Critical Confessions: Part 15 – Movie Critics, Nu-Media Style

We all know what the media thinks of women. Let’s just say that you can’t be too skinny, too slutty, or too bitchy in this post-millennial melee. And we all know what the various artistic outlets think of men. They’re pigs, prone to hygiene issues, and when they aren’t packing major toolboy muscle power, they’re dorking up the place with their testosterone and testes guided nerd noggins. Toss in the generic overview on children (cutesy, cloying, and precocious), minorities (straight out of a ’30s Hollywood script), and any other recognizable type (brainiac scientist, hand-sign throwing skate rat) and it’s a specious look locked into a lowest common denominator decision.

So it’s no surprise then that the powers that be, desperate to connect with a web wired world, has decided that stuffy film critics with a wealth of history and a decent amount of artform perspective should be replaced by you – or at the very least, a dithering, dunderheaded close facsimile thereof. Like the glut of gamer experts who wear their oh-so idiosyncratic interests on their highly irreverent t-shirts, movie reviewing is being purposefully dumbed down to match your own inherent belief in your unsophisticated, knee-jerk reaction – sorry, opinion. Like the old saying about a-holes, it’s apparently true that everyone has a viewpoint on entertainment, and as with most mentions of the anus, they almost always stink.

But the media has taken this concept a nauseating step further, granting the YouTube/Twitter-atti a big, fat booth in the marketplace of ideas. Not only that, they’ve marginalized the original group that made film criticism a heralded concept to the point where their boring old fartdom overwhelms any positive benefit they can have on the discourse. No, it’s kooky carnival barker time with horrendous examples like Movie Mob (Reelz Channel’s vomit-inducing vox populi clip show) arguing for a more hands-on approach to the notion of analysis. Now, there is nothing technically wrong with giving the consumer their say. Hollywood has long capitalized on such a feigned, focus group interest. But with print dying on a daily basis, and other outlets sharing their limited supply of content, the media is turning to you to give them a marketing-friendly edge.

Recently, Rotten Tomotoes premiered its own version of a movie show on the ‘Net friendly network Current TV. It consists of the typical G4 presenter dynamic. Host Brett Erlich (a staff writer for the Al Gore created channel) is all shrugged shoulders and face stubble, his demeanor a combination of post-millennial irony and stand-up comic cluelessness. For her part, real comedian Ellen Fox does her best “obtainable hot girl” routine while also adding a healthy dose of ‘aren’t we clever’ camaraderie. Together, they dissect what’s new at the theaters, what’s hot on DVD, and what archival titles you need to check out immediately. In between all the review haiku, three word excuses for scrutiny, and standard nu-chat show smarm, video takes from the members of RT are added in to give the real man/woman a sensible say.

As with Movie Mob, this is the show’s biggest misstep. Sure, it’s cool to see yourself – in this case, reflected in the face of a basement dwelling dweeb who runs a snarky site dedicated to Teen Wolf 2 – on TV, but is that really film criticism? A while back, we discussed the difference between being a reporter and being a reviewer. In essence, when Siskel and Ebert gave their trademarked thumbs up/down on a film, all analysis ended. Realize, there is a difference. Giving a movie a “brutally honest” appraisal is one thing. To do so without a single bit of backing is a lot like claiming an assertion as the truth. In a recent interview, Erlich and Fox both name checked Ghostbusters as their first movie memory. They went on to riff on several other offerings, all dated between 1980 and 2009. Only Singing in the Rain and The Thin Man were referenced as “classic” Hollywood.

Of course, the notion of breaking down the barrier between critic and audience is what something like The Rotten Tomatoes Show is all about. It’s the same with Movie Mob But just like American Idol, or similarly styled reality TV attempts, this is the world as filtered through the mindset of some executive type with too much time on their hands. Are you and your friends accurately reflected in the people presented on these shows? Do they say things that you truly believe? Would you be proud to point to them and say “see, that’s real film talk for ya!”? Or could it be that, like any explosion in communication, these initial attempts are the Poochie of programming misinterpretation.

Now, no one is suggesting that the old school journalist with an inherent hatred of horror and a dismissal for anything new and novel should remain the banner waver for an entire artform. Progress should mandate progression. But should someone who learned all they know about film from a VCR and a steady diet of HBO really take their place? How far outside the normative mainstream box are these nu-media darlings really thinking? Are they exploring the universe outside the American shores? Are they tuned into the true independent film? As shills for commercial conglomerates (Rotten Tomatoes is owned by IGN, which is controlled by Rupert Murdoch’s NewsCorp), isn’t there some innate “spin” to what they do? Isn’t some YouTube yutz with his own weekly review show more “real” than a couple of auditioned tentpole talents?

Remember, the whole point of these nu-critics is to pander directly to you, to indirectly provide you with an outlet for your inferred opinion. Going back to the gamer paradigm for a moment, I remember when G4 first hit the air. It was all fake anime girls with F-you eyes and deep plunging necklines. The review shows tended toward the blatantly obvious and what passed for news would make the cast of Entertainment Tonight collectively look like Edward R. Murrow. Over the years, the blather has subsided, replaced by some mannered yet meaningful dialogue. Sure, Attack of the Show is still slacker-vision, but X-Play typically digs deep to understand the business of games, and why certain titles continue to please while others fail miserably. Gone are the days of group ra-ra cheerleading. In their place is an almost perfect balance of publicity and purpose.

If they are to succeed, shows like Movie Mob (or Reelz’s entire raison d’etra, for that matter) and Rotten Tomatoes need to move away from the gimmicks and get back to the basics. Instead of making the crowing collective a popularity contest, they need to find a way to fuse meaning back into the material. Growing pains are just that – hurtful and harmful. Instead of helping the perception of online as the new consensus, these shows are sullying the attempt before it even gets a footing. MTV recently entered the fray with a show entitled Spoilers. But thanks to a perception over being “too traditional”, rumor has it being taken off the air for a company mandated revamp. If you think the two Bens – Lyons and Mankiewicz – are bad, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet. If the past is any indication about where the nu-critic is going, it’s going to get a lot worse before it gets any better – if at all.

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