Tuesday, May 12, 2009

IGNORANCE IS BLISS. John Podhoretz asks: what good are film critics who actually know something about movies? I'm not kidding, that's his point:
Film criticism requires nothing but an interesting sensibility. The more self-consciously educated one is in the field -- by which I mean the more obscure the storehouse of cinematic knowledge a critic has -- the less likely it is that one will have anything interesting to say to an ordinary person who isn't all that interested in the condition of Finnish cinema.
He gets Rod Dreher to bite, too, and pretend that the breezier style of Anthony Lane (writing about Star Trek!) relative to that of the learned J. Hoberman proves his point.

It's a big wide world and raw talent will always find a way, but there are few practitioners of anything who would argue that training and education are drawbacks in their fields. Would Dreher and Podhoretz say so about their own current occupations? (Each refers to his own woeful career detour into criticism, and as someone who has read their reviews I am not surprised to learn they now disdain the craft, as they showed little interest in it when they were practicing.) Dreher will go on and on about the sad state of informed religion reporting, and Podhoretz can spool out conservative movement history. I doubt they'd tolerate someone wandering into their kitchens and saying, "Let me have a go -- I don't know much about it but I've got an interesting sensibility." (In fact, why should people bother with all the heavy theologians Dreher likes to quote, when Andrew Greeley and Dan Brown make easier reading?)

If they wouldn't indulge it themselves, why do they apply it to criticism? Partly it's an excuse to play populist -- lacking an opportunity to talk NASCAR and brewskis, they assure the imaginary common folk in their audiences that they don't get all that guff about mise en scene and deep focus neither. But I think they disdain criticism mainly because they think it doesn't count. As we have tirelessly (or tiresomely, depending on your POV) discussed here, anything having to do with the arts is for many conservatives some baffling voodoo that liberals like, so it must be insubstantial and easy to do; but they can't get much of a toe-hold in it, which must be due to some fancy-pants professor's trick. Still they feel they should try to take it over, because it represents, in their infertile imaginations, a source of cultural power. Maybe they think if they deride criticism, its existence will cease to trouble them.


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