Do scribes matter in the pop realm?

by Jason Gross

14 July 2007


“Why empower the assholes?” Spalding Gray once wondered aloud in a monologue about ignoring critics.  I wondered about critics myself when reading a New York Times article about the video game industry.
It seems that the correlation between what writers recommend and what’s best-selling is pretty close.  That stands in stark contrast to the music and movie industry where there are wide gaps between the two realms.  Part of the reason, the writer surmises, is that video games are a lot more expensive than albums or movies nowadays.  The comparison between what’s hot on Metacritic (which aggregates opinions about albums) with what’s hot on the charts provides the usual gap you notice also in the movie industry.  But… with the amount of downloading that goes on nowadays, this might not be such an accurate measure.  I’d weigh Billboard plus BigChampagne‘s measurement of the top ‘non-paid’ downloads against something like Metacritic to get a more accurate read. 

Do you know what would happen if you did that though?  You’d probably still find a huge gap between what writers love and what’s best-selling.  So does that mean that scribes are irrelevant and just provide chatter? 

Admittedly, I have a vested interest but despite this ongoing gap, I do think that writers can provide a meaningful role in the pop realm, not just helping to sort out all the choices in an ever-increasing world of art (especially since it’s easier than ever for anyone to make a DIY flick or their own album) but to also provide some meaningful thoughts and conversation about the works. 

It’s summed up much better in articles from earlier this year where two writers passionately defend the role of the film critic though it obviously applies to other arts: Ty Burr “Sandra, meet Ingmar- The Education of a Critic” (Boston Globe, April 15, 2007) and Peter Rainer “In Defense of Film Critics” (Christian Science Monitor, April 27, 2007).

Also, as far as I know (please correct me if I’m wrong here!), there’s never been a detailed study/survey of consumers about how they make their choices about music they buy, much less how much less take heed or don’t take heed of writers.  Steve Jones (not the Pistols guitarist but editor of Pop Music and the Press) had mused about doing just that a while ago but I haven’t heard of it being done yet.  Can’t someone take the reins on this one and be a hero?


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