Daily-newspaper bosses across the country have been letting cultural critics go en masse, no doubt due to the crappy economy, no doubt due to the predominance of the blogosphere. Smarty-pantses are all verklempt about the situation. Apparently, no one’s told them that glossy mags and alt-freaking-weeklies are alive and well, thank you very much! Jerks. As if daily newspaper criticism is the only criticism that matters. Puh-lease. Some of that crap is so poorly written it’s embarrassing. And yet you can bet that daily-newspaper critics are making more money than us alt-weekly and mag folks. Drives me crazy.
Anyway, the Times’ A.O. Scott believes that criticism itself –– shitty writing on shitty blogs notwithstanding –– is in the same shape it’s been in since, well, the first caveman shook his head glacially and scrawled a big “X” through another caveman’s drawing of a bison. That state? “Miserable and full of possibility,” Scott writes in a recent column. “The world is always falling down. The news is always very sad. The time is always late.”
And there will always be a need for informed criticism, with “informed” being the optimal word. In an Op-Ed in the Los Angeles Times a couple of years ago, TIME’s film critic Richard Schickel compared blogging to “finger-painting” and went on to say, “I don’t think it’s impossible for bloggers to write intelligent reviews. I do think, however, that a simple ‘love’ of reading (or movie-going or whatever) is an insufficient qualification for the job. … We have to find in the work of reviewers something more than idle opinion-mongering. We need to see something other than flash, egotism, and self-importance. We need to see their credentials. And they need to prove, not merely assert, their right to an opinion.”
Scott isn’t worried about criticism’s purported death knell. “It is not a profession and does not stand or fall with any particular business model,” he writes. “Criticism is a habit of mind, a discipline of writing, a way of life — a commitment to the independent, open-ended exploration of works of art in relation to one another and the world around them. As such, it is always apt to be misunderstood, undervalued, and at odds with itself. Artists will complain, fans will tune out, but the arguments will never end.”