Criticism in an Uncritical Age; with More Content Comes More Critics. but Do They Have Anything to Say?

Article excerpt

Byline: John Simon (Simon, a longtime critic in New York, recently published three volumes of his reviews on theater, film and music.)

We live in an age when everyone is a critic. "Criticism" is all over the Internet, in blogs and chat rooms, for everyone to access and add his two cents' worth on any subject, high or low. But if everyone is a critic, is that still criticism? Or are we heading toward the end of criticism? If all opinions are equally valid, there is no need for experts. Democracy works in life, but art is undemocratic. The result of this ultimately meaningless barrage is that more and more we are living in a profoundly--or shallowly--uncritical age.

A critic, as T. S. Eliot famously observed, must be very intelligent.

Now, can anybody assume that the invasion of cyberspace by opinion upon opinion is proof of great intelligence and constitutes informed criticism rather than uninformed artistic chaos?

Of course, like any self-respecting critic, I have always encouraged my readers to think for themselves. They were to consider my positive or negative assessments, which I always tried to explain, a challenge to think along with me: here is my reasoning, follow it, then agree or disagree as you see fit. In an uncritical age, every pseudonymous chat-room chatterbox provides a snappy, self-confident judgment, without the process of arriving at it becoming clear to anyone, including the chatterer. Blogs, too, tend to be invitations to leap before a second look. Do the impassioned ramblings fed into a hungry blogosphere represent responses from anyone other than blogheads?

How has it come to this? We have all been bitten by television sound bites that transmute into Internet sound bytes, proving that brevity can also be the soul of witlessness. So thoughtlessness multiplies. Do not, however, think I advocate censorship, an altogether unacceptable form of criticism. What we need in this age of rampant uncritical criticism is the simplest and hardest thing to come by: a critical attitude. How could it be fostered?

For starters, with the very thing discouraged by our print media: reading beyond the hectoring headlines and bold-type boxes embedded in reviews, providing a one-sentence summary that makes further reading unnecessary. …