Take That Thumbs-Down & Stick It Up Your Ass: Lamenting The Loss Of The Critic
Rant mode: engaged.
Yesterday, Mighty Game Dude David Hill pointed to an article on boingboing (“Games Not Art After All, Say Angry Gamers“) that describes how, blah blah blah, some reviewer over at G4 took Metroid M to task for issues beyond its graphics or gameplay — in particular, that Samus becomes a regressive female figure, and that the game is somewhat sexist for portraying her as a girl “submissive and obedient” to male figures.
Now, to be clear, I have no feelings either way about Metroid. I do have feelings on how male authors write women (in all forms of pop media), but for now I’ll let Josh Loomis handle that topic at his blog.
What does give me pause is the fact that we no longer have critics. By which I mean critics in what I feel to be the old-school sense of the word — what we have now are, strictly speaking, “reviewers.” We have become obsessed with the good / bad polarity of pop culture. We are driven only by recommendations. We no longer have in great bounty the task that critics used to perform: analysis of the subject at hand. Not a review. Not a “did I like this? tee-hee-giggle-snort!” but an honest-to-jeebus look at some aspect of a pop culture piece — a look that holds it up against culture, against history, against society, against other work, against anything other than the reviewer’s own personal thumbs-up or thumbs-down grade-school bullshit.
(Do you like me? Check the box that says YES or NO!)
*pees pants in anger*
I don’t know that gamers are necessarily the most regressive of the lot, though it wouldn’t surprise me — being a gamer, I’m still sometimes astounded at the things I hear and see on, say, Xbox Live or on Internet forums about games. I find it’s a little dialed back when reading about books, film, TV or comics (though even there the Internet de-evolution is hard at work).
The audience may certainly be driving the content, but it’s still a shame that you don’t see many actual critics stepping into the fold, trying to talk about pop culture in a way that goes beyond the dichotomy of good and bad — we’re so obsessed with that Rotten Tomatoes style of measurement, that simplified notion that pop culture and art is subject to something that is essentially numerical — “Oh! 78% of people liked that thing that I already like! Woo!” or “Pshh, 78% of people liked that thing that I think sucks the sweat off of a dying man’s balls. Boo!”
This bleeds over to our fascination with money, too — in the box office tally, in how many units a video game sells, in what books are on the bestseller list (note that the bestseller has nothing to do with the best reading — it’s purely a measurement of units moved). It’s as if the money other people spent — other people you don’t know! — makes one lick of difference whether you’ll like something or not.
This is why I don’t read many reviews anymore. What I need in terms of recommendations, I can get from my circle of online peeps (i.e. you folks), something I discussed in my Escapist article, “In Twitter We Trust,” an article talking about the shift in what we once considered “word-of-mouth.”
What I want to see more of are thoughtful looks at film, video games, books, whatever — critics that talk about what that piece of art and pop culture means to her and then attempt to connect it to something beyond the critic herself, something that draws from larger sources and makes a bigger (or even smaller and more personal) statement than just “Me like! You buy now! Shill shill shill!”
I lament the loss of the critic.
I damn the rise of the entrenched reviewer class.
*spits on ground, then the spit turns acidic and eats through the sidewalk, then catches fire, and somewhere, a unicorn croons a mournful howl and leaps off a cliff to the churn-froth ocean below*
Anyway: a call to action, then, since it’s considered rude to bring up a problem and then to just drop the mic and walk off stage — the equivalent of vomiting, then failing to clean it up.
Seek out criticism. You can find game “critique” at The Escapist, and since I am nothing if not a needy whore, I’ll start you off by pointing to two more articles of my own — “A Paean To Floyd,” which talks up sidekicks, and “The 12-Year-Old Who Carried Us To Victory,” which talks about leadership qualities born in the unexpected arena of Modern Warfare multiplayer. While you’re there, you might as well look at my take on white-washing in video games, “The Pasty White Person Is King.”
I don’t know that what I do constitutes quality criticism, but dangit, I’m trying.
And other people are, too. Someone recommended Kill Screen Magazine, for instance.
Do you have critics you like to read? Roger Ebert has become less driven by his thumbs-up/thumbs-down approach and at his blog has become a critic across an array of subjects.
Where else can and should one look? You tell me. Where do you go?
Also, it’s not just about seeking out the right critics. It’s about avoiding reviewers. Don’t give in to that easy Rotten Tomatoes mindset. Stop caring quite so deeply about the money, too.
And finally, write up some thoughtful analysis of your own. Doesn’t have to be dry or boring. Got a blog? Do it there. Forget the “good or bad” mentality. Tell us why we should care. Tell us what this thing you just watched /read / played / experienced means. Get your hands dirty, your boots muddy.
Tell the reviewer to stick it up his ass.
Let us once again exalt the critic.
Rant mode, off.
PYOOOooooooo… — *