Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Ebert - Critics Are Just the Canaries in the Coal Mine

Roger Ebert, unleashed:

Why do we need critics? A good friend of mine in a very big city was once told by his editor that the critic should "reflect the taste of the readers." My friend said, "Does that mean the food critic should love McDonald's?" The editor: "Absolutely." I don't believe readers buy a newspaper to read variations on the Ed McMahon line, "You are correct, sir!" A newspaper film critic should encourage critical thinking, introduce new developments, consider the local scene, look beyond the weekend fanboy specials, be a weatherman on social trends, bring in a larger context, teach, inform, amuse, inspire, be heartened, be outraged.

At one time all newspapers by definition did those things on every page. Now they are lascivious gossips, covering invented beats.


Perhaps fearing the challenge of reading a newspaper will prove daunting, papers are using increasing portions of their shrinking news holes in providing guides to reading themselves. Before the Chicago Tribune's new design started self-correcting (i.e., rolling itself back), I fully expected a box at the top of a page steering me to a story lower on the same page.

The celebrity culture is infantilizing us. We are being trained not to think. It is not about the disappearance of film critics. We are the canaries. It is about the death of an intelligent and curious, readership, interested in significant things and able to think critically. It is about the failure of our educational system. It is not about dumbing-down. It is about snuffing out.

1 comment:

Thomas Garvey said...

Of course Ebert's right, but isn't this screed, well, a bit overdue? I mean did he just wake up to this phenomenon yesterday?

I'm not sure why the culture has so obviously self-destructed, but I do feel like I'm one of the few people actually doing something about it (along with you, buddy). The salient fact about thoughtful criticism is that now it has to be done for free. That's just the way things are, whether as a result of the rise of the Internet, the explosion of celebrity culture, our mindless free market mania, or some combination thereof. Surely Roger Ebert, better than anyone, is able to carry on his traditional role without pay. And if not, why not, if it's so damn important?