Movie Critics, a Dying Breed?

If an MSM movie critic reviews a movie in an empty forest, will
anyone care? That is the question posed by newspaper film reviewer,
Steven
Whitty
who seems agonized that the general public and the movie
industry increasingly regard him and his colleagues as irrelevant:

[Helping end the days when MSM critics matter more] has
been Hollywood's increasing reliance on pre-sold titles, saturation
advertising and action franchises aimed at teenage boys.

"When
I started at Paramount in the '60s, you opened a picture in four
theaters and hoped for good reviews," says the former studio
exec. "Nowadays, when you open a movie on 4,000 screens, spend
$80 million on ads -- well, you're not exactly dependent on word of
mouth."

No argument there, and no news to veteran
critics.

"I think the studios have finally realized they
have all this power, so why don't they use it," says Dave Kehr,
who reviewed films for the Chicago Tribune, the New York Daily News
and the New York Times before switching to a DVD column for the
Times. "They don't need us. People like Adam Sandler have
demonstrated that you can treat critics with open contempt and it
doesn't make the slightest difference."

There's a lot of truth in Whitty's analysis so far. Since most
people no longer read newspapers, it stands to reason that they'd
stop consulting critics working in their employ. And he is certainly
right about Sandler, whose cinematic corpus delicti demonstrates
contempt not just for critics but for anyone with an IQ higher than
70. Unfortunately, this is about all our erstwhile critic gets right.

After a brief discussion and complaint about corporate media
behemoths using their empires to cross-promote products, Warner Bros.
films being plugged in Time, etc., Whitty's analysis begins to veer
off-track as he complains about how critics like him often are not
allowed to watch a movie before its general release (quel horreur!)
before getting into the inevitable bashing of his internet
competitors for having the temerity to write about film without
consulting him:

Another jolt to mainstream critics has been the rise of
the Internet, a phenomenon that has studios buying online ads and
mainstream media rethinking their approach. Some Web site critics
brag that they have more readers than their local paper; some papers
worry that their print reviewers won't appeal to the online
generation they're trying to reach.

And so the Village Voice,
once the bastion of long-form, serious reviews, has made room for
shorter, snarkier and shallower critiques. Entertainment Weekly has
been redesigned to look more like a Web site, crowded with trivia,
inconsequential lists and personal Q-and-A's. [...]

Many Web sites, however, operate like personal fiefdoms.
How do you know that the anonymous rave you saw wasn't posted by a
publicist? How can you be sure that the blogger you've bookmarked
isn't plugging only film festivals that comp her expenses? [...]

It's also endemic. Sure, there are cyber critics who post
detailed critiques rooted in an appreciation of cinema's history. But
sometimes it seems as if they're outnumbered -- or at least
outshouted -- by hundreds of Comic Book Guys, all hurling invective
and tediously explaining how every other reviewer is wrong.

"The
Internet has given a huge number of young people the chance to write
criticism and yet so many of them are imitating the worst aspects,"
says Kehr, who keeps a hand in at davekehr.com. "It just seems
as though there are an awful lot of people getting up on their hind
legs and yelling. If you disagree with them you're an idiot. And if
you choose not to continue the disagreement endlessly, you're a
coward."

While it's certainly clear that there are plenty of web sites
where a PR person can be operating in sock puppet fashion, it's worth
noting that Whitty provides no examples of this, nor does he
establish how exactly a blogger "plugging only film festivals
that comp her expenses," is any worse than Time magazine
shilling for a corporate sibling-produced movie. One could even argue
that Whitty's fictional blogger is more ethical than editors,
reporters, and critics who willingly give free advertising to awful
or mediocre films like "Fahrenheit 9/11," "American
Beauty," or "Brokeback Mountain" simply because they
promote left-wing values.

The essence of Whitty's complaint is essentially the same as many
others emanating from many MSM critics who are irritated and even
upset that people no longer have to jump through the hoops of the
media establishment in order to get their voices heard.

"But people will get it wrong!" goes the refrain.
Absolutely. Some will. But some will also get it right. What complaining old
media types fail to realize is that bloggers and journalists deal in
the same coin, credibility. And credibility is something that has to
be earned and maintained. Most people are smart enough to extend it
to anyone who consistently turns out intelligent and fair content
about films or anything else. The rest will watch Adam Sandler
despite what anyone says.

Matthew Sheffield
Matthew Sheffield
Matthew Sheffield, creator of NewsBusters and president of Dialog New Media, an internet marketing and design firm, left NewsBusters at the end of 2013