Saturday, November 9, 2013

Complainers vs Critics

As world-class consumers we have become chronic complainers, spectators demanding our money’s worth. We think as consumers, holiday as consumers, even vote like consumers.

(By, we, I don’t mean you or you or even me………..but all those other people.)

We want what we want and if we don’t get it we become whiners and throw hissy-fits. Interactive technology has created a society of quasi-experts. We all have virtual bullhorns to tell the world what not to eat, where not to eat it and how best not to get there. How am I driving?  the back of the truck asks in our face, call 1-800…..  Teachers’ jobs depend on student evaluations. Stay on the line to answer this short survey. We grumble. We have road-rage.  Corporations look at test-marketing groups to see which direction their thumbs are pointing.   

Yelp elicits our feedback. We’ve been trained to have high expectations and encouraged to tell all. Revenge of the demotic. As befits a nation that consumes 30% of the world’s products, with only 5% of its population, we have grown passive even as we deplete the planet of non-renewable resources and account for 30% of its waste.

Yet we are probably less discerning than we might think. The corporate world saturates our senses in ways beyond our consciousness. They are on to us. They not only know what we buy and what we drive, wear and eat they even know what we think.  

And how we think is not very long, deep or well-considered. As an art form intellectual and literary criticism ain’t what it used to be. Where are the John Leonards, Susan Sontags, and Edmund Wilsons?  Yes, we have Daniel Mendelsohn and  James Wood but their voices reach only an elite few. Siskel and Ebert are history. What would Pauline Kael have to say about the crop of post-millennial block-busters? Even Frank Rich evidently had his fill and moved from Broadway shows to that other theater we call, politics.

Of course writers aren’t very fond of critic’s acerbic tongues. Kurt Vonnegut once quipped, Any reviewer who expresses rage and loathing for a novel is preposterous. He or she is like a person who has put on full armor and attacked a hot fudge sundae.

Asking a working writer what he thinks about critics is like asking a lampost what it feels about dogs, so said Christopher Hampton.

I must admit to enjoying an erudite review sometimes more than the work itself. Their use of language and keen analysis is particularly welcome in this age of mediocrity.

Being opinionated doesn’t necessarily develop one’s critical faculty. I believe the difference is worth noting in these times when everyone and no one is an expert.

No comments:

Post a Comment