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From Fluff To Gruff - How Harsh Should Media Criticism be?

strange headache

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In his own words, famous movie critic Roger Ebert was often accused of "being too lenient" in his reviews. He attributed this to his rating system and simply liking movies too much:

That's what some people tell me. Maybe I do. I look myself up in Metacritic, which compiles statistics comparing critics, and I find: "On average, this critic grades 8.9 points higher than other critics (0-100 point scale)." Wow. What a pushover. Part of my problem may be caused by conversion of the detested star rating system. I consider 2.5 stars to be thumbs down; they consider 62.5 to be favorable. [...] Gene Siskel boiled it down: "What's the first thing people ask you? Should I see this movie? They don't want a speech on the director's career. Thumbs up--yes. Thumbs down--no." That made sense, but in the paper it had the effect of nudging a lot of films from 2.5 to three stars. There is never any doubt about giving four stars, or one star. The problem comes with the movies in the middle. Siskel once tried to get away with giving thumbs up to a 2.5 star movie, but I called him on it.

When you take a statistical look at his reviews, you can see that Ebert wasn't all that lenient on most movies. He considered a 2.5 star rating as a "thumbs down, would not recommend". When looking at a histogram of his reviews, we see a left or negatively skewed distribution. Also he has given out almost twice as much 3 star ratings than any other and on the left side, we see very few movies that have the terrible rating between 0 and 1.



By today's standards, Ebert would be considered an "outrage farmer", somebody who strived on negative reviews as he trashed a lot of movies. Yet, at the time he was considered by his peers as being too soft with his criticism. Maybe this is indicative of a time when media the media landscape was still fragmented and many outlets way more independent than nowadays.

Concentration of media ownership is on the rise as many media industries are already highly concentrated and dominated by a very small number of firms. With movie production belonging to a a few corporate juggernauts who happen to also consolidate most of the offline and online news outlets today, we certainly witness the rise of access media that exists solely to dish out hidden advertisement and defend the financial interests of conglomerate they belong to. As such, many online sources exists solely to create fluff pieces in order to puff up the release of upcoming products. Disney for example owns the ABC network, do you truly expect a negative Disney movie review from these outlets?

Access media has a vested interest in creating false narratives in order to protect the public perception of the products they seek to defend. We all know the story behind Ghostbusters 2016 and the media narrative that simply equated any criticism with misogynism, like this article for example. Everyone's favorite Nintendo critic, who ironically made his name by exclusively reviewing bad retro games, suffered the brunt of this attack. Even the frikkin' NYT wrote an article on AVGN's refusal to... just go see a movie. In what times do we live when you get branded with a scarlet letter for simply not wanting to consume something?

Nowadays movies need to be prepped up as "world changing" events, when in reality they are just vapid entertainment. Everything need to be a first, the first Asian superhero, the first black disabled trans protagonist, the first minority starship captain. It's annoying the crap out of me, when there are so many more pressing real world issues out there.

A few months ago, a youtuber called Jay Exci released a scathing 5 hour long review of Dr Who. It's a long video, but very well articulated and meticulously taking apart each and every problem with the new series. It didn't take long and he was branded by representative of the mainstream media as an online troll, an outrage farmer and a hate-monger for merely lamenting the sharp decline in quality of one of his favorite shows. Is it mere bitterness, outrage farming or an intrinsic love for the show that motivated Jay Exci to pour so much work into his review? You tell me:





On the other hand, we all suffer from negativity bias. The negative bias is our tendency not only to register negative stimuli more readily but also to dwell on these events. As such the case can be made that negative content has a higher appeal to general audiences and therefore produces more views. And let's be honest, who hasn't enjoyed a scathing review of an entertainment products that he found to be lacking? Certainly there are outrage-mongers who strive on this negativity bias and exclusively produce negative buzz in order to generate revenue exist.

That being said, the fact that these content producers become so popular cannot be explained by negativity bias alone. I'd say their criticism resonates with a lot of people, that is also why they grow so large, much to the dismay of the corporate shills. Is it not the case that amidst a sea of mediocre entertainment content, only a few excellent examples really stand out? Simply dismissing any criticism as 'outrage farming' is reductive and reeks of corporate damage mitigation. I prefer to intimately like a select few things, than to be superficially hyped for everything.

So herein lies the rub. How do we differentiate between outrage performance, fluff pieces and valid criticism? Not every negative review and not every harsh criticism can simply be dismissed as trolling, bitterness or clickbait. Not every positive review is honest either. Sometimes, criticism is necessary to protect the things we love, like in Jay Exci's example. He wasn't looking for outrage, he just wanted his beloved show to remain excellent.

As for me personally, I'd rather watch a critical piece even of something that I love, than having to suffer another corporate fluff piece. This sugary "everything is great, everything is fantastic" attitude that merely serves as hidden advertisement in order to sell you crap is sapping the life out of me. In the end, all this media hype, all these tweets and articles about Snyder's new Zombie flick didn't make it a good movie. I'm not some Pavlovian dog that can be conditioned into liking something and I certainly don't need to be guilt tripped into consumerism.
 
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nush

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I've used this example before, if you really love something you should feel comfortable criticizing it. Sports fans do it all the time when the team they support fails to perform. It's accepted as genuine honest feedback and is obviously coming from a place of love. From my own experience nobody was harder on calling out Sega for their fuckups than actual Sega fans that have supported them for years, because they know what that company is capable of and want them to do better.

What seems to be happening now is that you have some fanbases that put all their self-worth and identity into a brand and they get that dopamine hit whenever people agree with them that this product is the best thing ever. That's being fueled by and ever evolving marketing system that feeds into it as it's cost effective to give "real fans" access because they are honest and just like the people they are marketing to. These "Real fans" then profit off the back end with recurring access, followers and Patreon subs. But anyone doing exactly the same as them but on the other side of the coin gets called out as a troll or clickbait. Take a look in the mirror.

Specifically addressing the Doctor Who example that fanbase has a Youtube culture of making longerform multi part analysis videos on every part of the series. There's not a lot of regular content for that series so they have the time and passion to go absolutely fucking deep on it. That's a normal thing for them and anyone calling out a 5 hour video as being extreme has not watched a lot of that content before.


The metrics for sucess seem to be anyway they can thread the needle for a very, very specific win scenario that makes a good press release. Best product released during a full moon on a Wednesday since the last one. That will keep the shareholders and fanboys happy and they'll do free marketing to spread that around as a fact.
 
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Hulk_Smash

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If it’s a review, I’d rather someone be honest and to the point. Skip the politics, clickbait, and fanboy bullshit and just keep it to the subject at hand.

If it’s an in-depth analysis, I’ll probably listen to it if it is done by someone who has a proven track record of knowing what the hell they’re talking about. Someone with technical knowledge, a deep history with, and who is usually dispassionate (not whiny or fanboyish) of the industry they’re writing/talking about.
 
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Clear

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Multi-hour YT "analyses" are, in my opinion, mostly garbage.

Essentially, if you can't distil down your thesis into a concise, punchy format how persuasive is it really?
 

nush

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If it’s a review, I’d rather someone be honest and to the point. Skip the politics, clickbait, and fanboy bullshit and just keep it to the subject at hand.

That's how it should work. "There's 4 movies releasing this week, here's what they are and what are the best choices between them". So you go to the cinema at the weekend and choose the one you want to see based on the review and your tastes.

Now the situation changes to become more/less critical on a rental of that movie or a purchase of it because of the level of investment and that would be a different review post hype with hindsight and more audience feedback.
 

TrueLegend

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I am actually thinking of starting a youtube channel for movie reviews. For a non spoiler talk I think 5-10 minutes is enough. You want to set the expectations right. For example Star Wars Prequal Trilogy arent bad but compared to expectations they are dog shit. I think a movie critic should tone the expectations and then review it. My currently favored reviewers are SkillUp in gaming and JeremyJahns for movies. When it comes to movies I have found apart from Jeremy everybody is supremely inconsistent to the point they shouldn't even be called reviewers. Guy has never click baited except for Star Wars: The Last Jedi and that too not for the reason other people clickbait. Also, he has had the least amount of promos to shoe in like ever. His only fuckup was Suicide Squad review which he did regret. Chris Stuckman used to be consistent but he is not into it anymore. The rest of the existing critics are irrelevant........I mean we have likes of IGN reviewing movies and they just suck. The days of Variety and Roling Stone magazines are long over, and Metacritic means shit for movies. Rotten tomatoes literally has the dumbest system where Tomatometer does not represent rating at all. Then we got classic IMDB which selectively discards ratings. I am currently ramping up my system.....I am thinking.......Big-screen worthy/must watch, Bluray collectible, You can Stream it, Yeah Nah and For the love of film just stop.
 

Lupingosei

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Why is the craft not an important aspect of the movie anymore. Editing, camera, storytelling, stunts, all of the basics of a movie. And no, it is not because most Hollywood directors know the craft. Not even most critics do, I remember a critic from the Spiegel who was mind blown about how great the fight in the last Jedi was, while everybody with some general knowledge saw, that the fight coordination was way off. Also nobody talked about the terrible editing in the last Ghostbusters, it was not even on the same level as something a film student would produce.

Spielberg, Scorsese and most of all Kubrick, Kurosawa and Hitchcock know and knew the craft, that is why their movies are classics. You can be creative, but the most basic aspects of movie have to working. You cannot just discard everything and somehow call it creative. There are good directors who know the craft, but again Tarantino is on his way out, Nolan makes one movie every few years and Fincher seems to have switched to TV.

There still are great indy movies, but mainstream cinema is often populated by average directors, writers, cameramen, because the studio wants to have the last word now. So nothing innovative comes out and critics rather write about political fluff than about the movie, so average or below average movies get thrown at the audience.
 
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DKehoe

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That's how it should work. "There's 4 movies releasing this week, here's what they are and what are the best choices between them". So you go to the cinema at the weekend and choose the one you want to see based on the review and your tastes.

Now the situation changes to become more/less critical on a rental of that movie or a purchase of it because of the level of investment and that would be a different review post hype with hindsight and more audience feedback.
I think there's a difference between that sort of consumer-focused approach compared to a more in-depth critique. Someone might want advice on which movie to go see this weekend and so a basic overview of a handful of movies serves that purpose. But then once that person has seen that film they may want a deeper analysis going over what works and what doesn't. The two can exist alongside each other and serve different groups. It also doesn't have to be about the money you invest into it. If I've not seen a film yet I maybe don't want to listen to someone explain how the use of colour set up the big twist at the end. But if I have then it can be interesting to see someone break that stuff down.
 
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FunkMiller

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Jay got a load of shit for that Doctor Who video for precisely one reason: he's a progressive trans person who didn't just toe the line on Doctor Who, refusing to simply give it a pass because of its push for diversity and kowtowing to a political agenda. The new Doctor Who fans (who only really started watching with this latest, god awful version) hate him for having his own opinion. An opinion that is 100% correct. Doctor Who is now fucking terrible.
 

Lupingosei

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Jay got a load of shit for that Doctor Who video for precisely one reason: he's a progressive trans person who didn't just toe the line on Doctor Who, refusing to simply give it a pass because of its push for diversity and kowtowing to a political agenda. The new Doctor Who fans (who only really started watching with this latest, god awful version) hate him for having his own opinion. An opinion that is 100% correct. Doctor Who is now fucking terrible.
Yes, because Chibnall is an arrogant know-it-all, who not only shat on the lore but also did not care about the craft. If his episodes did not make sense or were a direct contradiction to the lore, who cares, it is progressive, that is all that counts.
 

TrueLegend

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Jay got a load of shit for that Doctor Who video for precisely one reason: he's a progressive trans person who didn't just toe the line on Doctor Who, refusing to simply give it a pass because of its push for diversity and kowtowing to a political agenda. The new Doctor Who fans (who only really started watching with this latest, god awful version) hate him for having his own opinion. An opinion that is 100% correct. Doctor Who is now fucking terrible.
Doctor who kind of always sucked.....but it used to be quirky, now it's trendy and edgy. Christopher Eccleston was the only one who did not overdo it. Everybody else acts like they were kidnapped from the theatre. Steven Moffat just sucks at writing but at least he makes an effort. Chris Chibnall is the guy with fandummy ideas. They should just put an end to the show now.
 

FunkMiller

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Doctor who kind of always sucked.....but it used to be quirky, now it's trendy and edgy. Christopher Eccleston was the only one who did not overdo it. Everybody else acts like they were kidnapped from the theatre. Steven Moffat just sucks at writing but at least he makes an effort. Chris Chibnall is the guy with fandummy ideas. They should just put an end to the show now.

It should certainly be ended for the time being, yes. It could do with another long hiatus.
 
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jason10mm

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The criticism should be harsh but fair. There is a lot of shit getting pushed these days and decent criticism is the only thing that will fix it.

The idea that women, POC, or LGBT+ should be immune, or at least partially shielded, from criticism of their work is toxic. It implies that they can't compete with cishet white men on a level playing field. The narrative that the only thing that let Hitchcock, Spielberg, Scorcese, Cameron, etc be as good as they are is white privilege should be immediately squashed. Those guys were just really really really good and they operated well within a system that they knew how to exploit. I'm sure Indian, French, Japanese, British, etc cinema is filled with equivalent examples not related to gender or race.

Acceptance of shit just leads to more shit. 90% of the content being pushed to us these days should be rightfully condemned to obscurity. Netflix could delete 95% of their catalogue and no one would care. WB and Disney have proper back catalogues to bolster their new offerings but the newer streaming services are definitely living off fumes and a constant "here is something new!" vibe that isn't sustainable long term.