The End of the Critic – What Lovitz Knew & Didn’t Tell Us

I was forwarded a story by Patrick Goldstein from the LA Times about the possible end of the critic. Let’s be more specific here. Goldstein is referring to entertainment critics and how over the years, specifically since the Internet changed our information consumption habits, the single voice of a critic – respected or not – […]

by Chris Dick

I was forwarded a story by Patrick Goldstein from the LA Times about the possible end of the critic. Let’s be more specific here. Goldstein is referring to entertainment critics and how over the years, specifically since the Internet changed our information consumption habits, the single voice of a critic – respected or not – is being drowned out by the voice of the community. Makes sense. A chorus of viewpoints is often more powerful than a single exclamation. Of course, it’s not solely the community voice that’s to blame for weakening the foundation of the Ivory Tower upon which most critics at the top of the food chain sit and pontificate downwards. There’s a myriad of reasons. Some more complicated – in an anthropological sense – than others. The simple reason, as Goldstein points out, is trust.

Trust is valued more than anything when it comes to making entertainment decisions. We can agree on that. I’m more likely to buy a CD (or music, since the CD concept dates me) on a recommendation from a friend than a single review of the same CD in a magazine; usually this recommendation comes with discourse and a listening session, so the sole recommendation isn’t the factor but a factor in my decision-making process. This isn’t a grand revelation, however. I can’t recall ever being swayed by a single review or article that I should or shouldn’t purchase a CD, go to a movie, or visit a museum or an art exhibit. Maybe my generation, labeled Generation X by some smartass back in ‘65, was the first to not blindly follow or believe in everything presented to us by the media. My mom, for example, takes the evening news as gospel whereas I see it as one side of a many-sided story. There might be a grain of truth to my assumptions. The point is, at least in my pea-brain, critics were never meant to be the be-all, end-all authority on anything. Though if you ask me about Opeth, bring dinner. Sure, some have stature, superior language skills, and can yarn more verbosely than the late Robert Jordan, but very few (I don’t remember names, actually) were the single voice, the wizard behind the curtain compelling me to make choices. Critics were/are merely guides. Personal preference, bias, and opinion are all part of those guides. Whether I agreed or disagreed was my choice. That choice helped shape my decisions.

So to say the power critics wield is lessening or they’re entering a Cretaceous–Tertiary period of sorts, I think, misses the mark. Critics have never had real power or sway. It’s more suggestive. Sure, major media outlets like newspapers, magazines, radio, and television are diminishing the capacity of the critic, focusing instead on gossip, paparazzi-styled stories, as a way to adapt to what presently is a “me/you”-media era of which they have little control. That’s another discussion entirely. The number of expensive leather chairs at the top of the Ivory Tower might be fewer these days, but there will always be entertainment critics where there’s entertainment. Critics might be, as Goldstein alludes, in a selection period. I truly think when the community voice stumbles, falters, or is flat-out wrong – it inevitably will on all accounts –, individuals, distrusting of the community voice or vehicle(s), will then turn to the singular voice of the critic. The more things change the more they stay the same. Good thing I’m a critic.

Click here to Goldstein’s story.



  1. Commented by: Fred Phillips

    When I started writing reviews 12 years or so ago, the main thing that I wanted to do with my reviews was to avoid the pompous, condescending crap that I was reading in a lot of places. I wanted my reviews to be more of the fan recommending a record, book, etc., to another fan. I think I’ve managed to do that for the most part. But I can understand why people are put off by the “ivory tower” types. I often was, too.

    Speaking as someone who works in the news business, though, the big reason that critics are going away is economic. Revenues start going down, staffs start getting smaller and, at least in the newspaper business, the first place that editors and publishers look to cut are places like entertainment. They figure we can get that from the wire services from the big papers, so there’s no need to have someone on staff to do it.

    A few years ago, I was pumping out two or three reviews a week and two or three music features a month for the wire service we’re affiliated with. Then, they decided entertainment was no longer going to be a focus. My stories quit moving long ago. I continued to get reviews out for a while, but since about the middle of last year, I haven’t been able to get a review out there. They prefer to run the big release reviews from USA Today.

    The sad thing is that it didn’t free up any more time to write here because when entertainment coverage went away, they just shoved a few more crap jobs on me that I can’t stand. Life in the newspaper business.

  2. Commented by: Chris Ayers

    Fred, loved your comments! When I first started writing reviews, I wanted to BE my favorite writers. There was one guy that wrote amazing articles on every band I loved, but he suddenly disappeared from the pages of my fave free rag. I knew the publisher, who also owned a great music store. I bought some CDs from him, then popped the question: “Could I write some reviews for your zine?” I’m still going strong, 14 years later.

    That job led to other writing gigs, which included a Friday column in the entertainment insert in my local newspaper. I didn’t get paid for the first year, but I did love having 500-word pieces published every Friday, some on death-metal bands — and the paper loved it (most likely because they didn’t have to pay me!). Yeah, I also had to write crap articles about local crap bands that I hated, but in an interview, you’d think I was from Rolling Stone or something, because these hometown bands ate it up. The paper started paying me, and I freelanced for them for 5 years. To this day, that was still one of the best gigs ever. I even signed an autograph (reluctantly) at a show one time! O tempora, o mores!

  3. Commented by: Fred Phillips

    During the brief time that I got to be the entertainment guy and only the entertainment guy, my job was a blast. I got to interview some of my favorite musicians, write reviews on lesser known bands that I loved and probably many of the people reading wouldn’t have otherwise heard of (I was constantly getting calls and e-mails from kids saying, “I can’t believe you wrote about XXXXX in our paper”). My byline was popping up all over the country on my stories and reviews. (I’ve got copies of papers with my stories everywhere from Podunk to Honolulu stashed in a box here.) Perhaps the coolest thing that happened was in an interview with Ronnie James Dio (one of the absolute nicest guys in music, BTW) when I asked a question that caused him to respond by quoting a couple of lines from “Heaven and Hell” to me. I walked around for at least a couple of weeks with a shit-eating grin on my face thinking, “Ronnie James Dio just gave me a personal performance of ‘Heaven and Hell.'” I’ve got that same grin on my face now just thinking about it.
    Moments like that made it worth wading through the ton of stories on local country bands, ballet and school productions. If I’m being honest, though, I really enjoyed most of those, too.
    These days entertainment is about 25 percent of what I do in a very good week, and even then, it’s rarely anything but local. The rest of the stuff I do just isn’t much fun, and that’s a large part of why I’m working toward moving into another field now. I’d like to start doing some interviews here, but right now I’m just too burned out, and when I get home, the last thing I want to do is another interview. Hopefully, I can move on at some point in the near future, get a little break from the news business and recharge. I miss doing it, but I hate doing it now … if that makes any sense.

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