Cultural Criticism, Pt. 1

"Haters gonna hate." 

(Note: the opinions of any blog post reflect that of the author's only and does not necessarily speak for other members of Selladore Films.)

The title of this post is curiously and intentionally ambiguous. "Cultural criticism" can carry at least two basic meanings: it can refer to either a criticism that the culture makes or a criticism of the culture itself. Both meanings apply to this post, with the second being a result of the first, (my criticism of culture being a result of the criticism that our culture hurls so liberally). This is, of course, hypocritical on some level to criticize culture for criticizing. However, it is not an end goal to this post but a means. By turning culture's weapon of criticism upon itself we see the inherit limitations and harm it does to even itself. 

"Everybody's a critic."

While the term "everyone's a critic" has been present seemingly forever, the presence of criticism on creative works seems to have grown in recent times. Critics for movies, television, music and more now litter media in numbers that vastly outnumber their predecessors 50 years ago. Every news outlet and magazine has at least one critic and now blogs have emerged to offer us their take. Through sites like Rotten Tomatoes, the Internet has opened the doors to everyone, even those not versed in any discipline or art form, to level their criticisms at vehicles of creative art. We take a creative work that one or many people have spent considerable amounts of time, money, and themselves in creating and we then risk little or nothing in an effort of summation, censure, and definition. 

I think part of the problem is not that we have an opinion, that we discern good quality from bad, or that we enjoy some things and not others. The problem is that we often view these opinions as definitive and objective, saying things like "that was crap", instead of "I did not like it". To make matters worse, we are often unqualified to make these criticisms. I say "we" because I belong to this culture and I have been a part these discussions on art where a narcissistic mindset has insisted that my opinion not only mattered, but it was definitive. Reality tells a vastly different story. My meager experience and/or education like working in startup film/video company and a degree in music composition with a minor in film are comically inadequate to attempt a criticism on a movie like multiple Academy Award winner Peter Jackson's "The Hobbit" or multiple Grammy and Academy Howard Shore's Hobbit soundtrack. What have I done or learned that gives my criticism any weight? Where is my Academy Award? As comically insufficient as my qualifications are, many people making these criticisms don't even have these! 

There are other problems beyond our inadequacy to make such criticisms. For one, it either stems from or fuels our own narcissism, and in some cases, both. Being able to subject even the greatest of creations to our scrutiny inflates the ego. We leave our couches thinking we have accomplished something, or that our tastes are superior, or that we saw what was wrong with a particular film where the makers did not. At the end of our criticism, though, we are still left at our couch and our collection of Academy Awards still numbering zero. This often leads our ego and reality being separated and to grow more distant yet. 

Still yet, another problem it creates is it actually discourages creative endeavors. I feel if there is one area that my experience can verify something in this entry, it is here. When writing, brain-storming, or composing, nothing kills my desire to create more than criticism. Yes, criticism is often warranted, and helpful in some cases, but if negative criticism is all we contribute then we stifle people and the creativity that comes from them.

Where does that leave us? Should we never share our opinion? Should we not have an opinion? Should we not discern excellent from poor? Should we never call something bad? The answer to all of these is "No". I believe the answer has to do with the intangible rather than the tangible: our mindset and attitude when making these assessments. If we temper our criticism with examination of our own credibility, our conscious and subconscious goals for making such assessments, and remember that it is our subjective opinion, I believe we can transform not just our criticisms, but the spirit in which we make them.

But this is only part of the answer. We must also do the exact opposite of criticism. 

To be conitnued...