It's weird. We have more, and perhaps better, critical work than ever before on popular culture, and yet people seem to be even more confused — or maybe just willfully ignorant — of what criticism is actually for and why it's performed.
For a quick and dirty (sometimes really dirty) example, look no further than the junk posted in the comments section of blogs or popular-culture sites. A mildly negative review of a AAA-list video game invites incendiary hatred of the sort not seen in the crowds outside the courtrooms for murder trials. Wrinkling one's nose at a fan darling of a franchise is an invitation to have a Bat-logo burned on your front lawn.
What it amounts to most often is people expression shock and dismay at the idea that someone might not just have a different opinion, but might even be able to defend it. Obviously any opinion that differs from theirs is indefensible, because it's different.
As a friend of mine put it: any reviewer outside "the norm" must have "an agenda". Translations: "the norm" is "whatever everyone I associate with thinks, myself included (since I would never associate with anyone who thinks differently", and "an agenda" is "any idea that's not mine". Dissent of any sort, whether well-reasoned or not, is dismissed or attacked as "bias".
A mindset like this is not looking for anything new; it's looking for creative ways to restate the same things — specifically, praise for their own position. The idea that they might be able to learn something from a POV that is contrary to theirs is unthinkable. Worse, it means anyone who holds such a viewpoint is inherently unreliable.
Here's a f'rinstance. It's something of a shibboleth in pop-culture circles to do a pile-on whenever mention of Batman & Robin comes up. Terrible, terrible movie. It is to cinema, even popcorn cinema, as radioactive waste is to property values. Me, I actually defend the film. It's bad, absolutely, but it's not mean-spirited — if anything, it's the logical culmination of the bubblegum-cartoon approach the 1990s Batman movies took to their material. It's ridiculous, but it makes no apologies for being ridiculous. It is also far more enjoyable to watch than many of the thudding snoozers that passed for "good" films during that timeframe. (Has anyone in the history of the world willingly sat through The English Patient more than once?)
My reason for bringing this up is not to convert anyone to this view. I couldn't care less if people disagreed — or agreed, for that matter. I mention it as a way to allow you, whoever you might be, to test your own reaction. If you think everything I say about the movies is worthless, untrustworthy, biased, all because I happen to hold that opinion and can even mount a defense for it, that says far more about you than it does me.
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