When We Trust Critics

As of the writing of this blog, the big-screen Baywatch movie with The Rock is getting hammered by critics in early reviews. The new Pirates of the Caribbean movie isn’t doing much better.

This gets back to something I know everyone has to have discussed to death by this point. We are terribly inconsistent as moviegoers in how we treat critical responses to movies. (Books and TV shows can be counted there as well, I guess.) By “we” I am, naturally, training the cross-hairs on the community of people collectively known as “nerds,” “geeks,” “dorks,” or “voters.”

Every time a franchise movie comes out, whether it’s a DC comics romp or some other big-screen spectacle that tickles our F-Zone*, we decry these early reviews as biased. We repeat mantras that the critics’ opinions don’t really matter anyway, but are secretly relieved when they are positive about something we “want to be good.”

Sometimes the reviewers’ ethics are called into question. They’re accused of being paid off. People claim critics don’t understand the property and so can’t be trusted. The critics have all been replaced with androids, hacked by Russia, and made tasteless jokes.

Jay Sherman from The Critic, as voiced by Jon Lovitz. Image hosted on New York Times, so go bug them.
We know he was honest, at least!

Yet no one rose to defend Nine Lives, an abysmal Kevin Spacey (!) movie that involved a spin on the premise of Freaky Friday, but with a cat. (The cat was cute, and yes I watched it to see if it was really that bad. It is for anyone above the age of 4.) There was a wondrous Twitter account that arose, “Occupy Nine Lives,” created to subtly mock DC fans decrying critical response to their franchise; it’s occasionally active still, but seemingly more as a commentary on our content-rich and attention-deficient information cycle.

I just want people to be honest that sites like Rotten Tomatoes and MetaCritic exist specifically because we do, in general, care about what critics think. In essence, critics matter still. They just matter in a totally different way than they once did. In the age when we’ve gone hyper-partisan, obsessed with conspiracy theories, and trapped in echo chambers of our own construction, we can’t possibly be surprised. We want critics that satisfy our confirmation bias, one way or the other.

A Modest Proposal

My modest proposal is not to eat critics. I want to go on record as not endorsing cannibalism.

There is a solution that I can offer, though. People are people and they’ll continue to be tribal about their likes and dislikes. What we need to do is get back to reading/viewing a select set of reviewers, especially me.

There is, after all, a reason people pay attention to what the New York Times arts section says about a Broadway play, instead of People magazine. Agree or disagree, but let’s put the focus back on those reviews and argue about them, instead of the interns at whatever place that get their hot takes tweeted first.

Rant over.

* Fan-zone, or F-Zone, is like the T-Zone that only Camels could satisfy. (Scroll back up and re-read the gag and laugh.)