Despite the fact that I review things, I don’t like to be called a critic. The term alone implies something negative, and I find that the most common form of criticism is the non-constructive type. I’ve always associated the role of the critic with destruction and malice and soulless judgement.
It has taken years, but I’ve learned to (mostly) treat other people’s hard work gently. I used to swell with red-faced rage over mistakes and faults in things that I thought were elementary and inexcusable, without thinking about who the creator was or what they might have been thinking while they were working. But now that I’ve spent some time actually creating things that require time and energy and love, I realize that mistakes happen, people will disagree, and that taste in art as a whole is probably the single most subjective thing on Earth.
Scott’s honest post over at beerbecue proved that there are others like me out there; those who are able to appreciate the good in things without getting sucked into the quicksand of what we’re all told we’re supposed to feel about things. Who cares if a beer is craft or not, if it’s good? Who cares if the budget of a movie was $20,000 or $20,000,000, if the end product is entertaining?
Lots of people, apparently.
The internet has given everyone a voice. This is probably the best and worse thing to happen in the history of the world. Anyone with a computer and access to a coffee shop is free to say whatever the hell they want, whenever they want.
Freedom of speech is amazing, right?
Sure. But there are almost no guidelines about what can be said (at least in America) and very few ramifications for spewing off uneducated, misinformed nonsense. Short of being banned from a forum or facing the vitriol of internet intangibles like 4Chan and Reddit, the anonymity filter lets anyone say anything without fear of meaningful reprisal.
It’s all because being a critic on the internet is easy. It requires only the most basic of passive involvement: eating food, drinking beer, staring at a movie screen for two hours, things people are going to do anyway. It doesn’t require the person doing the critiquing to actually research anything or suffer the exhaustion of creative toil. They just say how they felt about it, good or bad.
I’m not suggesting that people shouldn’t have opinions. Nor am I saying that people should throttle their convictions. Cultural progress comes from compromise and learning about (and from) the people you don’t agree with. I encourage people to stand up for what they believe in and express themselves when appropriate.
But there is a big difference between saying you don’t like something or that you disagree, and authoritatively saying something is bad or wrong.
To claim something is “bad” is objective. There are definitely things that are decidedly bad out there, but after a point, art crosses a threshold where it isn’t objectively bad, and is only bad in the eyes of the person experiencing it.To make an objective argument, you have to have some sort of established, agreed-upon guidelines for determining the quality of the thing, and the personal authority to back up your assertion.
It’s the difference between some random person on Facebook who reads 1.75 books a year and has never written anything longer than a 140-character tweet spouting the same old, “Twilight is poopy!” and say, Stephen King, saying the same thing.
It may not have been very nice of him to say, but that doesn’t matter. He made a call based on what the literary world has come to accept is “good” writing, and supported it with his own reputation as a successful writer. While others may disagree, he makes a completely valid objective argument.
The person who makes the same claim on Facebook is expressing their subjective opinion and has roughly the same credibility as a grapefruit. They are completely welcome to their opinion. The problem is, in a lot of cases, they expect to be taken seriously.
I’ve brewed ~120 gallons of my own beer and tried ~250 varieties of other people’s beer. That’s a lot to me, given my other preoccupations and the fact that the beer thing isn’t my full time career. And yet, I still don’t consider myself a reliable beer critic. The amount I’ve brewed is 2% of what a brewery like Sam Adams makes every single day. There are tens of thousands of beers to try, so my scant 250 is nothing but the first hammer blow on the first spike of a new trans-continental railroad of beer drinking.
I’m still a whelp. A fledgling. A greenhorn of green hops.
And I’m totally OK with that.
You should be too.
So keep writing your reviews and expressing your opinions. Just realize that your criticism, for a long while, will be subjective. Open to debate. Simultaneously both right and wrong. Given the infinite mosaic of experiences that create our personalities and make up our lives, chances are your personal interpretation will be exactly that.
Socrates said, “The more I learn, the more I learn how little I know.” If you think you know something definitively, you probably haven’t turned that mental corner in the library of your mind and seen the massive freakin’ bookshelf of shit you didn’t even know you didn’t know. When you do, revisit your opinions. Remember how sure you were about certain things, and remind yourself that other people feel that way too.