For the last year in particular, there has been a constant backlash against critics. They’ve felt the ire of audiences who seem more than ever to be at odds with their conclusions. Venom and The Last Jedi in particular have signified a shift, and both of these films show exactly why we need critics.
The ways we consume media have changed, and that has had huge implications for critics. Being a critic is, practically, more accessible than ever. One just needs a social media account to give criticism. The industry itself though is still impossibly difficult to get full-time work in. However, it is possible to be a critic in a way like never before. Unfortunately though, while we absolutely need greater representation and diversity when it comes to critics, there has been a pushback from an audience that thinks their opinions are absolutely true. Marginalised people have got more platforms, the one true good from the intention. But equally, the worst parts of the audience have also been empowered.
Critics are not here to watch or consume a piece on media in one way. They are designed to be critical. They must evaluate the story according to rules, theories and different interpretations. They are not simply saying “I like this therefore it is good”. And this is the point that has been missed.
Yes, many people may have enjoyed Venom but was it – critically speaking – a good film? No. Equally, people went on a hate campaign against The Last Jedi and yet, critics were right. From a story telling stand point, it was the best Star Wars film. Part of that was absolutely due to it being the most representative film yet. Critics were also overwhelmingly positive about Black Panther, and while audiences flocked to see it, plenty of (white) Marvel fans claim it was overhyped. The critics were the ones who could evaluate its impact far beyond whether it was entertaining or not, in a way that a white audience simply couldn’t understand and didn’t care about. The same was true of Wonder Woman.
We can see also the weakness of an industry without diverse, or even competent, critics. Detroit Become Human was largely deemed as a pretty but soulless game by critics before its release. The games industry is dominated by white allocishet people. None of these early reviews mentioned the ableism, the insensitivity toward abuse victims or how the entire game co-opted the struggle of Black Lives Matter and the civil rights movement (all while the games community is a hotbed of white supremacy). White audiences were largely oblivious, and hailed the game as a revolutionary way to tell a story. Outlets run by people of colour were quick to point out the flaws in the game. Detroit Become Human showed why we don’t just need critics, but we absolutely need representative critics who know what they are talking about.
Critics aren’t saying whether something is entertaining. That is ultimately, always up for the audience to decide. Critics look upon stories and evaluate whether they are told well, are unique, and whether they have depth. Just because we can post our responses online quicker than ever, doesn’t mean that we are all critics now.