‘Criticism should not be a democratic activity’

Circulation, revenue and imagination-challenged newspapers and magazines are turning their publications into playgrounds for readers. Reader generated text, photographs and video, polls, blogs, talkbacks, social networking are all being added and heralded as the possible manna from user-generated heaven. Short of setting her own crossword clues, the reader can do just about anything.

All this interactive stuff passes off as democratisation of the media. Instead of being talked down to from the ivory towers, say publishers, there is more variety, less bias, and greater participation. But is there? Or are we turning devaluing journalism into a joke where anything goes?

Richard Schickel, the film critic of Time magazine, has a powerful and pretty convincing piece in the Los Angeles Times on the folly of it all. Taking on an assertion in a recent New York Times article that the shrinking of space for books is “as an inevitable transition toward a new, more democratic literary landscape where anyone can comment on books,” Schickel says:

“Criticism—and its humble cousin, reviewing—is not a democratic activity. It is, or should be, an elite enterprise, ideally undertaken by individuals who bring something to the party beyond their hasty, instinctive opinions of a book (or any other cultural object). It is work that requires disciplined taste, historical and theoretical knowledge and a fairly deep sense of the author’s (or filmmaker’s or painter’s) entire body of work, among other qualities.”

But Dan Gilmor tears into Schickel’s analysis.

“What seems to bother him most is that he and other well-paid critics are losing their oligopoly on publicly available wisdom. Loving something is not the only credential for being a critic. But it’s a hell of a start.”

Read the full article here: Not everybody’s a critic

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