Do we still need professional critics?
By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formerly published by The Other Press. January 6, 2015
What makes one person’s opinions more valuable than another? Why should some people get paid for their thoughts on entertainment, economics, and world news when other people can barely get an audience? In a world where everybody is shouting aimlessly, professional critics or critics with credible reputations should be appreciated more than ever, right?
The thing is, the idea of an expert doesn’t materialize overnight. Although anyone can claim to be an expert and a critic, it takes a gifted person to add insight and not just spew jargon. Anybody can flip through a dictionary and find sophisticated words to describe the refined, yet robust taste of a bottle of wine. But that is just a façade. Anyone can hide behind a keyboard and type up their thoughts on any given subject and some points will undoubtedly hit a mark; anyone can do what I’m doing right now. Being an expert and a critic is no longer about judging, it’s about communicating. Experts who can express their ideas in a clear and intelligent fashion will be quoted, and the quotes are what make professional critics necessary.
A good critic does more than just critique a project or a topic; their work itself is an art form. Just take a look at the late-great Roger Ebert; he could present painful truths in an entertaining, witty manner. Ebert wrote in a review of 2009 failed comedy Old Dogs starring Robin Williams and John Travolta: “Old Dogs seems to have lingered in post-production while editors struggled desperately to inject laugh cues. It obviously knows no one will find it funny without being ordered to. How else to explain reaction shots of a dog responding to laugh lines?” Such an observation is commonly lost by amateurs or delivered in bad taste.
Few dream of becoming critics or experts as children. It’s hard to imagine a life judging stuff professionally or being called upon to comment on a specific area of interest. But if we live in a world where a social worker is a legitimate job title, then yes, professional critics should be as well. Because what they do is more than just researching, wasting time on a subject, or simply watching movies, they are summarizing sometimes complicated, sometimes idiotic ideas to us. And those deemed worthy of the job should be revered but also challenged. After all, experts are not always right.
We should all aim to be professional critics and experts. Although some have the fortune to be paid to spew their thoughts, we must remember that the reason why they are compensated for their words is because people are ready to listen. What makes people listen to you? What do people ask you about? Perhaps you can monetize that as well.