Critical Hit

I’ve watched a few CinemaSins videos recently, and thought they were pretty funny. Then a few days ago I saw this tweet from the Nostalgia Chick, and I was curious as to what people hated so much about them. Someone linked to this article (although I actually can’t find the link anymore; I located the post through Google), and I have to say I found it to sound rather elitist. The CinemaSins format doesn’t get at what making movies is all about? Well, why should it? The majority of the audience filmmakers are aiming for doesn’t either. Now, I think it’s a valid point that the “let’s point out everything wrong with this” school of criticism (if you can even really call it criticism) is a bit overdone.

I love the Angry Video Game Nerd, but so many Internet personalities are doing the same basic schtick. And yes, some of the jokes on CinemaSins aren’t at all funny; I feel the listing of “reading” as something wrong buys into a general trend of anti-intellectualism in our culture, even if such is not the intent. I’ve also never considered movies that assume you’ve read the book to be a bad thing, although perhaps they should let you know this before you go see it. Overall, though, I think the post is an admittedly better-written version of the meta-criticism I see constantly, which largely boils down to, “How can you complain about this piece of media? Could YOU do better?” And no, I generally couldn’t, but aren’t I still entitled to an opinion? Besides, no one is paying me to try, and I figure we SHOULD hold professionals to a somewhat higher standard. That said, I can also understand how someone’s feelings could get hurt by a particularly harsh criticism of their work, which is why the fact that pretty much every artist is on Facebook and Twitter these days probably should lead to more fairness in criticism. I would imagine someone is less likely to call a director a talentless hack to their face than on an Internet forum they’re unlikely to read, although such does not always appear to be the case. And I’ve seen some artists who seemed WAY too intent on responding to every bit of criticism with nasty comebacks, even when that criticism was actually valid and not especially mean.

All in all, criticism is a rather odd activity. Does anyone really care what your opinion of a particular piece of art is? Well, maybe, if their opinions are similar. That’s why I’m more likely to read reviews by someone I know has similar tastes than by a professional reviewer. On the other hand, reviews are an art form in and of themselves, aren’t they? Siskel and Ebert were quite popular, after all. Still, though, I’ll sometimes read reviews of albums by musicians I like, and notice how incredibly lazy they often are. Practically every They Might Be Giants review has to use the word “quirky,” and while I’m not saying this isn’t appropriate, it really doesn’t say anything. I recall talking with another TMBG fan some years ago who said critics called Macy Gray “quirky,” and her music certainly isn’t similar to TMBG’s. “Weird Al” Yankovic reviews frequently make a point of how the parodies are so much better than the original songs, which makes me wonder if the critic even listens to the originals or just hears the beginning and thinks, “I don’t recognize this tune from an already-existing popular song, so this CAN’T be worth listening to!” And Frank Black reviews constantly insist that his solo work isn’t as good as the Pixies. Now, granted, these reviews aren’t from fans, so I don’t expect them to have the same level of appreciation I do for a Weird Al original or a Frank Black solo song. I’ll admit I’m biased. I just have to wonder why they have to rely on these review clichés instead of actually saying what they think in their own words. Are people typically influenced by music reviews anyway? Movie and book reviews, sure, but I figure most people buy records because they’ve heard one or two songs from them that they enjoyed, or because they already liked the artist. Maybe I’m wrong, though.

This entry was posted in Art, Frank Black/Black Francis, Humor, Music, Pixies, They Might Be Giants, Weird Al Yankovic and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Critical Hit

  1. Bryan Babel says:

    Samuel Johnson, after complaining about a bad play they had just seen, was told by Boswell that he couldn’t have written a better one. Johnson replied with words to the effect that you can scold a carpenter who has made you a bad table, even if you couldn’t even begin to build a good one yourself.

  2. I think there’s a difference between being critical and being insulting or demeaning. Some people bash something they don’t like by making personal comments about the creators, or writing off an entire genre they don’t understand to begin with, or making fun of the people who DO like the work, or what. Or, as to that second part, people who read/watch/whatever something that isn’t their thing to begin with, and then bash it because they don’t like whatever sort of thing it was in the first place. Or they judge a work based on standards that have nothing to do with the work: “This green triangle is NOTHING LIKE a yellow square, therefore it’s a horrible yellow square!” to paraphrase Kristin Cashore on the subject of bad reviews.

    As a librarian who does collection development, I appreciate professional reviews that show me how the work fits into the overall body of work– what are its strengths and weaknesses? Why would someone want to read this? How necessary is this to a collection? But I understand that most people online– bloggers or tweeters or whatever– aren’t writing to an audience of collection development specialists. They’re just getting their personal opinions off their chest. But I think it’s polite to consider that the Internet isn’t your private diary or even a direct mailing to your friends, but it’s out there for everyone to see, and one shouldn’t be surprised if the people you’re trashing are reading it– so you SHOULD be respectful of people’s feelings. I tend toward the recommendations-only method of internet reviews, where I’m just not going to TALK about things I didn’t like, or if I do I’m going to be specific about how it just wasn’t for ME. Or I’ll make an exception when I know it’s something a lot of people DO like and I’m trying to defend WHY I just can’t join them, like the movie of Howl’s Moving Castle, because I figure nothing I’m going to say is going to make much of a difference in the sea of raves.

    • Nathan says:

      One important thing you should think about is whether you’re criticizing the work or the person who made the work, as the latter is much ruder.

  3. ozaline says:

    A good idea before attacking cinemasins is too watch, the video: Everything Wrong With Cinemasins: . They sum it up neatly, “we’re not reviewers, we’re assholes.” They count the sins in good movies, it’s not meant to be taken seriously… especially not things like: “Reading”, “DC Comics”, “There’s no Lap Dance in this Scene,” “Character X is a dick to Character or Group Y”.

    I’m a fan of Linkara and the others at channel awesome, and have even been working on my own “internet review” show for sometime, though I’ve started to become conflicted about the negativity most of them show.

    Anyway appreciate your write up here.

    • Nathan says:

      The point that CinemaSins isn’t meant to be taken seriously and that they acknowledge they aren’t real reviewers was brought up in both of those discussions, and basically dismissed with comments that they still foster negativity. Which sounds kind of like some New Age Negative Energy crap to me. But then, I’ve also never understood why so many people see cynicism as a bad thing.

      Also, I’ve noticed that it’s common for people to reserve their harshest criticism for people who do things that are quite similar but somewhat different. It’s like how Penn and Teller’s Bullshit! would constantly take shots at Michael Moore despite their similarities (in both good and bad ways).

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