art of cinematography? Or the staging conventions of vital scenes? These discussions have been lost as people largely ignore them in favour of finding a simple line or amount of stars stating whether they should see the film or not.
It’s hard to justify column space in papers or magazines to a medium that can satisfy readers in a few words, so no wonder why proper criticism is dying. It is simply not cost-effective. Much like the plight facing journalists in today’s era, anyone can be a critic. But that doesn’t mean they should.