songs without radios defends a critic without a press card

Back in the day we would do this like every single post. I miss it. Here’s the incomparable Songs About Radios defending Morrissey quite ably:

Seems a little mean to me to pick on an amateur blogger for using passive voice and calling Rome a miniseries . . . .

Morrissey’s an amateur movie critic, not an amateur blogger. He’s quite established as somebody who thinks a) the media has a liberal bias and b) our current President will ruin this country. Also, I don’t have a problem holding people to a standard they establish. If he doesn’t want me jumping down his throat about Rome, he shouldn’t be name-dropping it. If he’s going to simulate mainstream journalism (e.g. by including a paragraph at the end evaluating family-friendliness) then I’m going to mock him for passive voice.

If this had just been a review that said “I like swords, Tim Riggins is a stud, the Princess was sexy, and the special effects looked crazy real,” I wouldn’t have spent two seconds on it. I wouldn’t even have minded it.

Anyway, what’s wrong with a “wasteland of conflicting, inarticulate, thoughtless opinions?”

My sensitive ears cannot bear even imagining such a phony cacophony. The Internet would become a din of iniquity.

It seems like you have two competing concerns: the dearth of thoughtful criticism and the excess of thoughtless criticism. I understand the former, but I don’t see what’s wrong with the latter unless there’s a causal relationship between the two. It’s not like Ed Morrissey is causing there to be any less good criticism.

This has to do with the origin of the post, which was people on Twitter promoting his review as a good alternative to the stick-in-the-mud critics dragging down the score on Metacritic and Rotten Tomatoes. They accepted his premise, which was that he was writing a serious, professional review. That’s why I felt impelled to demonstrate that he wasn’t doing anything of the kind, since he doesn’t have the chops and didn’t spend the time.

It would be extremely silly to pick some blog post out of the blue and call its use of semi-colons passionately into question. I’d distinguish between two kinds of bad criticism: bad criticism that is just very casual, like YouTube/iTunes comments, and bad criticism that is trying to look like good criticism. Morrissey was successful enough at faking the authoritative rhetoric of people like Ebert to actually displace Ebert (at least in one fairly public Twitter battle). That’s why I did a takedown. (That is not, however, an endorsement of Ebert’s very questionable review.)

If you make quality criticism a condition of entry into the blogosphere, there are two possibilities: bad writers will level up and become better writers, or they’ll level down and simply stop writing. The latter seems more likely, and I don’t really see why that’s better than the status quo. Maybe bad amateur blogging generates some form of value for the author different than the value that the critics you revere generates for you. Why should Mr. Morrissey give up that value just because his blog doesn’t do anything for you? Is there room for multiple, overlapping genres of writing on artistic media, or should we steer clear of text messages of the form “just saw x. pretty good” for fearing of contributing to the cultural wasteland?

It may sound paradoxical, but when I go after Morrissey’s review point-by-point, that’s me taking him seriously (just as, in turn, you’re taking me seriously by counterattacking). I think that’s what he wants — i.e. real, honest responses — even if it’s not what he deserves (because he didn’t even bother to look up Rome on Wikipedia, for example). To me, the alternative is basically patting him on the head and telling him we’re all proud of him for posting his little review. I’m even more disinclined to respond that way since he also wants his criticisms of the Democratic Party to be taken seriously…and I have no doubt that they are, by Lord-only-knows how many readers.

As for the text message insta-review — it’s like the difference between the Stooges’ “I Wanna Be Your Dog,” and “Vincent” by Don McLean. “I Wanna Be Your Dog” is not as lyrically complex or as allusive as “Vincent” (and that’s an understatement). Nonetheless, even on a sheet of paper, it’s a better song. It’s more direct, more challenging. Whether or not the emotions in the song were more authentic, they definitely read as more authentic.

There will always be a use for instant opinions. Thumbs up/thumbs down is important. Furthermore, anyone has the right to venture beyond ratings into writing criticism, but other critics have an equal right to respond. We have to ask why this particular review got notice. Well, because Morrissey’s a well-known right-wing blogger. People who read him to know what wrongheaded thing he’s said today, under certain circumstances, will end up broadcasting his review of Tim Riggins on Mars. This increases public esteem for him. This isn’t some nervous teenager with a LiveJournal suddenly finding himself marked for public humiliation. Morrissey is a would-be Breitbart who I’m calling out for pretending to a cultural fluency he absolutely does not possess.

I thought about posting a style guide, but really I wouldn’t be saying anything you can’t find in Strunk and White. Morrissey loves to write lines like this: “along with the kind of sultry exotic look that one would expect from a Burroughs story.” Then, at the bottom of the page, he announces that he’s never read Burroughs. Not only does he cheerfully apply vastly different rubrics to the male and female leads, in the grand tradition of American sexism, but he makes a reference to what “one would expect from a Burroughs story” when he has no idea what one ought to expect. The phrasing itself is imitative, and unsuccessfully so, as when Morrissey describes the actresses as having a “look,” or when he writes that Riggins/Kitsch is “projecting strength.” He makes vague references to “fans,” and calls the film “smarter than most.” Etc.

A great counter-example is James Bernardinelli. Bernardinelli was not moonlighting as a reviewer; he dedicated himself to reviews, and he gradually worked his way up from being a minor blogger to being almost a household name. He copied Ebert to some extent, but his style and opinions were his own. In short, nobody had to make any excuses for him, and nobody ought to make excuses for Morrissey.

I’d have trouble quarreling with a straightforward, honest review by an amateur critic, but this is something else altogether. The Emperor has no clothes — as I’m sure Morrissey has said, perhaps more than once, about Barack Obama.

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