By David Poland firstname.lastname@example.org
Armond Picks A Fight With The Web
I can’t say I disagree with Armond White.
Well, except for the part where he does to “the internet” and “bloggers” precisely what he claims “they” do by their nature.
The reason many of us still bother to consider what Armond White writes is because, as here, he is nothing close to insane. He’s just an old guy who doesn’t want to do the heavy lifting of distinguishing from smart conversation about films on the web and idiotic, aggressive, mostly worthless wannabe vomit.
He writes: “Attacks from bloggers—crude interlopers of a once august profession— are not about diversity of opinion. What’s at root is an undisguised rivalry. Every moviegoer with a laptop claims equal—vengeful—standing with so-called professionals.”
Well… sometimes. And in many cases, not.
There is a difference, which completely eludes Armond, between commenters at Rotten Tomatoes and many writers who toil professionally – whatever they are paid – on the web. In some cases, the RT screamers may be smarter than “real” critics. But there should be standards for professional standing as a critic of films. But the standard should not be – and is not in the NY Film Critics Circle or National Society of Film Critics, for that matter – publication by a Traditional Media outlet.
He writes: “The most important concern exceeds the critical profession; it’s the danger these changes pose to the culture in general. Ridiculing the need for mature thought and discriminating judgment diminishes film culture. Any opinion that challenges the blockbuster market gets punished. We never experience a healthy exchange of ideas. The social networking approach to criticism encourages anti-intellectual harassment and the excoriation of individual response; it may spell the end of critical habits altogether.”
But Armond, baby, you are so busy pissing on your potential allies in this fight and you are so prone to wildly overreaching about who is degrading your art, that you end up destroying your own authority.
“The Internet’s querulous, sarcastic backtalk should not be mistaken for intellectual debate; it’s schoolyard bickering, enmity from an otherwise voiceless mob unable to synthesize opposing points of view. What’s missing from the Internet hordes’ meanspirited griping is the learned skepticism, detachment and rationalization that are essential to intelligent cultural consumption and maintaining individual taste and choice. The late Pauline Kael’s warning, “Criticism is the only thing that stands between the audience and advertising,” has gone unheeded thanks to the newly empowered nonprofessional bloggers. Now, moviewatchers—including some scared reviewers—have lost faith in journalistic criticism as a trustworthy source of information or judgment.”
Again… agreed… except for your notion of “non-professional.”
And more importantly, though I understand the aggravation of becoming a target for having a differing opinion from the majority, you are being way too hard on The Internet and not nearly tough enough on you Traditional Media brethren. Seriously. If there is a single film critic of serious Traditional Media standing who is shredding the fabric of legitimate criticism, it is Peter Travers, who is quoted on, it seems, about 50% of movies, almost invariably before the overall embargo date.
On the issue of The Social Network, Sony has paraded Travers’ wildly extravagant quotes in combination with Scott Foundas’ Film Comment quotes… which came before screenings of the film for critics. I have a lot of respect for Foundas and the very serious folks at Film Comment and NYFS. But it was not some web wildman who set the bar that made your review seem contrarian… it was your brothers in print.
As for “spoilers,” I think it’s your right to review as you like. Personally, when I write before people have a chance to see a film, I like to be as spoiler-free as possible and then, when the film is out, to engage in conversation about the details of the film. I consider it part of my gig to do both, as both conversations engage my readers and commenters differently. But the idea that any critic should feel encumbered by people not wanting to have a film “spoiled,” an indignity which we who see movies early almost never have to suffer, is silly. Just make it clear that you are going to write about whatever elements of the film you want to write about. People can come back and read you later.
On the other hand, so many “critics” make 50% or more of their reviews a rote recitation of the story of the film, which is not only not intellectually engaging, but disrespects the idea of experiencing a film for yourself. Maybe you should be screaming that any 2 or 3 paragraph run of “here’s what happens in the movie” should disqualify the author (sometimes cribbing directly off of press notes) from “professional” status.
Moreover, on the web, it is not just commenters and anyone who can afford the $20 a month to start a blog, that clog up the critical ideal. There are many feature writers who now consider themselves critics. In most cases, “Blech!” But again, what is The Standard? How do we do this? Is AO Scott qualified because he started as a book guy and not a movie guy? How many years of TV makes Richard Roeper a “real” critic? And who gets to decide? You? Me?
I can tell you, many people who like me and show respect to me, refuse to allow to consider me a “real critic.” And I have to tell you, I write more in-depth coverage of movies, exploring films in depth, than 90% of the writers you surely consider “professional.” That doesn’t mean I am the best at it or even good at it. But I engage serious discussion of current films as much as anyone out there. Doesn’t keep Glenn Kenny from thinking I’m a twit.
In any case…
The issue of reestablishing the authoritative voice in film criticism is as serious and challenging as you suggest. But you’ve picked the easy, dare I say, lazy target. Oh, that darned interweb!!!!