If a critic appears as a character in a book or film, the chances are they will be an absolute dick. They’ll be petty, elitist to the point where you wonder how they function on a daily basis, and more often than not failed artists. Sympathetic is not the term that comes to mind when describing the critic on film, although they may be given a layer of depth through an eleventh hour redemption where they are shown the error of their ways by a super wonderful artiste and will relinquish the evildoings of discussing a work’s critical merit in order of creating themselves. They’re seldom given the sheen of likeability or affection that comes with depictions of creative types, whose often arrogant searches for artistic expression are seen as nobler than anything else. Writers create while critics destroy.
These depictions aren’t the sole reason it can be difficult to be a reviewer or critic of any kind, but they certainly don’t help. Below are a few of the claims I in particular am sick of hearing and some of the appropriate responses. Feel free to use them when necessary.
You’re just jealous.
I’m not impervious to bouts of envy but I certainly don’t centre my life on it. Believe it or not, I don’t give books bad reviews because I’m secretly so super-duper jealous of the author’s success. I’ve talked before about retiring my author dreams for a number of reasons, but I can’t say I use reviewing as a stopgap or something to fill the gap left there. Defining any kind of criticism, regardless of how vitriolic it may seem to some, as the actions of spite is a common tactic of dismissal. Push an agenda onto your opponent and it becomes much easier to toss aside their points, even if they’re otherwise points that were worth making. Look at the way recent critics of the NPR podcast Serial were called ‘haters’ or creators of ‘backlash’ when they dared to call into question the way the show handles race. Want to suppress opinion? Paint it as the work of a hater.
Why don’t you create something yourself instead of whining?
Because my own lack of creative output doesn’t nullify my opinions on other people’s output? It’d be incredibly limiting and elitist to say only authors could review books, or directors review films. Given how inter-connected those industries are, wouldn’t that kind of insularity quash the kind of diverse and varied criticism people are screaming for? Of course, many authors are also excellent critics, but they shouldn’t be all that we read. Everyone’s opinion has merit and is worth your time if you feel they bring something interesting to the table. Great criticism is as worthy of artistic status as anything else too. There’s a reason Roger Ebert & Pauline Kael’s greatest reviews were collected and released as books.
Why do you hate movies/books/games/etc?
I’m not sure this one is even worse answering. If I really did hate books, I would have to be one hell of a masochist to continually read them then spend so much time discussing them. Realistically speaking, nobody is going to love every single thing they review (and I’m generally untrustworthy of those who give nothing but 5 star ratings), and there may be a time where you read a few books in a row you just loathe. It’s the luck of the draw.
You just enjoy being mean and tearing things apart.
I can’t lie: there are some books I have greatly enjoyed tearing a metaphorical new one. Books can elicit some extremely powerful emotions, positive and negative, so if something truly angers me I can’t hold it in and I see no reason why I should. Once you’ve read as many examples of prevalent rape culture, romanticising of abuse, racism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, and all manner of bigotry in literature that’s either glossed over or outright condoned, you care less about holding it all in. it’s not the sole driving force of my criticism, of course. I love many other books and it’s far more enjoyable to share that passion for a new discovery than my ire with a disappointing read. You will undoubtedly encounter things that will anger you. You won’t always review them, of course. For many bloggers, that’s a judgement call they need to make. Some people straight up avoid reviewing such works, which is completely understandable.
You’re only in it for the free stuff.
This one makes me laugh a lot. Yes, as a blogger I get free books. I sometimes get advanced reader copies of books, and that’s a fun perk. But here’s the thing – I don’t get paid to review them. I have to dedicate a lot of my own free time (something that I’m fast running out of these days thanks to the joys of adulthood) to reading them, putting together my thoughts and writing a concise review of them. I may not be a paid writer but what I do is still work. Sometimes it’s thrilling and other times it’s exhausting, particularly if I’m having a busy week. A free book now and then is great (I buy most of my books myself) but it’s hardly a driving force behind being a reviewer.
There are an increasing number of people online who see critics procuring advanced copies of items for review as some form of corruption. Forget that this is something that’s been going on for an extremely long time now – some people have discovered that film critics go to advanced screenings and video game reviewers get early copies of games so now it’s an ethical issue on the scale of Watergate. It’s not corruption; it’s business. It’s an ecosystem of publicity and marketing, the bare minimum required to get your product out there and talked about amongst your target demographic. Being part of it can have its disadvantages and conflicts of interests but it can also be very rewarding. There are discussions to be had about some of the murkier issues inherent to the system but overall it’s not the next Leveson Enquiry waiting to happen, so calm down.