The Internet has done some magnificent things, it’s also been good at making certain systems nearly obsolete. I’m speaking as a writer, but like publishers, authors, actors, musicians, the recording industry, and just about everyone else in the entertainment industry, the web has also profoundly altered the role of the professional critic. Frankly, I’m very pleased about this.
Not all that long ago, an author writes a novel, or a studio releases a film\tv show, and a review praising the work by the NY Times, TV Guide, NPR, Washington Post, and other popular sources had the ability (and still does) to garner national attention for a product. Good or bad reviews from a trusted critic acted as potential proof that a product was worth buying, or not buying. So in theory, when it came to books, movies, music, theater, we didn’t have to waste our money or time on a movie ticket, book purchase, tv show, or whatever. Simple enough, except I didn’t always agree with the critics.
I can remember Siskel and Ebert panning movies I liked with “two thumbs down” every Saturday afternoon on their syndicated television show. I’m thinking to myself, “those guys don’t know what they’re talking about.” Of course, no one really cared about my opinion outside of my own like-minded friends, which wasn’t really true (I wouldn’t figure this out until decades later). Many in the entertainment industry spent a lot of time and money trying to figure out what people like me were interested in. The only reason I often watched the program was to get a look at the trailers of movies that were coming out. Being the days before WWW, there was little chance of advanced warning. The sad thing, a good film, book, or album could be ignored because of a couple of bad reviews. Now, that can still happen, but the Internet gives the customer a chance to “chime” in. As great as I thought it would be, I have found that it’s not often a pretty sight.
I’ve seen poorly worded rants that have attacked author, publishers, actors, directors, and the whole gamut of entertainment professionals. Of course, everyone is entitled to their opinion and people aren’t required to agree with me anymore than I with them. What I wished was that reviewers could offer concrete reasons that exceeded “I liked it” or “I hated it” (And that a contributor at least ran spell check before posting). Then I realized that its possible people aren’t used to explaining the “why” of what it is that they hate or like.
Over the next several weeks, I want to offer some help so that the would-be critic would actually be taken serious. It’s true that Netflix, Amazon and Goodreads have the star system which removes some of the burden of communication from the reviewer, but if someone really hated my work, I would be interested to know constructive reasons why. It would help me improve. Of course, the would-be critic might say, “not my problem”, but then again, the would-be critic isn’t always taken seriously. More importantly, a would-be critic will lose their chance to give input directly into our culture if readers, writers, and other entertainment professional won’t take their comments seriously.
Amazon, bloggers, Goodreads, and a host of other electronic sources offers readers the means to make their voices heard, bypassing the traditional critic, and empowering the masses to influence popular culture. That sounds thrilling, until you read through a bunch of “thumbs down” reviews on many sites. Sometimes, I still feel as if I haven’t escaped Siskel and Ebert. At least Siskel and Ebert were articulate enough to express why they hated or liked a movie. I’m hoping that the masses will rise to the challenge. Also, I promise this won’t be boring.
Next week, “MOVING BEYOND, “I HATED IT” or “I LOVED IT”