Are film critics and other writers who write about pop culture “out of touch” and “living in a bubble?” This has been the basis of much talk in recent weeks and months.
There has been a series of “controversies” in which there is a wide disparity between critics’ and audiences’ scores for certain movies, especially those involving superheroes. There’s the pattern of movies earning rave reviews and winning critics’ awards and eventually Oscars being the ones most of the general public has never heard of. And it’s blamed for everything from low ratings for the Oscars to poor election results even, by implication, for the Democratic Party.
There will always be a difference between how critics see it and how the general public sees it. Critics have made it a life and a career and are going to approach things differently than those who watch movies recreationally. They probably saw a lot more, for one thing.
And really, it’s okay. I don’t think the opinions of critics and audiences have to match, and I don’t know where the idea that they should comes from. When I give a movie a bad review, I have no problem with non-reviewers (or other reviewers) disagreeing with me. We can agree to disagree.
But there is something else going on, especially in a different sector of pop culture media.
Teeth grinding analysis
It’s a pretty common occurrence these days for someone on a popular website to go wild with a weird movie take. Probably 8 out of 10 times it involves a young person seeing an older movie for the first time and calling it “problematic” or outright hating it.
There was such a case at the end of December. A Vox article argued that “so much Obama-era pop culture seems so cringe now.” The piece, by Constance Grady, said some of the most popular pieces of pop culture from less than a decade ago would now have fallen.
“Sunny, healthy, nominated for 16 Emmys Parks and recreation is now widely regarded as a overrated and viewed tunnel portrait of the failures of Obama-era liberalism. Iconic and loved Harry Potter is the neoliberal fancy of one transphobic. Perhaps most dramatic of all is the rapid fall of hamilton and its creator and star, Lin-Manuel Miranda, whose reputation is now one of serious embarrassment.
As pointed out, well, the majority of Movie Twitter is nonsense. These three things remain extremely popular. hamilton performs worldwide, while Lin-Manuel Miranda has written scores for three musical films, including the popular Disney film Encanto while directing a fourth. He will get the EGOT if any of the songs from Encanto won the award for Best Original Song.
Parks and recreation, in its current streaming incarnation, is probably watched by more people now than it was when it aired on NBC. And Harry Potter remains a multimedia colossus, with most people around the world completely unaware of the JK Rowling controversy.
These things have become “cringe” among a certain subset of overly online young people who live on Twitter all day, people who are by no means representative of the general public. But of course, everyone across the political spectrum agreed that he was indeed “cringing” when Speaker Nancy Pelosi introduced a song by hamilton as part of the January 6 commemoration in Congress.
The Vox piece was quickly mocked by many, for good reason. But something else is important to point out here: If a person writes a ridiculous take on pop culture, that means… a person wrote a ridiculous take on pop culture. This does not mean that this person’s opinion has become the law of the land. An op-ed in Vox claiming a movie is problematic does not lead to that movie being banned or ruined, nor does it mean “they’re coming for” that movie. Sometimes a bad opinion is just a bad opinion.
Penetrate the bubble
Probably the most read articles in response to Grady’s Vox article – and others like it recently – are by Yair Rosenberg of The Atlantic, a journalist who writes in his newsletter, Deep Shtetl. Rosenberg, who normally writes about politics and the Middle East, reviews and points out that there hasn’t really been a loss in popularity for these people and shows.
“Obviously none of these statistics tell you much about the moral merits of any position or argument that Miranda makes, Parks and recreation, or Rowling,” writes Rosenberg. “But they tell you about the culture and its preferences. Yet the average person wouldn’t experience most of this by consuming much of what passes for trendy internet cultural criticism.
Of course, the people who write “cultural critiques” in the vein of this Vox article are a little different from those who write straight-forward movie reviews — but of course, this cohort has its own issues involving “bubbles.”
I agree about 80% with what Rosenberg writes. It’s important for critics to see outside their bubble, and get a good idea of what the general public likes.
Anyone who believes that a review should reflect the views of the public hasn’t given much thought to the purpose of the review.
But I’d say most film critics, at least, are well aware of that – I know very few critics who don’t also pay close attention to the weekly box office, if not also everything in the Top Ten on Netflix anytime. given time. After all, these days the jobs of “reviewer,” “box office analyst,” “awards predictor,” and “chair industry reporter” are often done at the same time by the same person.
However, I also think it’s very important for reviews to be honest and not to flatter. Because if they do, they’re sacrificing their credibility. If anyone expects critics to praise movies they don’t really like as part of an effort to better communicate with the general public, they shouldn’t. The next time I voice an opinion in a review, I don’t really believe it will be the first.
Rosenberg quotes Roger Ebert, noting that the late popular critic “knew that most people who go to the movies aren’t looking for the next great work of cinema, but rather something to spend an enjoyable afternoon with their family.” And that’s certainly true for Ebert. But let me point you to another quote from Ebert.
In a 1995 edition of his Movie Answer Man column, a reader asked Ebert if, after all these years of review, his attitude “didn’t perhaps reflect that of the public”?
His response was illuminating, and something I’ve always carried with me as a reviewer:
“I have no interest in being objective or reflecting public opinion. A reviewer shouldn’t be a dummy ventriloquist, sitting on the audience’s lap and letting them put words in their mouths. The only useful or valid reviews are those that express their OWN opinions, which readers are then free to use or ignore. Anyone who believes that a review should reflect the views of the public hasn’t given much thought to the purpose of the review.
And that goes for the Critics Awards too.
Throughout December and January, national and regional review groups voted and announced their annual winners. These awards are often seen as harbingers of the Oscars and are therefore highly sought after by studios and filmmakers.
One such group, the National Film Society of Critics, awarded its Best Picture award to drive my car, an acclaimed Japanese film from director Ryusuke Hamaguchi. The same film had previously won top prizes from the New York Film Critics Circle and the Los Angeles Film Critics Association.
That didn’t sit particularly well with veteran screenwriter Roger Friedman. He described drive my car as “a nearly three-hour Japanese film that most people know nothing about”, and went on to chastise the choice as “a big ‘f-you’ for American and British filmmakers and English-made films. C It was the same for the general public of moviegoers.
Friedman also said that “the NSFC could have shaped the conversation about a group of films headed for the Oscars and struggling at the box office. But the message is “We’re so cool, we don’t have to like what you get.” So why should anyone bother going to the theater if the critics say to forget about it? »
That’s a very ridiculous claim, not to mention weirdly nativist. First of all, it’s not the job of film critics or critic groups to help the box office. This should not inform the vote of anyone voting for awards. But even if they did, drive my car… is part of the box office, unless you’re chauvinistic and don’t count foreign language films.
Also, most people who go to the movies have never heard of the NSFC, and the number of moviegoers who look to review groups for tickets is probably not large.
Additionally, members of the review groups should vote for the films they most want to win. I think it’s important for reviewers – whether in their writing or who they vote for in awards, to be honest while avoiding their bubbles. And it’s not that hard to find a way to do both at the same time.