Bad-Art Stockholm Syndrome Is Making Critics Uncritical

Ben Yagoda at Slate says critics are going too easy on films, TV, books
By Michael Harthorne,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 12, 2018 1:27 PM CST
Bad-Art Stockholm Syndrome Is Making Critics Uncritical
Critics like NBC's "The Good Place." Ben Yagoda not so much.   (Justin Lubin/NBC via AP)

You just can't get into the Ted Danson-starring The Good Place despite critics' raves. And that Emily Dickson biopic A Quiet Passion has a 92% rating from critics on Rotten Tomatoes but only a 48% rating from audiences. So what gives? "In my viewing and reading life, I’ve been repeatedly victimized by it, in a Charlie-Brown-and-the-football way," Ben Yagoda writes for Slate. "I call it the Reviewer’s Fallacy." Yagoda says the Reviewer's Fallacy is different from the charges usually leveled at critics—they're "overintellectual nitpickers" or "careerist contrarians" or "in the pockets of studios and record labels." Instead, it's the gap between how critics see a piece of art and how others—even those predisposed to like the art—feel about it.

Yagoda blames the Reviewer's Fallacy on a kind of Stockholm syndrome for critics. Sturgeon's law says "90% of film, literature, consumer goods, etc. is crap," and George Orwell once wrote that "in much more than nine cases out of ten the only objectively truthful criticism would be 'This book is worthless.'" Because critics have to wade through so much bad art, Yagoda writes, they "get inured to it" and give "undue credit" to anything that mildly alleviates that tedium, even if it's "crap but not crap in quite the usual way." He says "the heart of the problem" is that what critics and audiences are looking for out of art aren't the same: Audiences have to consider spending their time and money on something; critics not only must experience the art, they're being paid to do so. Read the full piece here. (More critic stories.)

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