The Critic and The Internet
Before the question of what critics are for can be answered, it is important to identify what a critique is in the first place. In a nutshell, a critique is just an informed opinion on the quality of a body of work, the keyword here being ‘informed’. Anyone can, and is entitled to give their opinion on a subject or object, but as a critic, your opinion is made more relevant by your understanding of the relevant field, from its roots to the time at which you are assessing the piece of work in question.
For most of the 20th century, critics enjoyed the position of custodians of culture because their opinions directly influenced both taste and perceptions. In the recent past, critics were allowed to listen to albums and view movies long before they became accessible to the general public. Critical reviews were usually sent out by the press, close to the release dates of the body of work in question to spike or douse fan anticipation.
While we might like to believe of our minds consist entirely of our own thoughts, the evidence that third party perspective shapes our cognitive process is apparent. This ranges from issues of morality to art appreciation. If everyone tells us a movie is bad, no matter how hard we try, we go into the theater with a subconscious fear that the film might not be worth the popcorn. And where we want to see conspiracy, eventually, we will. In the 21st century, critics still exist, but their place is arguably fading away as mass opinion takes center stage as the deciding factor of what dictates our tastes. With social media giving everyone a voice, and blogs with unfiltered comment sections popping up at every corner of the Internet, the public has never been so powerful at deciding what is culturally impactful and what is culturally irrelevant.
Unfortunately, the average consumer is hardly informed about the subject they offer opinions on. The result is a shift in appreciation directed by the emotional states of the general public as opposed to proper critical analysis. Arguably, this is the cause of what many would describe as cultural decadence. A quick glance at some of the world’s major art forms would reveal that the bodies of work with the highest critical ratings are hardly ever the best selling. Not surprisingly, before the digital revolution and the advent of social media, a favorable critical review could almost guarantee impressive sales.
As this trend continues, we must contemplate if it is only a phase of a soon to be over cycle, or if it is here to stay, creating a world where the best pieces are almost guaranteed not to be the most popular—a reality we must live with. Some argue that decadence cannot continue in perpetuity. It has been noted to be the greatest threat towards any civilization, but civilizations fall, only for new ones to rise. Perhaps this is but a cycle doomed to meet its end at some point in the future.
May 17, 2019