Volume 92, Issue 50

Wednesday, December 2, 1998

raw deal


Don't believe the critical hype

It is a truism to say everybody's a critic, but inaccurate to say every critic is true. It is more astute to observe every critic as a victim of his/her own subjectivity which can skew their criticism, bending it toward their own personal preference or general social trends.

After the cameras are off and the papers are strewn across bathroom stalls, the entertainment industry goes to bed like the rest of us. The star system is the big attraction, but the big show is behind the scenes and it all comes down to promotion of product. The main link between the producer and consumer is the trusty eye of the critic.

Filmmaker Jean Renoir once said that one becomes a critic if they are not good enough to be an artist. This is an astute observation, but one I don't believe in because of its obvious retaliatory quality. Many critics are talented enough to be artists, but criticism is a good source of revenue and good criticism is by all means an art form.

The ingredients of a good review are a combination of knowledge and objectivity. A good example is a popular magazine's review of the new Offspring album which received a one out of 10. – a review which I admittedly endorsed because societal trends dictate the Offspring are not cool, so we must mount a military force to crush them. Coincidentally, one of the writers at The Gazette took the album home with the explicit intention of doing just that.

The next day he came to me and said the album is meant to be a satirical prod at the Cali culture and the band. Not ground-breaking stuff, but a layer of meaning for which an objective reviewer should at least acknowledge. Here's my disclaimer. The Offspring are not a very good band or even my bag, but a critic must be broadminded toward their material – that is his/her responsibility.

It is possible the Offspring's reviewer felt the album was really that awful, but rarely do periodicals of this nature fly to such extremes. Incidentally, a leading candidate for album of the year – RZA's Bobby Digital – received a great review and only got an eight out of 10.

It is easy in theory to say a critic must follow a certain code of objectivity, but it is much more difficult in application. The reason is simple. If you are an advocate of Method Man's stripped down lyrical assault you are bound to compare other artists like Jay Z or Ice Cube to his style, even if it's subconsciously. What may result is a downgraded review of an album which is fantastic in its own right, but is just not the reviewer's preference. The same reviewer may give Meth full props without a second listen. Thus, you obviously won't ask a Garth Brooks fan to review the album. You can see the dilemma here.

Therefore, the first step to becoming a successful and respected critic is knowledge and awareness of the chosen field. Next, a critic must leave his/her personal biases at the door and respect the work for what it is. Something can be a piece of garbage and reviewed as such, but not out of ignorance.

The purpose of this column is not to create radical paranoia toward artistic reviews, but to shed light on the process. If you follow people's criticisms blindly you are merely a sheep with no purpose in society, save consumption. One must form their own opinions and be aware of the subjectivity of others.

To Contact The Arts and Entertainment Department: gazette.entertainment@julian.uwo.ca

Copyright The Gazette 1998