Tuesday, May 22, 2007

A letter to Richard Schickel

Dear Mr. Schickel:

I know that you probably cannot hear me down here in the lowly blogosphere as you sit atop your pedestal at Time Magazine, and that you would not stoop to such a low as to read something on one of these unworthy blogs. But if you so allow me, I would like to bring a couple of points to your attention.

Your article in the Sunday edition of the Los Angeles Times correctly addresses some very important and serious issues currently plaguing film criticism, specifically regarding the favoring of opinion-voicing over "disciplined taste, historical and theoretical knowledge and a fairly deep sense of the author's (or filmmaker's or painter's) entire body of work." Interestingly, I should point out that I too have recently written about these very issues here on my own blog, not that you would know. I argued that certain areas of the film writing community perpetuate the consumer mentality to which they pander, and that real criticism is often much more difficult to find (in the journalistic circuit) amongst the many empty expressions of opinion that permeate a majority of mainstream film reviews. However, while you point to blogs as the corruptors of film criticism, your arrogant tone and uninformed claims regarding the film blogging community are evidence that the very problems you speak of invade the highest levels of journalistic criticism, especially your own.

Your stature as a published and respected critic, Mr. Schickel, does not entitle you to make broad claims about us "busy bloggers" that lack any validity or reasoning. However, since you have done precisely that, you have shown yourself to be among the very imposters of film criticism you label bloggers to be. It's a shame that you don't have one of these "less permanent" blogs, in which case go back and erase or edit out the hypocrisy of your argument. Because you are unable to do this, I can only advise that it would be in your best interest as a true critic to heed your own advice before voicing an opinion on something about which you seem to know very little.

Sure, any critic can express an opinion about blogs, but, to use your own words, true criticism is more than just an opinion.


Ted Pigeon

[For some of my thoughts on blogging and criticism, check out two entries I posted a few months back: Why Blogging Is Essential and A Blogger's Reflections. Both contain typos, for sure, as they were written at a time in which I was editing my posts less. But that sums up the flaws and the (potential) beauty of blogging.]


Adam Ross said...

Very well put. I think there's a misperception about film bloggers among those who haven't really wandered the community that much. I think in Mr. Schickel's mind, film blogs are either a collection of fanboy rants about Spiderman's webshooters or reviews that are obviously below what he writes. What I'm sure he hasn't seen is content that takes advantage of our medium and could never be found in print.

Schickel is also from the old school of having to earn your way to the soapbox, now anyone can direct their opinions to millions around the world. I'm sure he would prefer it the old way.

Ted Pigeon said...

I agree, Adam. If Damian doesn't mind, I'd like to re-post a comment I made on his blog just a few moments ago:

I most definitely am not on a the "Go Blogs!" bandwagon just because I strongly criticized Schickel's article. I actually think he is right on target in many ways. The only place he misteps is in his focused attack on blog writing, which he seems to think is all bad. While I would agree with him that much of blog writing is inconsequential and without worth, some of it isgood, some of it very good. But I think the nature of the medium of internet age writing and countless other aspects contributing to electronic communities does not lend itself to strong, intelligent criticism, but rather cheap opinions.

I see Schickel's point in that regard. I think many of these things are intrinsic to the medium itself, as an alternative to peer-reviewed journals and other forms of publishing. But there can exist disorganizations among these organizations. If one can recgonize the weaknesses of this medium, and there are many, she or he can bring the strengths of the published writing medium to this medium and combine them with its strengths, the biggest being the level of interaction and heightened environment for discourse. The most successfull bloggers are ones who have background in writing for publication, and they have shown that a unique combination of these very different media sensibilities can mesh well together under the right circumstances and result in a truly progressive form of criticism.

But I didn't want this letter to be a defense of film blogging or a statement ("look, we really are good writers"). I rather wanted to point out his hypocrisy. In a coming post, I hope to further examine the issue of blogging and its relevance.

Damian Arlyn said...

Of course I don't mind, Ted. In fact, I've added a link to your letter on my post.

Anonymous said...

Very nice rebuttal.

Schickel's rant is nothing new -- yet I wish he would just come out and say what he means -- "I get paid for it, bloggers don't, therefore my opinion matters" -- instead of wasting time with his pompous pontifications.

Ted Pigeon said...

Yes, unfortunately, this is not a new position at all. And I am full aware that there has naturally been a backlash to the piece in the film blogging world. For that reason, I initially wasn't going to write anything. But rather than focusing on the promotion of blogging, I found it fit to criticize Schickel on the grounds of his many unsupported claims about blogging, thus uncovering the great hypocrisy of his statement.

As I said before, I agree with his feelings about what "real" criticism is. And while there are certainly a great number of bad blogs out there, there are many bad published "criticisms" as well. That he places his emphasis on blogging seems to me a great cop-out. he is averting, and thus exemplifying, the real problem facing film criticism: that withing different areas of it (journalistic, academic, online) there is fierce territoriality among members of them about the other spheres. This approach misses the point that such an attitude, which can bee seen in allsects of film criticism, is a great contributor to the poor quality of much of criticism and encourages that members of the critical community become something that criticism is not about it its core: opinion-spewers.

There is indeed a problem, which is reflected in both Schickel's argument itself and the hostile nature of it. While attempting to address it, however, he only facilitates it. All the while ignoring the greater issues which demand critical attention.