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Computer Kick, illustration by Henry P. Raleigh

Swan Song

ART TIMES Nov/ Dec 2009

Just over a year ago, I reported here that some twenty-seven newspaper movie critics around the country had been shown the door by their publishers. In some cases they had exited right along with publishers. Now, it is with heavy heart, that I must tell you that this discouraging figure has hit fifty-five and rising. I know you will find this a distressing affair- the cream of our cultural watchdogs going West, or buying the farm, or stiff on the cliff, or wasted depending on the war with which you are most familiar. Am I, therefore, so far from becoming fifty-six, I ask you? Oh, some have survived by accepting assignments on publications below their talents. Someone has to write those obits and astrological predictions, provide advice to the love-lorn and toss out gardening tips, I suppose. There are very few opportunities to find spots on weekly television reviews, particularly if you don’t look attractive on camera. And many, sadly, are forced to go online.

You see, it’s only the current economic malaise, the budget cutting that strips pages and staff from newspapers and magazines that is to blame. Goodness knows you can’t save a great deal by dumping movie critics, the worst paid members of journalism. The real problem is demon digital, the onerous online, the wicked web—I mean all those noisome, raving, self-styled critics that are crowding cyberspace with their uninformed, opinionated rants over every film that comes down the pike—why, even before it comes down the pike. And this defilement increases. Read what a prominent marketing executive stated in the New York Times (a newspaper): “The reality and I’m sorry to tell you this, is that younger movie goers are more likely to be influenced by a blog than by a newspaper critic.”

You won’t find many of these recent culture critics providing thoughtful discussions of Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past or Plato’s Timaeus yet every Tom, Dick and Harry as well as (not to be gender biased) every Jane, Helen or Doris feels perfectly free to trash or praise any film they please and without any editorial control what so ever. Movies do seem to breed this sort of thing. Despite the fact the record shows that ninety-five percent of blog sites are abandoned after a few months, including, I imagine, a fair number of film bloggers and for every one of those that throws in the towel ten more will rush in to fill the gap. All of these strident voices now adding to the confusing cacophony of willy-nilly, scatter-shot, what-the-hell, let-the-chips-fall-where-they-may criticisms that saturate and clog cyberspace, drowning out those legitimate movie critics, as myself, who had their bones in print, as have I, and who must struggle to be heard in this electronic babble. How can anyone separate the wheat from the chaff, the gold from the dross, the men from the boys (oh, oh, politically incorrect? —can’t be sure any more) under this condition? Goodness knows I have always striven to preserve my critical integrity, to remain untainted, to take the high road (should that be ‘the road less traveled’?), to shoot for the stars (that may be somewhat excessive). Yet I, too, am being cajoled, lured, enticed into participating in this mobocracy of criticism, this free-for-all, this self-indulgent screeching (I think I may be exhausting my store of pithy combinations). A gentle nudge first, it begins with email communicating, so easy, so convenient. Wouldn’t you care to have your email address out there? Well, then your readers may send their nasty comments directly to your very own computer. And while you’re at it why not save some stamps and just send those really swell film pieces speeding out from the ‘ol laptop? Harrumph, I say, I’m not going to be duped, flimflammed, cozened, or hornswoggled by this. I know it’s just the beginning and before long there you are on online—chattering, Twittering, Face-booking, My Spacing, dot-com-ing, hop scotching, e-Baying, friending, unfriending, shot-putting, Googling –submerging in, drowning in, overpowered, overwhelmed by an overabundance, surfeit, and a glut of stuff. Nonetheless, I must resist, remain firm, stand strong, hold fast, don’t give up the ship, damn the torpedoes—wow! you can really get carried away with this verbose conceit.

OK, to put it briefly in email style language—I can’t get the damn machine to work. LOL.