Some of you may know that I generally write posts while travelling on public transit using my phone or tablet. For some reason the “word suggest” for what to write next, every time I type out my name is Shayk. I’ve never once chosen it but my devices refuse to give up hope. I’m starting to feel like I disappoint them every time I skip over the suggestion. I have extremely specific and inconsequential problems…
For as long as I have been writing this blog, and therefore paying attention to articles that could help me craft a better post, I have been reading passionate essays on the responsibility of critics and the state of modern criticism. Much has been made on how CinemaSins has gone a long way to change (many say devalue) the art.
I won’t go through all the talking points but generally, most of these essays posit that criticism is both a skill and an art form that serves a specific purpose, to analyze art and inform the audience. A “true” critical review calls for a good dose of objectivity, proper research and a complete context, just like any other analysis. It also has to be presented in a way that is clear enough for the layperson in the audience to understand. Being entertaining is not particularly important for a critic.
There’s of course much more to it than that and the discussion on exactly what a critic is and does is quite interesting. I encourage you to google some articles for yourself if you want to find out more. As for the responsibility of the critic… The arguments that resonated with me most are these. We assign a lot of credibility to what we see as “experts”. Whether it’s in scientific, social or artistic fields, we tend to value the opinions of the guys in white coats. That’s not a bad thing but it does mean that their words are more likely to sway public opinion. A preliminary and inconclusive research paper can tank an entire company. A misspoken word can stoke discord among different social groups, so on…
As for critics well it can affect the profitability of art, discouraging people from seeing a movie or attending a show. There’s a lot of debate on how much influence critics really have on box office numbers or gallery revenue, as some very badly rated movies were still enormous hits. This said, most people agree that they do have *some* influence though, and their impact is much more pronounced on little known or independent shows which may not have big names or a huge promotion budget to attract people.
Whatever the influence on the public may be, it does seem that critics do still have disproportionate importance to studios, producers, patrons and creators. There’s still a lot of industry clout associated with being a critical darling. You can consistently break all records at the box office but people will still scoff that you never won an Oscar. And this is where critics wield this surprising power over what will get released next. Creators court their opinions in order to get *official* recognition which influences what gets made, while studios, publishers or galleries want the prestige of being associated with an award-winning work which influences what gets released.
To sum it up, people attach more importance to a critic’s opinions on art than to the average person’s, so they have to choose their words more carefully (with great power and all that). Moreover, as their opinions have a direct impact on the state of the art and the industry, those opinions should be well researched and for the most part, definitive. Changing your mind later, after you’ve hurt ticket sales, might not be viable.
Like I said there are many arguments and takes on the issue. This one just happens to make sense to me. It’s a tricky situation. With all this supposed power, critics may be tempted to just be ultra positive about everything and avoid risking causing harm, but then they’re not critics anymore. They’re more like advertisers. It’s a tough position.
Thankfully, it’s not a position I find myself in. There are a few bloggers out there that claim the mantle of criticism. They describe their content as deeply researched analysis and aim for the credibility that goes with it. And they work very hard to earn it. Good criticism is difficult to put together on many levels and quite frankly I don’t think there’s enough actual anime criticism out there. I’m very impressed by bloggers that can pull it off.
However, the majority of anime blogs (professional or not, mine included) and YouTube channels that I have come across, do not provide criticism. They provide reviews. Technically the words review and criticism are synonymous but I just couldn’t find a word for what I mean.
For the purposes of this post, I’m redefining reviews as a mix of impression and recap. I see a series and I tell you all what I thought of it and why. How it affected me, what it looks and sounds like. I give you a little taste of the story. It’s the exact same thing so many of us do when we watch a movie we really liked and run home to tell all our friends about it. I quite enjoy reading reviews as well. They feel more personal and generally give me a better idea of whether I want to see a show or not. I enjoy criticism (when I can find it) after I’ve seen something. To help me better understand it and get the most out of it, even if I didn’t particularly enjoy something.
If I take myself as an example, I will occasionally research specific elements that caught my interest in a show, I may get some background on the production but there are series I simply watch and review without any additional work. I’m also not trained or educated in any relevant field, so even if I had time for all the required work, I still wouldn’t be qualified for true criticism.
And there are a lot of content creators out there who just want to share their thoughts and experiences in anime with a similar minded audience and nothing more. My first reaction is that those same responsibilities shouldn’t apply to them. But a few comments have led me to believe that may be a bit too naive a point of view.
After all reviewers also have an audience and that means, for better or for worse, they can influence public perception. They may not hold any sway with the industry (although I believe that could well change soon enough), but they are not completely without impact either.
How do we reconcile that responsibility, with the fact that most of us do this for fun? If we were to put in all the hard work and time we might never get the chance to post. If we strive for fair-minded objective posts, we will lose our individuality and what makes our reviews special. With all the anime blogs out there, competing opinions is what makes them worth reading. Those generally stem from subjective viewings.
I don’t want to just completely throw out the notion that reviewers, even amateur ones such as myself, have some level of responsibility once we put our opinions out to the world. I just can’t quite figure out where the limits of that responsibility are and I haven’t found much on the subject at all. So I turn to you guys. I have been extremely lucky with my comments section and I’m hoping that continues. What do you think the responsibility of amateur reviewers is? How can we live up to it? Are there trends or habits of the aniblogging reviewer community that you think are either harmful or helpful?