Some critics think that their opinions, grounded in expertise and taste, is what makes them valuable. Now that the Internet lets readers sample written judgments from around the world, that position is becoming increasingly precarious. Still, many established reviewers don’t feel intimidated by the musings of the “cyber-rabble.” In “Time,” film critic Richard Corliss wrote that “the web is where traditional criticism is democratized….You don’t need experience, insight or a spell-check function … just passion and a lot of spare time.”
In truth, Corliss should be afraid, very afraid. The divide between the world of the web and traditional reviewing is narrowing, as column inches for arts reviews are shrinking in newspapers and magazines, while commercial pressures are morphing criticism into a bastardized form of feature writing. Reviewers no longer are given enough room to write well, even if they could. All they have left is their expert thumbs, flicking up and down.
The case of Kakutani is symptomatic of a dirty secret: arts critics have been, and are, hired by mainstream publications for many reasons. The ability to write with humor, daring, and passion is not on the top of the list. Editors figure that the publication lends the reviewer gravitas and power, rather than what he says or how well he says it.
: And Doug Fox criticizes dance critics with many suggestions for change.
: See also Kay Inigo on the marketing of Pirates of the Caribbean via MySpace.