Thursday, May 24, 2007

Dick's flicks

Film critic Richard Schickel holds forth in the LA Times on the amateurs encroaching on his patch:

"Let me put this bluntly, in language even a busy blogger can understand: Criticism — and its humble cousin, reviewing — is not a democratic activity. It is, or should be, an elite enterprise, ideally undertaken by individuals who bring something to the party beyond their hasty, instinctive opinions of a book (or any other cultural object). It is work that requires disciplined taste, historical and theoretical knowledge and a fairly deep sense of the author's (or filmmaker's or painter's) entire body of work, among other qualities."

Which is true-ish. There's a difference between an opinion poll that deems Star Wars to be the best film ever made, and one that gives the gong to Citizen Kane or Rashomon. It's not just snobbery; it's that a higher proportion of people who voted for Kane have also seen Star Wars, than vice versa.

Where Schickel falls down, and very heavily, is in his arrogant assumption that the paid critics are more likely to have done the intellectual legwork than the bloggers. Let me put this bluntly, in language that even Schickel can understand: many people who are paid to offer their opinions in newspapers and magazines are fatuous, ill-informed arseholes. Many people who offer their opinions for free, in blogs, are knowledgeable, articulate and perceptive critics.

Ah, but it's not the bloggers himself, he suggests, perhaps suddenly aware that an increasing number of his elite friends are also edging into this strange discipline. It's the medium:

"The act of writing for print, with its implication of permanence, concentrates the mind most wonderfully. It imposes on writer and reader a sense of responsibility that mere yammering does not. It is the difference between cocktail-party chat and logically reasoned discourse that sits still on a page, inviting serious engagement."

The notion that Mr Schickel's finely-honed aperçus are more 'permanent' than those of a blogger because they end up dead-tree media rather than on the Web is simply too idiotic to contemplate. Being a gentleman from the former colonies, he may not be aware of the phrase 'tomorrow's chip wrapper', but I think he might be able to get the gist of it. In any case, the only reason I came across his senile, poncy witterings is that I found a link to them on another website.

But does the fact that I don't have a subscription to the LA Times mean that I'm not one of his intimate circle of chums who can distinguish between 'disciplined taste' and mere opinion?

26 comments:

dh said...

I know what Schickel is basically saying. These uncouth blogger people are barging into literary salons without presenting any credentials. It's true but I think he has to get used to it. Perhaps it's the internet itself he has trouble with? He shouldn't complain too much. His own reviews now find their way into google archives instead of gathering dust in obscure library storerooms where even janitors don't go anymore.

Shane Richmond said...

Well said.

Two assumptions in his article that particularly irritate me: first, that it's possible for a qualified critic to declare an objective truth, for example the Philip K Dick has an "over-inflated reputation". A critical opinion, however well-grounded is still a subjective one.

Second, he seems to be unaware of (or simply to ignore) the fact that we get opinions from a variety of sources (friends and family, blogs, reviews in papers and magazines) and are for the most part capable of weighing the strengths and weaknesses of competing sources. He seems to think the public is a herd of idiots, helpless without properly qualified guides to tell us what to read or watch.

patroclus said...

Schickel's probably been reading Andrew Keen's book. Perhaps he should have been reading John Carey's book instead. Or Chris Anderson's.

Shane Richmond is correct - the existence of blogs won't stop people reading professional reviews by knowledgeable critics. Unless the critics in question aren't very good, in which case they shouldn't have their jobs in the first place, and the blogosphere will be doing everyone a favour by weeding them out.

orange anubis said...

Insecurity is a terrible thing. And deeply entwined with the whole concept of 'an elite.'

Billy said...

Ugh, how exactly does one join his "reviewing elite".

bye bye bellulah said...

"it's that a higher proportion of people who voted for Kane have also seen Star Wars, than vice versa." Yes.

I like the thought of an elite (professional and amateur) who can do a thorough job of Criticism on my behalf, so I can sit back and indulge in and cherry-pick from the fruits of their labour, but being 'right' in itself doesn't make people care.
Reviews? I just want to know that our tastes usually co-incide, I don't care about the quality because it's a conduit to the reviewed thing.

Pisces Iscariot said...

...and his reviews are shit too.
(I haven't read any, I just know this instinctually)

Tim Footman said...

I think the credentials thing remains, dh. But the people who award credentials are now the readers, rather than the editors (who don't necessarily have any specialist knowledge of the type that Schickel identifies - no more, at least, than the readers or bloggers).

Shane/Patroclus: an author recently said that, in the quest for publicity, getting a review is the important thing. What gets said in the review is irrelevant. It's just a name recognition thing.

OA: Are you saying that Mr Schickel has a lickle dickle?

Hello, BBB. See response to Shane and Patroclus. But, hey, join the elite. I could suggest that by posting here, you've done it already...

Pisces Iscariot: Well said, sir.

Jun Okumura said...

Did you smell fear, too, Tim?

I think Mr. Shickel, if he bothered to blog, would have his mind concentrated wonderfully the first time he made a misstep and failed to address the problem properly. I've seen Jay Carney on the TIME Swampland blog do it twice. Both times, he just stopped blogging under a barrage of criticism (presumably to tend to his day job as Washington bureau chief). He finally owned up to his mistake, though - reality bites hard - and readers were very forgiving. Mr. Shickel will learn very quickly that, unlike the no-comments-allowed, hard-copy world, bloggers can only run; they cannot hide.

M.A.Peel said...

Personally, I think it's a riot this opinion is in the LA Times. Do we need any more evidence of what a intellectual wasteland that place is?

M.A.Peel said...

Alright--so East Coasters don't type wel. AN intellectual . . .

When is Blogger going to allow correcting posts? That's what everyone should be worried about, not uncredentialed bloggers.

Tim Footman said...

That's a sound point, Jun. The distinction between 'bloggers' and 'journalists' has become so blurred as to become pointless, with bloggers being drafted into CiF etc, and legit journos (eg Shane) running sideline blogs (and only the likes of Schickel, Street-Porter, etc holding out).

Well, I didn't like to say it, Ms Peel, having known some delightful Californians, but yes, if Schickel's so great, why's he writing for the LAT? And poo to typing skills.

alistair fitchett said...

I've slightly off the point, perhaps, but i have just been at a conference about online child protection, and the overwhelming feeling that i have come away with is the enormous, apparently unbridgeable gulf between those who 'get' new media tecnologies and those who do not. Supposedly well educated professionals just throwing up their (fire)walls at the very thought of people communicating openly and challenging all of their powers of control. And really, that's what it comes down to. People in the traditionally dominant 'old' media just don't want to lose their control. When it comes down to it i guess that is what everything is about: power and control.

Murph said...

Can I just mention Charles-Augustin Sainte-Beuve?
(Dick says he doesn't get much of a look in Blogosphere-wise).

patroclus said...

Good point Alistair. We had a client ask us the other day to help them 'control what people are saying about us the blogosphere'. And that's just it, isn't it - you can't.

Fear of the mob, fear of the 'masses', fear of losing control - it's all there. Schickel will probably end his days cowering in a bunker in the Hollywood Hills, beset on all sides by naked dancing bloggers, IMDB chat forumers and other 'hairy-chested populists'. Or so he thinks, anyway.

Shane Richmond said...

Alistair's right. There are still many people in every industry who just don't get it.

A few months back I talked to (well, had a passive aggressive argument with is more like it) a journalism professor who insisted that newspapers had now 'cracked' the internet and that the really important thing was to figure out what to do with free papers.

Conversely, this morning I had a really interesting chat with two civil servants who are trying to work out what the govt can offer in the social media field. They very clearly do get it, which makes it all the more sad that so much of the stuff the govt does in this space is so awkward.

bye bye bellulah said...

Hurrrah for democratisation of the intellectual marketplace - barriers to entry coming down, 'free' and instantly available information to all and more and more people realise they have something worth saying, or at least are allowed to talk shit as much as the next blogger, cabinet minister or right-wing extremist.
Viva la revolution Marxist-Smith!

ps am misty with a new identity - forgot my old password

Tim Footman said...

And talking about attempting to control the channels of communication, how about McDonald's trying to rewrite the OED?

realdoc said...

There are shit bloggers, there are shit reviewers in shit papers. There are also excellent, well-informed bloggers who write to a high standard and whose views I respect, not because they write for some august newspaper but because their previous recommendations have been on the money. It's called trust. I trust the views of a number of bloggers, I definately do not trust the press who are more likely to give something a good review if they've had enough of a bribe in freebies or if they are mates of those involved.

Murph said...

I thought they managed to get the taken-short-in-high-street "McDump" included in the OED?

Anonymous said...

Dear sweet mother of God, what a load of unmitigated cock.

As a paid critic ('elite' certainly isn't a word I'd use) I can only assume that things in the newspaper world are very different across the pond.

I write, for example, half-a-dozen CD reviews in one evening after a cursory listen. Theatre reviews are done in 20 minutes at 6am. We do NOT have the time to gather deep historical knowledge on everything we write about.

Whereas you can find articulate, knowledgable bloggers on pretty much every subject under the sun.

Perhaps I ought to move to LA...

John

First Nations said...

"..It is, or should be, an elite enterprise, ideally undertaken by individuals who bring something to the party beyond their hasty, instinctive opinions of a book (or any other cultural object). "

oh, i love that. i do.

i wonder if this wasn't him appearing on SNL and tearing a picture of the Pope in half, though?

Robert Swipe said...

"..most wonderfully"...

Does he wear knickerbockers, do you think?

Twat.

Oh and Shane - you were *fabulous* in Eastenders - the street's not the same without you, methinks.....ah shit - that's torn me "man of the people" blogger credentials...

L.U.V. on ya,

Bob

Andrew said...

But anyone who chooses Citizen Kane as the greatest film made is certainly talking thru their posterior, though possibly with the proviso that this silly opinion owes itself simply to an absence of knowledge of the films of Andrei Tarkovsky, who Ingmar Bergam rightly considered a league beyond everyone else.
Though due I would feel far more confident in asserting this were I writing on paper rather than the doubtful substance within a computer screen.

Andrew said...

Where did that due come from. Were you considerate enough to be using paper for this blog, Tim, I could cross that word out. Which just goes to prove the point of that wonderful Mr Schnikers. Though of course, I would hardly have made that mistake since he act of writing for print, with its implication of permanence, concentrates the mind most wonderfully. It imposes on writer and reader a sense of responsibility that mere yammering does not.

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