Professional critics. What are they for? What do they do? Seriously, I’m asking, because I’m getting a little bit fed up with them. As far as I can see, most criticism nowadays isn’t about the actual creative content that the writer is supposedly assessing. No. It seems it’s more to do with making the journalist look good with his smug and witty remarks, and being scathing or dismissive of whatever material it may be (TV show/film). They offer no insight or valid argument, and instead simply pass breezy judgement (or biting remarks about the leading celebrity) as they get on to the next preview. More worryingly, a lot of these so-called critics show no core understanding of the medium they’re reviewing, which leads to ill-informed remarks and maligned opinion.
What’s the difference between a TV/film reviewer and a TV/film critic anyway? I started out writing film reviews, and even appeared on Irish telly (must try to upload a clip - embarrassing! - ah, so young) dishing out the dirt. But I never thought of myself as a “critic”. I think those who justifiably call themselves “critic” are journalists who review their specialised subject across a wide-range of media: print, radio, TV. However, for this kind of workload, these journalists (Mark Lawson, Mark Kermode for example) get to call themselves “broadcasters”, an even further lofty title (I once heard James King, Radio 1 film reviewer/critic, being called a ‘broadcaster’, which I thought was a bit generous. He’s perfectly fine by the way, he has a more enthused point-of-view than most jaded critics but you or I could share the same thoughts).
And don’t get me wrong here. We, the audience, are just as bad, especially once we sign up to Blogger and start sharing our opinions or want to bash someone on an internet forum (witness the recent media storm over poor Max Gogarty and the reaction to his ill-advised travel blog). Anonymous bloggers are worse than the laziest of TV/film critics. They get to savagely attack someone’s work, safe that their identity will never be revealed or protecting themselves from harsh judgement should their character be known for whatever scripts they’re trying to ‘get out there’. But really, who cares about a blogger’s review, anonymous or otherwise?
Naturally, there are a few exceptions here but if you’re an aspiring writer and you offer a review on your blog that’s dry, bland or relaying just what the other 10,000 blog critcs are saying, then why even bother? There’s a certain irony to my frustration (having a screenwriting blog in an over-crowded market) but I’m not bashing other people’s work just for the sake of a quick sound byte or a handy Google reference. That’s what mainstream TV/film critics seem to be doing. Grabbing attention to themselves, and to their publication/network, building a reputation, helping them to look good.
The good critics share the same key qualities: they write with a clear voice, they have a strong point-of-view, they have a passion for their chosen medium, they are willing to champion quality content and when they have to get nasty, they’re able to qualify their opinion with sound and decent argument. Critics/broadcasters like Charlie Brooker, Mark Lawson, Mark Kermode and Andrew Collins. Basically, I dislike one-sided reviews where it’s all bile and criticism. If you can’t say anything nice, or find the smallest of merit in someone’s work (or understand why it was developed/produced) then something is seriously wrong. As a script reader, I grew tired of bashing other people’s scripts and taking a superior position, so I tried to balance my reports into the good and the bad, and be as constructive as possible, so that my heart didn’t freeze over.
Perhaps someone should start a blog/column that reviews the critics, and comments on their style and whether the review was useful or just more evidence of an ego out of control. I detect a certain envy in some reviews, as if the journalist would dearly love to be in the writer/director's position themselves or maybe they think that they could do better and so get on their high horse to moan about the system instead. Bah, boo. No more I tell you. I'm done. Critics, I don't care what you think. Don't lose sleep now.