We choose virality instead [of quality and real diversity] — repackaged, reshaped, shareable versions of what has come before — and equate it to quality because of its resonance. Which is itself resonant because the irony of the web is that even though everyone can have a voice, the ones that we project are projected over and over and over again. This isn’t quality, or real diversity; it’s familiarity. We model ourselves on fandom, where there is no sense of proportionality — there is everything, there is nothing, and there is little else — and the space between now and the future, the space in which critics used to sit, increasingly ceases to exist.
Most of the talk about the death of criticism seems to be celebratory: isn't it great that we no longer have these annoying gatekeepers hanging over our shoulders, telling us what's what? Some of that was warranted; if your model for a critic is the likes of Bosley Crowther, sure. But not if it's Roger Ebert.
The function of a critic is to be skeptical in the best way, to remind us that our instincts to be pleased, no matter what the costs, are not always the right ones. I enjoy much of what gets sloshed out at me by mainstream culture, but I try not to pretend it's more important than it really is. The only way to know how important something really is, is to give it time. That's the easy delusion of the present moment: that it matters because it's right in front of you, and reminds you of everything else going on around you (even if all it does is borrow the faces and names).
The key point made in the quote above, and in the article behind it, is the old saw about the truly new thing being a problem. It's not the truly new thing we want, but something we can call that, something just new enough to be tagged as such. The truly new thing is, by design, tough to choke down. Henry Rollins discovered Suicide in the $1 cut-out bins; Renata Adler's Speedboat went straight over everyone's head the first time out; and people still don't know about Julius Eastman. I want to say, maybe that's for the best, because it means those things will remain the domain of those motivated to seek them out — that they won't be diluted by being scaled up to an audience where only one person out of thousands actually cares about the thing in question. But I know too well how quickly that becomes an excuse for keeping the good things, the truly good new things, from influencing what they need to, and changing what they must.