Thursday, March 25, 2010

Of critics and their trade

While reading about Kevin Smith's latest bullshit on The A.V. Club, writer Keith Phipps used a particularly thought-provoking quotation to help describe what the function of criticism is. See, Smith is upset that reviewers thoroughly roasted his recent film, Cop Out. Sound familiar, video game world? Apparently, some people don't like to be told when they have failed to achieve their goals.

Anyway, the reason I bring this up is that this is something I think about often, when I'm writing and sometimes when I'm reading. Just what, exactly, is the value of reviewing another person's work, be it a video game, a movie, an album; whatever? Why do we do it? Should we do it? At what point does "negative" become "too negative"? And so on and so forth.

The following is, technically, a quotation of a quotation, thus making it the equivalent of something that Journalism doodled on a notepad during its lunch break and later used to wipe its own arse. I be not proud. Read:

Film Criticism at its best is nothing more or less than the practice of literature. A humble corner of literature, to be sure — but talent, depth of comprehension and communication are the arbiters of what’s good and true. They always were, always will be. The topic is fleeting, and today’s insight wraps tomorrow’s fish, but the abiding joy comes of saying what you’ve experienced so truthfully and so well that strangers get your meaning whether they agree or not.
That quote originates from the uncannily-named F.X. Feeney, a film writer and occasional filmmaker. The emphasis in the excerpt is mine. I've long been looking for a satisfying purpose, or reason, for reviewing things. I'm sure there are multiple valid ones, but the emphasized portion above hits me right between the eyes: It's communication. Simple, basic, honest communication. "I experienced this piece of art, or this product, and here is the reaction that it elicited from me."

I'm sure that's not why most reviewers critique things. I think the urge to review, to pick apart or to praise, is one that's become instinctive, especially in this, The Age of Internet (echo, echo). We do it because we can, or because we're supposed to for one reason or another, and because someone is bound to come along eventually and say, "Yes, I agree with that," and pat us on the back, or say, "No, you're an idiot who should die," and give us their attention.

But communication for communication's sake? Reviewing for the simple purpose of relating my experiences to others, love it or hate it? That's a purpose I can get behind. I'm a bit ashamed to admit that it's fun, both tearing into a bad product and lavishing praise on a good one. But maybe there's a better way, a better motivation. Maybe a shift in focus is all it takes to make both the writing and reading of reviews fresh again.

Now that I've talked about the motivations of critics, I'll probably say a few words about how content producers should and shouldn't react to negative (and positive) reviews. But I'll do that later. I have pizza to eat and naps to take.

(Header image from Penny Arcade. Obviously, you nit.)