Monday, February 12, 2007

Corresponding Criticism

This is a stumbling point for many critics of pop culture -- whether of the movies, or television, Top 40 radio or mass market fiction. All of these seem like easy targets, but it's trickier than it looks because there are too many innocent people in the way to get off a clean shot. The critic who sets out to say that TV is stupid and crass winds up arguing that TV viewers are stupid and crass. The critic who opens his mouth to call romance novels silly and unworthy closes his mouth having called all the women who read them silly and unworthy.

And that's not cool. First of all, it's not a very winsome approach to persuading others to accept whatever point it is you're trying to make. "You're an idiot," is rarely a useful starting point if you're trying to get the other person to listen to the rest of what you have to say. The result of this approach, as in the cartoon, is a sneering elitism.

Let me be clear about that word, "elitism." There's nothing wrong with having high standards for popular art and popular entertainment, standards that help you (and others) to separate the good stuff from the inferior. But when those standards are turned against the audience, when they're used to separate the good people from the supposedly inferior, that's when the critic loses my respect and attention. That's when the critic loses everybody's attention. This is what makes such critics truly elitist -- the tiny circle of people still listening to them is, indeed, an exclusive elite.

Such critics also, perversely, end up siding with those they initially set out to criticize because they reinforce the dreck-merchants' standard fall-back defense, "We're just giving the audience what they want."

The main problem here, though, is that such critics are blaming the victim. That's just wrong. Someone who has been tricked into paying good money for a Clay Aiken CD has suffered enough. There's no need to add insult to injury.
[via Slacktivist's Left Behind Archives]

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