In this summer, as in every other summer, movies are really bad, and this leads people to conclude, not unfairly, that the many, many people who pay to see these movies are stupid. Roger Ebert and A.O. Scott, two of the most popular mainstream film critics in the country, both addressed this disconnect between what’s interesting at the movies and what’s popular at the movies in recent articles: Ebert in a blog post bemoaning the lack of intellectual curiosity among young moviegoers, and Scott in his “Spoon-Fed Cinema” essay/crypto-review of G.I. Joe.
In his response to this most recent wave of hand-wringings, Glenn Kenny instead threw up his hands: “Tearing one’s hair out and venting about how stupid everyone else is may have some short term therapeutic effect, but doesn’t get much done. The kids of today didn’t invent dumb. They inherited it.”
This is of course a fair point, although I would argue, to piggyback on what the cinephile Brian Darr says in the comments section of Kenny’s post, that the problem has a lot to do with the purchasing power of, and consequent targeted marketing to, a younger and younger (and thus, in the mean, less and less sophisticated) audience. I would also argue that this, and not some “dumbing-down”, is actually the central point of both Ebert and Scott’s pieces: Ebert thinks the media isn’t challenging kids; Scott thinks studios aren’t challenging audiences.
The actual point of these articles seems to have escaped Observer film and TV writer and general waste of space Christopher Rosen, who this morning made a blog and it was called “Thumbs Down: The Great Divide Between Critics and Audiences Keeps Growing.”
Look, I appreciate more than anyone that when you’re responsible for providing daily content for your publication’s blog, this forces you to say stupid things, very quickly. But this cannot stand: When you’re criticizing another writer in print, it helps to have understood his piece. In his rush to criticize totally out-of-touch eggheads like Roger Ebert (like, seriously? The one from TV, with the thumbs?), Rosen apparently neglected to note that most of the points he thinks he’s scoring on Ebert and Scott are actually direct paraphrases off A.O. Scott’s article.
What other reason [than audiences having bad taste, Scott and Evert think,] could there be for the perceived “failures” of ostensibly highbrow films like Public Enemies and The Hurt Locker, two critically beloved summer entries that have supposedly underwhelmed? Never mind that Public Enemies is actually kind of successful (Michael Mann’s gangland epic has grossed $94 million to date) and The Hurt Locker hasn’t been shown in more than 535 theaters at any point this summer…
Never mind that “Public Enemies” has actually done pretty well after a slow start…
And Scott again:
“The Hurt Locker” — the kind of fierce and fiery action movie that might have been a blockbuster once upon a time — is treated like a delicate, exotic flower, released into art houses…”
That’s issue with these film critics: Somewhere along the way they forgot that people just fundamentally like going to the movies. This has nothing to do with intellect—or lack thereof—but a wish to escape the rigors of daily life for a couple of hours. [Seriously? -Ed.]
“We like big, dumb popcorn spectacles… Or course we do — even the pointy-headed grouches among us.”
And Scott again:
The aggregate of receipts shows that a lot of people like going to the movies, but not necessarily that they like what they see.
Accusing critics of “waging this culture war” against regular folk, Rosen (who actually uses the phrase “we the audience”) does some Town Hall-worthy populist agitating:
“To Messrs. Scott and Ebert, the thinking seems to be that if crappy movies are making big bucks, the audience—particularly the young and impressionable—are to blame.”
Actually, the A.O. Scott piece is about the self-reinforcing cycle of infantile audience taste and pandering studio business plans, and Roger Ebert’s piece is about the public education system and symbiotic stroke-off media and movie-studio practices.
Also: “Mr. Ebert has even gone so far as to say that film critics are more ‘evolved’ than regular moviegoers.” Rosen drops this knowledge incredulously, like it’s not a compliment to the profession he seems to think of himself as a member of. Of course critics are more evolved than “regular moviegoers.” We watch a lot of movies, and it’s our job to think about them.
A general rule of thumb: Any time someone refers to “critics”, or “film critics”, or “the critics”, as a single entity, separate from the overall moviegoing experience, that person is an idiot.