Monday, July 14, 2008
A Critical Era
During the past few months, the media world has been feeling restless and uncertain about its future.
One journalistic position that seems to be most in peril at the moment is that of the critic. Sunday's Observer feature addresses this issue. Taking recent statistics from America, where the value of the critic is undergoing severe scrutiny, Jay Rayner analyses the argument from both sides of the coin. He talks to young bloggers and veteran critics, and a few people in between. I liked the article, and it certainly sums up certain ideas that constantly resurface when chatting to with friends and colleagues in the media world:
Is there a right or wrong answer to the fate of the critic? Probably not - but I personally don't feel too negative about the situation. Yes, the media world is changing, and bloggers like me are able to write freely, in terms of both subject, time and content: I can write about whatever I like, when I like, and how I like. This is liberating and I enjoy the potentials for creativity it brings. Yet I also savour the challenge of writing for the press, tailoring my argument to fit a particular frame-work or word-count, and the thought process involved when angling towards a particular readership. This is an exercise in itself, and it definitely alters the way one approaches criticism.
Just as Britain has a great academic tradition - which isn't, contrary to the stereotype, a fusty, old man's club anymore but alive and filled with young blood - we have, as Brian Sewell puts it, a wonderful tradition of criticism. And along with that comes our ability to say what we think, often expressing our opinions with humour. I never read A.A Gill's restaurant reviews in view of going to the restaurant (I can't afford to eat out, full stop). Of course I don't - his pieces aren't really about the food at all - his culinary contemplations often take up less than 50 per cent of his writing. No, I read them because he writes with style and wit. Same goes for Giles Coren. As for film reviews, good critics don't restrict themselves to the film in question, but will often bring in references to other films, and indeed their own, personal reactions. Of course, bloggers can do this, but they haven't gone through an interview process to get their job, and are perhaps less careful than they might have been if this were the case. And, from my experience, careful can sometimes mean thoughtful, too.
(images: food critics A.A. Gill, Giles Coren; Guardian film critic Peter Bradshaw)