Critical Review of ‘Everybody’s a Critic. And That’s How It Should Be’ by A.O. Scott.
In this critical review I am going to reflect on the article “Everybody’s a Critic. And That’s How It Should Be” published 30th January 2016 in the New York Times, in which the author A. O. Scott, the chief film critic of the newspaper, and the author of “Better Living Through Criticism: How to Think About Art, Pleasure, Beauty, and Truth” presents his vision of criticism and critics in the contemporary world.
The author draws our attention to The Oscars which are awards given each year by members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, located in Beverly Hills, California, U.S., to recognize achievement in the film industry (Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2020). The annual award gala which will soon take place arouses a lot of controversy. It has also become a pretext for writing an article in which the author, A. O. Scott is critical of the predictable choices made by the academy members, whose competence he questions.
The allegations, though not direct, include among others, issues of racial homogeneity and as a critic, the author appeals to readers to ignore the event that depreciates its importance.
In his argument Scott presents himself as a stereotypical critic – ‘a snob scolding artists’, taking away the audience's fun, and in this tone, he calls for the Oscars to be forgotten. In support of this, he provides a list of films that were not qualified or even were not considered for the award at all, but which entered the pantheon of all – time great films. Therefore, in his opinion, the Oscars are simply silly to say the least. He also states that the multitude of 6,000 academics that make up the show business oligarchy should not be an oracle, and further adds that the audience is equally unreliable because the data from the sale of tickets does not necessarily translate into artistic value.
“Who am I to talk? (…) Who needs a cranky nag when you have a friendly algorithm telling you, based on your previous purchases, that there is something You May Also Like, and legions of Facebook friends affirming the wisdom of your choice?”- the author asks himself and then deals with the myth of the all-powerful critic that can destroy and consecrate reputations with the stroke of a pen.
“Criticism has always been a fundamentally democratic undertaking. It is an endless conversation, rather than a series of pronouncements. It is the debate that begins when you walk out of the theatre or the museum, either with your friends or in the private chat room of your own head. It’s not me telling you what to think; it’s you and me talking” - the author continues his argument. For Scott, criticism is a democratic form and each of us has different tastes and perceptions. However, we flock to highly polarized societies, and trying to protect our pleasures, we feel offended when someone tries to challenge them.
Therefore, in the author's opinion, we more often seek confirmation than challenges. While claiming that our preferences are subjective, we rarely leave them to ourselves and often insist on making them public, either on social media or during discussions, debates or even exchange of stronger statements, such as arguments. Thus, we should not trust experts or give in to pressure from the environment but, following the voice of the author of the article, start to think for ourselves; as creatures capable of practicing art, we are also obliged to reflect.
Criticism, writes Scott, is an indispensable action, and as we all have the ability to respond to the creativity of others, we are potentially all critics. And this in turn obliges us to think. Meanwhile, by rejecting aesthetic sensations, we are in a lethargic passivity consuming mediocre products of mass production. The ubiquitous bluster drowns out the arguments. We perceive art too frivolously and minimize its importance.
“How do we organize it all?” – asks the critic. How to deal with excessive quantities incentives disabling thinking, when we cannot rise above our own homogeneous worldview? According to Scott, we should use our extraordinary minds and have confidence in our experience and in conclusion the author explains that the mission of art is to free our minds, and criticism is to be a guide. He calls for a battling against the intellectual inertia that surrounds us in the never-ending culture war between human intellect and laziness, and the banality between creativity and conformism in which, as critics, we are soldiers defender of the life of art and a champion of the art of living.
Encyclopaedia Britannica (2020) Academy Award. Available at: https://www.britannica.com/art/Academy-Award (Accessed: 19 October 2020).
Scott, A (2016) ‘Everybody’s a critic. And that’s how it should be’ New York Times, 30 Jan [Online]. Available at: https://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/31/sunday-review/everybodys-a-critic-andthats-how-it-should-be.html (Accessed: 19 October 2020).