James Leroy Wilson's blog

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Criticizing Critics, Or, You Get What You Pay For

Let's acknowledge off the bat that nothing on the Internet is actually free. But information and access to a wide range of opinion has a cost of near zero, in the same way that Seinfeld and the Simpsons are available for "free," even though someone, perhaps you, bought the television you watch them on, and you have to sit through the commercials.

In the same way, no Internet service is free, and a lot of free sites, like this blog, include advertising. Ultimately, the systems and services are profitable to those who provide them, even if they provide no direct charges to you (or payment to me).

This is all well and good. It's better find find an obscure piece of information within a few minutes rather than drive to the library and ask if there's a reference librarian on staff.

And everyone who expresses their opinion in this system have a right to do so. I don't criticize their right. I'm reluctant to criticize their content. But when the content itself is dedicated to criticism, and it's from a mainstream site, one might expect informative content.

We all know that some free content is better than others.

If Roger Ebert came out with the "25 most disappointing movies, by Roger Ebert" and this came out on the main page of a leading search engine, we would know we are getting solid, well-written content. But when we click on a link to Hollywood's biggest flops and fiascoes of the last 25 years, we would expect to see some combination of the 25 biggest money-losers and most-panned movies of that period. We wouldn't expect the random choices of people no more qualified than you or me.

Then again, isn't that exactly who we'd expect, considering this "content" is free?

We see,

  • one movie that made actually made a profit, but not enough of one for the authors' satisfaction.
  • another movie that made lots of money, which the article authors didn't like. What's worse is that this movie was a remake of a movie they had loved growing up, and they anticipated the remake with excitement! How can anyone approach the remake of a beloved movie with anything but dread?
  • an actor who supposedly epitomizes flops, Kevin Costner. Costner's career suffered from the backlash of "stealing" the Best Director Oscar from Martin Scorsese, and the Best Picture Oscar from "Goodfellas" with his "Dances With Wolves" (as if the Oscar votes were his fault), and following it up with mediocre but popular movies like Robin Hood and The Bodyguard, and only after that participating in just a couple of over-publicized flops.
Some time ago, the same site provided a list of rock bands that should quit already. Among the entries was The Who, which is understandable. But then the author of the list admits that he didn't even like the band's 1971 album Who's Next. One can't help but ask, who are you to tell me which bands should quit, when you yourself didn't like the band even when they were by critical and popular acclaim at the top of their game?

I suppose the next stage for search engines is to build news and opinion pages featuring writers who actually know what they're talking about. But short of that, there's not much to complain about. We get what we pay for. It's just that we expect billion-dollar media companies to hire people who know what they're talking about and respect their audience.

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