First thing we do, let’s kill all the critics

I’m finding critics so hard to take. And I was one. This Romenekso letter from Margaret A. McGurk of the Cincinnati Enquirer typifies the snotty, isolated, egotistical, haughty uselessness of them. She writes condemning star ratings for movies (though she gives them herself):

In 10 years of reviewing films, I never found a single colleague who considered stars (or 1-10 scales, or boxes of popcorn or whatever grading gimmick) to be anything but an abomination. They are worse than meaningless; they are dishonest.

The very fact these “grades” exist suggest to readers that there is some sort of objective standard by which any and all critics rate all movies. This ludicrous notion is so easily absorbed that even journalism professionals carp about “the critics” in the same way Fox News commentators carp about “the media” — as if there were a single, monolithic entity following some secret, authoritarian rule.

Even worse, ratings suggest that they convey information about the movies themselves. They don’t. At best they are no more than a crude shorthand for how much one particular critic liked or disliked the films. Four-star or one-star, ratings tell you nothing about why critics liked or disliked a film, or what they liked or disliked about it, or what qualities they value in film in general — the kind of information that lets readers judge a critic’s opinion on how it compares to their personal tastes.

Oh, ferchrissakes! She must think her audience — whatever there is of it — is a bunch of idiots who can’t figure out that stars are shorthand for the opinion of one person, the critic.

I started grading TV shows — which later became the critical conceit of Entertainment Weekly — when I faced a huge pile of new series one fall and wanted some way to help readers through it without having to plough through all my blather (though, this being at People, there wasn’t much of it). Fellow critics complained: ‘But they’ll read just the grades, not the reviews.’ And I said: ‘So? If they don’t want to read the review — if they really don’t care about a grade C Tony Danza show — they shouldn’t have to. They’re busy people.’ But McGurk wants to force her readers to read all her prose. This is why I say the critic is in danger of extinction.