• The Heart Of A Gnu Generation

    I’m glad I’m not paid to be a critic because I’m not very critical. I tend to like most of the movies I see and the ones I don’t like I’m more indifferent to rather than angry at. I would be like Homer in that episode of The Simpsons when he becomes a critic. I would effusively praise every movie I saw, all the other critics would hate me and then a bunch of chefs would try to kill me with a poison eclair.

  • DJ JD

    In a previous life, I was a video game reviewer for a magazine that has long since gone the way of the dodo. I gave a negative rating to a game I didn’t much enjoy whose name escapes me now, but was basically a homegrown Battletech look-alike, even using some of the same rules. The game went on to do poorly–and I started getting peppered with emails from the game’s sole designer and programmer. He was basically a heartbroken 18-year-old German kid whose big dreams were vanishing right in front of him, and I was one of the guys who made it happen. I felt awful for him and I really wanted to do the internet equivalent of buy him a beer, but the fact is the game was a deeply infuriating thing to play and some of the elements just plain didn’t seem like they were working correctly (like an RNG that failed a stated 80% shot something like 17 times in a row.)

    Still, the experience left me keenly aware of how much less skin I had in the game than he did. The kid was heartbroken; his emails (his English was excellent) said things like “my company dies with this.” He was clearly smart and hardworking, and he was trying to go places a lot younger than I had. I’d have been delighted to be his friend, and he was clearly my better in several character traits. It’s just, you know, the game sucked. That was the only problem.

    Anyway, that was the last game I reviewed, and those emails were the reason I quit. I’m a natural critic; I don’t have to actively try to take things apart–but I came away from it feeling like I wasn’t really improving the world by doing so. So now I post here!

    edit: I should clarify that I respect criticism as a discipline, but decided to walk away from it myself. I never understood the type of person that thinks it’s a waste of time or actively parasitic, and it’s not like I’m utterly devoid of skepticism these days. It was just a life choice I made for myself, more or less entirely experientially.

    • Son of Griff

      If you really like the medium, you really want your negative criticism to serve a constructive purpose. On the other hand, it is easy to get offended when someone practices your religion in a way that seems cynical and disrespectful towards the audience/consumer. It sounds like this guy was sincere in his passion to create a good game, yet it’s sad to realize that the market does not allow for baby steps and carries penalties for failure.

      The only time that I received a negative creator response for a review that I posted was from conservative writer David Horowitz. I’m really proud of that one.

      • DJ JD

        If I’d understood who he was beforehand, I probably would’ve worded things a bit differently–but even then, I hadn’t been going for cheap snark or mocking the work, I was just being very honest and straightforward. You said it: the market doesn’t allow for baby steps. (I fully believe he was being sincere.) I don’t know what sort of apprenticeship or other process could’ve prevented this, but if I’m confident that he is probably doing fine these days, I also hope that he didn’t get scarred by the experience.

        I felt like there was a maturity question at work for sure. He wanted me (and by extension, everyone else) to notice what he’d done right, and all the substantial effort he’d put forth into this–and then instead of that, I spent my time nitpicking. It’s the part you can’t really just show to someone; they have to see it for themselves. It’s also a dynamic I feel like I’ve seen happen in failed/flubbed/fiasco artwork, too, in all sorts of media.

        • Son of Griff

          Professional criticism requires forfeiting the right to shield yourself from mediocrity and artistic malfeasance. The troubling thing is realizing how easy it is to tear up someone’s years of effort in a few hours, even when handled without snark.

          • DJ JD

            Well said. And of course, if the creator doesn’t understand that, hurt feelings are almost inevitable.

  • Son of Griff

    Having the wisdom to distinguish quality from preference, and to realize that a lack of the former does not preclude enjoyment of the latter, is a fundamental talent for criticism. My failure to conceive of this at a young age limited my appreciation of a good number of popular movies in the 80s, when I was an obnoxious film snob. Critics get a bad rap, I think, because many readers conflate what they like with being good and, conversely, what they don’t like as being bad. Good film writers foster an appreciation for the aesthetics and cultural contexts of movies, appealing to readers who like movies and want to know more about them, and to integrate discussions of the cinema into other contexts in their lives.

    This larger duty, however, often requires critics to familiarize themselves with works that might otherwise not appeal to their tastes. As a scholar of cinema, I feel an obligation to watch movies across a wide range of subjects because they are part of an expanded cultural conversation. Paradoxically what I watch then becomes more selective, as the volume that I consume must be more comprehensive. Is the investment of time going to reveal something worth spending a couple of hours staring at a glowing square? At some point, to paraphrase the great detective Vincent Hanna, is it wasting my motherfuckin’ time?

    Conversely, I personally don’t fret over moral quandaries related to an artist’s personal life, even if those troubling aspects inform the work. Discerning the biographical in the imaginary is part of the job, and the conversation raised by a star’s or director’s personal failings, extending even so far into criminal behavior, is part of a larger cultural conversation that critics must respond to by coming into contact with the work.

    • DJ JD

      My objective for that age-old Chinatown question used to be to ignore it and focus on the work, but I have to admit that my lines have shifted quite a bit over the years. I’m not sure where I stand these days, really.

      • Son of Griff

        I used to see more Towne than Polanski in it, but as I’ve become more sensitive to gender in crime fiction, the manner in which the film deploys rape as a metaphor for environmental degradation demands more scrutiny, particularly in light of how narrowly the director defines the act in terms of excusing his own personal conduct.

      • The Ploughman

        If any single tweet has possibly changed my view of a movie, it’s this one:


        • thesplitsaber

          I like this summary of The Dark Knight- ‘Billionaire beats up mentally ill man’.