COM0011: Film Criticism in the Social Media Era

In this age of rapid information sharing, the very concept of film criticism has become more and more redundant. After all, with the information overload we’re constantly under, why would anyone bother reading a 1500 word movie review when you can get word-of-mouth consensus on Twitter, or ask your friends on Facebook about a new movie and get instant feedback? Or even simply going to www.RottenTomatoes.com and see an aggregated total percentage from both critics and audiences alike? Social media has made it easier to get a consensus and make a reasonably informed decision, but for those of us who value film criticism and enjoy both reading and writing it, it’s a little disconcerting seeing how it’s becoming increasingly devalued. After all, my buddy Matt may have posted about how much he loved the latest Mission Impossible movie, but I don’t know if he’s a fan of the series, or if it’s the first he’s watched, or he just likes action movies in general, etc. I’m the kind of cinema lover who watches literally hundreds of movies a year, so if Matt is a casual movie watcher we may be looking for different things, but there’s no context there – it’s a passive tweet that offers his opinion, which is valuable but perhaps not particularly informative. Such is the difference between a professional movie review, which typically will explore both the technical presentation of a film as well as its themes at large, and a tweet expressing a black-or-white opinion in real time.

As a result of social media, and more specifically the impact of Twitter, many newspapers, magazines and websites no longer publish regular reviews. That much is true not only of cinema, but also of music, television, food, etc. The objective critic as an informed arbitrator is no longer a commodity, having become increasingly niche and outside the mainstream. In his article “Is Social Media Beginning to Undermine Film Criticism?” writer Kieran Turner-Dave writes “it is worth remembering that the increase in the quantity of opinions is not the same as enhancing the quality of the discourse.” I think that’s an important distinction – there are so, so many different opinions being sent into the vortex of social media but seemingly few of them offer expertise, and that’s what a film critic brings. For instance, Roger Ebert won a Pulitzer Prize in 1975 for his film criticism in the Chicago Sun-Times, not only for being a personable writer but also a subject matter expert who wrote for a community that trusted his input. In 2015, even a film critic aficionado like myself is hard-pressed to name any contemporary film critic whose output is notable other than the infamously contrarian Armand White (Google him if you’re interested – he’s a treasure trove of unintentionally hilarious pretentiousness). So that begs the question: In the social media era, what is film criticism anymore? Is it an antiquated form of writing, or has it just cooled off? Or has it become re-contextualized as a niche market (like on sites like www.avclub.com or www.pajiba.com) or is it more of a passive hobby for film-happy bloggers (like Scott Telek of www.cinemademerde.com or Pat Mullen of www.cinemablographer.com)?

It was with these questions in mind that I began a bit of a project for myself that had been rattling around in my head for some time. I wanted to participate in the modern discourse on film and film criticism, so I decided to set up a Facebook page wherein I post one-sentence reviews of the new movies I’m watching, along with a rating out of 5, the movie’s cover art, and a link to the trailer. I wanted to keep it simple and easily digestible – in other words, I want this to be specifically a social media capsule review project, with consideration given to when I post, how often I post, what kinds of movies I will review, etc. Miriam Slozberg’s article “The 7 Risks of Social Media” was very helpful in resolving these questions, offering great advice like not over promoting or over posting, but more importantly not using my own personal channels to bring attention to my project: “If all you do on your social media profiles is pitch your business, no one is going to want anything to do with you.” Mine is not a business endeavor but the crux of the message remains the same. So as it is, my little personal project remains in its infancy on Facebook, with only a dozen or so “Likes.” It’s not much, but I feel I earned those “Likes” because I didn’t advocate for them, they were organic. It’s an encouraging little boost, and the relatively obscurity of the project also lets me make mistakes as I figure out the format. It’s with this time in mind that I feel contribute to the film criticism discourse in my own way, acknowledging the history of the medium as well as twenty-first century technological realities.

5 thoughts on “COM0011: Film Criticism in the Social Media Era

  1. Hi Julien, it sounds like your Facebook project is a great way to test out the ideas we are learning about in this course. You made some very interesting comments about the loss in value of the objective, professional critic. Social media and easy access to technology have created a much more open playing field in many areas of activity. But there is much less room for a well-written review – one that is a pleasure to read in its own right!

    Interesting that you have chosen one-sentence reviews. That’s a challenge! It suits the short attention span of our times, but at the same time a well-crafted sentence should be able to deliver a load of info and opinion! Good luck

    • Thanks Sabrina! Indeed it’s a bit of a head scratcher sometimes, trying to synthesize all the errant thoughts in my head on what I’ve just watched but it’s getting easier and easier. It’s also genuinely a lot of fun, I love writing and this class is really challenging my style (I’m used to academic/government writing, so writing personably is counter-intuitive for me at this point) but it’s been going well. Thanks! 🙂

  2. I love the Turner-Dave quote about increasing the quantity of opinions not being the same as enhancing the quality of the discourse. I think your weariness on people’s feedback on films extends to just about anywhere “Likes” can be aggregated and used to promote things, from dishwashers to political parties. I would be interested in checking out your movie reviews page on Facebook, would you mind sharing it?

  3. HI drfremes,

    Thanks for the feedback – and yes, I agree, everywhere “Likes” are aggregated represent a vast opinion but likely not one that is particularly informed but positioned for revenue. I’m reminded of an experiment I read about recently, wherein an organization (I can’t remember which, to be honest) posted an article on social media with a provocative title / subject so that it would appear in people’s newsfeeds – predictably people commented on it immediately and argued with each other, without ever actually reading the full article. Had they done so, they would have known the actual article was about the pitfalls of commenting on an article without reading it first! LOL

    And sure, no problem – the Facebook page is “Word of Mouth Quickie Reviews,” you can search for it or follow this lazily un-hyperlinked link 😉

    https://www.facebook.com/WordOfMouthQuickieReviews?ref=aymt_homepage_panel

    Thanks!

  4. I think, with social media, people do not spend time on reading. Social media is not about details, it is more about briefing, no matter what the the subject is. I am afraid that people on social media underestimate the opinion of the film critic. In my culture, people may like a film that is artistically and professionally weak. I am not sure if this is contradictory. But in this case a professional film critic will find that people on social media like something that does not have a real value.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.