Friends it’s the first Link Lineup of 2021! Exciting! There’s so much going on and all of it is cool so let me share what’s been on my mind since the start of this stressful new year!
Critics have been around for as long as we’ve had artists, and they’ve been the objects of disdain for just as long. Which makes sense, because no one enjoys getting criticized, and no one enjoys having someone tell them that the thing they love is bad. But it’s hard for me to remember any cultural moment quite like this one, with giant high-profile celebrities shouting down critics every week and fans accusing critics of stopping their fun just by writing reviews.
Has criticism suddenly gotten more harsh than it ever used to be? It doesn’t seem to have: Old-school critics are complaining that criticism has gotten more insipid than it ever was before. “Editors and critics belong to a profession with a duty of skepticism,” Christian Lorentzen wrote at Harpers in April. “Instead, we find a class of journalists drunk on the gush.” And Lorentzen’s complaint in and of itself is an old argument, because with criticism has always come people complaining that it isn’t critical enough.
Judging from the in-fighting among critics, criticism is neither especially meaner or especially nicer right now than it was 10 years ago. It’s not criticism that has changed. Instead, it’s the reception to criticism that has changed. And as far as I can tell, that’s because of a major shift in the way we talk about popular things.
I remember seeing a Taylor Swift review get 7 out of 10 in the review (a solid C, a passing grade where I’m from) and trigger waves of harassment towards the reviewer. When Wonder Woman 1984 came out and Black women reviewers talked about how bad the film was, they were harassed endlessly over a movie many of the people freaking out about… hadn’t seen at that point. People treat criticism of fandom – and more specifically, behaviors and bigotry in fandom like uh… racism– as an attack on fandom.
At this point, people hate criticism. They just want to enjoy things, but then they never stop to think that perhaps… critics enjoy crafting criticism. Like I don’t enjoy writing about racism specifically – especially as it’s increasingly racism against me that I get to unpack – but I do enjoy writing and thinking critically. I like looking at a problem and going “okay so this is like this because -“.
And yet, in fandom, everything but criticism falls under the umbrella of “let people like things”? I just think that there’s a difference between pushing back against genuinely poor and too harsh criticism and not wanting anyone to do any criticism because… people enjoy the thing being criticized.