As it has been known for quite some time, and as has grown tenfold with the expansion of net culture and the agency it gives people to yell at one another more easily than ever before, there’s a very clear subset of people who cringe at the simple idea of “art”, of interpretation. You really can’t get too invested in any media analysis or criticism without being called a pretentious blowhard at some point or another. It’s a basic inevitability. Maybe they didn’t like doing English in High School, maybe they had a bad personal experience with an snooty elitist or two; but I’m not here to assume why they might feel annoyed or even threatened by the notion of “art”. What I want to discuss is specifically the mindset itself. I want to discuss the relationship this thought process has to how people consume and discuss media. It’s a subject that’s come up many times in many circles, but I think it’s still a subject as pertinent as ever.
I think the first step of discussing this topic is the image this mindset has of “the critic”. The image is almost collectively that of a psuedo-intellectual snob, or in layman’s terms “a wanker”. This fancy schamcy know-it-all with their Liberal Arts degree not only fabricates convoluted metaphors and messages in everything from books to TV to video games, not only hates everything you like, but feels pretty high and mighty for doing so.
The latter perception is probably the defining aspect of this view. They believe that critics, almost without exception, look down on others and judge them. When this critic has a completely different experience of a media product and articulates it in a completely different way, whether it be its symbolism or its values of women or anything in between, there’s an almost primal instinct to feel challenged by it; to feel as if the only way to go on living is to craft it into an antagonist. It’s a perceived sense of intellectual and sometimes moral judgement, and the first thought is usually a desire to shut it down. That’s not exclusive to this mindset, or to any other mindset for that matter. Each and every one of us has most likely felt at many points threatened by the idea that our point of view might not be absolute. I don’t think it’s something you learn to overcome, I think it’s something you just become aware of and somewhat in control of over time.
As a media critic myself, I think it’s worth saying that I don’t accept that title as a status symbol. Why would I think highly of wanting to be part of a profession that has few to no secure jobs? I call myself a media critic because I feel earnestly passionate about what I do. It’s almost never a chore to me to analyse media. For every thing I used to like that deeper analysis made me like less I find a dozen things that I come to like so much more. Heck, even when analysis turns me off certain aspects, it almost never puts me off an entire work I would’ve liked had I not thought deeply about it. Simply put, whether or not you like analysing stuff, I do, and I’m pretty happy doing it.
It’s no one’s position to condemn anyone’s engagement with media, whether they analyse things to death or they just passively absorb everything like a sponge. There’s no binaries or equations at work, and no “correct” way to experience things. It’s all perspective and personal whims. People are complex, and I would be straight-up lying if I said critics don’t sometimes step on people’s toes and get all high and mighty. There’s also not exactly a hard distinction between enriching media discourse and not-so-enriching media discourse, but my incredibly reductive and idealistic answer is this: Be nice to one another. Be willing to learn and be willing to tolerate. I think that everyone gets something out of that.