I think you’ve gotten us all wrong, and it’s time to set the record straight.
I’m not going to say there isn’t a contingent of malcontents in the field of criticism, because that would be a lie. There are plenty of people who got into the game because of a grudge against that which they’ve chosen to review. I once knew a movie critic, a local guy for a local newspaper, who frequently and regularly savaged the films he saw. It didn’t matter what it was — comedy, drama, animation, universally lauded, universally panned, the danger money was on him trashing the subject. In the meantime, he shopped spec scripts to agents and sent off treatments to studios. The more he sent, the more he was rejected. The more he was rejected, the nastier his criticism became. His reportage was venomous, like hate notes from a spurned lover.
That, right there, is the underlying truth. Even though that writer was an exception to the rule, approaching everything with aforethought disappointment, most of us critics don’t and it is because we’re still in love, if not with the media of our choosing then with the promise that’s always there. Somewhere in our adolescent lives, we stumbled into a movie theater and saw something that set our eyes on fire, made the blood flow a little faster, gave us something we hadn’t experienced up to that point. For me, it was music and I can’t very well say when it first caught on. Was it my mother’s records of The Coasters Greatest Hits, or The Fifth Dimension or even “Cathy’s Clown” by The Everly Brothers? Was it Dad crooning along to Sinatra and Perry Como on those long, languid summer drives? Was it when we lived in that rental house and I played the 45 RPM record of E.L.O.’s “Can’t Get It Out Of My Head” until the sunset, and I stared at that beige United Artists record label spin ’round and ’round? Was it that weird, unsteady feeling I got when the right chords were strung along, exploding into a surprising and pleasant direction? There is a love there that is almost impossible to adequately describe, but is there in most critics.
So why do we give negative reviews when something doesn’t quite measure up in our opinion? Why is it that we reserve our most evil side for our heroes when they don’t blow us away or, God forbid, outright disappoint us? Well, to be this entrenched in something is to admit a form of addiction. I’m sure that if you had me strapped down for an MRI test and played a song that really gets to me, my brain would go biofluorescent. I feel something unique and very physical when I hear new music that presses the right buttons. On the other hand, when the promise isn’t delivered, or a musician I count upon to spark that thrill fails to do so, the reaction is more than just intellectual.
Is it any wonder that I would express my dissatisfaction when my euphoria was denied? Is it at all a shock when a movie critic comes back from a brand new Martin Scorsese movie feeling like the director withheld the best reel of the show, then says so in their respective columns? Like I said before — it’s a love affair, and sometimes, love hurts. What also hurts is the realization that, over time, your reaction will not be as fresh, exciting or as revelatory as it once was. Plot lines become tired. Chord progressions become dangerously similar. Fire comes with desire, hearts get torn apart and seemingly every world is promised to every girl. I can still experience that joy, that high, when I hear a new tune that demands to be played again and again, but it will never be “Along Came Jones,” or “Cathy’s Clown,” “Can’t Get It Out Of My Head,” or even “One For My Baby, And One More For The Road” — and I have to accept that.
And I do.
So I come to you, our readership, with a challenge. When you’re reading the latest piece from your favorite journalist, know that none of us are objective in the slightest. We didn’t get into this to walk that path of blankness, ready to be shifted to one side or the other. We’ve already chosen our sides, we’re just hoping there’s something for us upon arrival. You don’t buy music with the intention of hating it, or set out to the theater to waste one and a half to two hours. You want to be thrilled, overjoyed, you want to see something that sets your eyes on fire, makes the blood flow a little faster, gives you something you hadn’t experienced up to that point. So in a way, we’re all critics.
I can’t wait for the show to start.