Well, for today, I thought that I’d do something a bit different and talk about critics. This is mostly because I’ve had something of a slight insight into being a critic due to the occasional reviews that I write on here. When I first started writing reviews on here about 4-5 years ago, I was determined not to be like those critics. You know the ones I mean, the snooty ones who never seem to like anything.
In other words, I often only reviewed things that I really, really liked and could give positive reviews to. Of course, this has changed over the years.
In fact, this article was prompted by the fact that this review of mine ended up containing a lot more criticism than I originally expected. Yet, I don’t consider it to be a “bad” review (seriously, it’s a good show!). But, in a sudden moment of clarity, I realised that I’d turned into the type of critic I once wanted to avoid becoming.
So, why do critics have a reputation for being cynical?
There are several reasons for this. The first is simply that they’ve had more experience with reviewing things, not to mention that if someone is even vaguely interested in criticism then they’ve probably seen/watched/read/played quite a lot of stuff (or they will in the course of finding things to review). What this all means is that critics often have a larger frame of reference when making comparisons and judgements.
For example, one of my regular review features on here is reviewing fan-made levels for “Doom II“. When I started doing this, I hadn’t really played that many of these levels – so, I was amazed by what people could do with this classic game. But, once I’d played a lot more levels, I started spotting things like commonly re-used graphics, common changes to the game, common level design techniques etc.. So, I was less amazed by these things than I used to be. This has probably led to mildly less awe-struck reviews, even though I still consider “Doom II” to be one of my favourite games.
Another reason is because I’m not a professional critic (nor would I really want to be). Whilst professional critics getting free advance review copies from film studios, game developers etc… is a good thing for a whole host of reasons, there’s also a place for critics (like me) who don’t get these – and don’t want them. But, both professional and amateur criticsm can result in more cynical-sounding reviews for different reasons.
Since I’m not a professional critic, I mostly review things that are older, second-hand, discounted, free (for everyone) etc.. Although this means that I get to review more interesting/random stuff and can look at things that are overlooked by professional critics who have to review the latest things, this has also forced me to pay more attention to whether something is worth the time and/or money that the audience needs to invest in it. And, as such, this can sometimes result in more cynical-sounding reviews.
Professional critics, on the other hand, don’t have to worry about the cost of the things they review. In theory, this ideally means that all products are on a level playing field and can be considered purely on their artistic merits. Likewise, advance copies given to professional critics mean that they can inform consumers on the day that something is released.
All of this stuff is a necessary counterbalance to things like manufactured hype and advertising (and it’s why you should be very, very wary if a film studio or a game developer refuses to give professional critics advance access). But, seeing the contrast between a more formal professional evaluation of something new and the idealised, rose-tinted portrayal of it in advertising can make a more “realistic” review look cynical by comparison.
Finally, one reason that critics can sound cynical is because reviews often serve a dual function these days. As well as being a guide for consumers, they’re also often a type of entertainment too. This often means that reviews include humour more regularly than they used to a few decades ago. Of course, one of the best sources of humour is joking about the thing that you’re reviewing, which can include everything from occasional affectionate humour to constant merciless ridicule.
But, when this isn’t done in the right way, it can often make it look like the reviewer is some kind of bitter cynic who can do nothing more than point and laugh at things other people make (and some reviewers can actually make this genuinely entertaining, but some can’t). Likewise, if you’re a fan of something, then you might not appreciate critics ridiculing it. So, humour can sometimes explain why critics appear to be more cynical than they actually are.
Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂