Special To The Washington Post
Itâ€™s open season on critics. As Alison Herman compiled for the Ringer, over the past few weeks weâ€™ve seen musicians go after music writers, actress Olivia Munn attack the proprietors of the fashion site GoFugYourself and â€śSaturday Night Liveâ€ť star Michael Che suggest that a writer for Uproxxx performs sexual acts on homeless dogs.
Since then, Joe Carnahan (â€śSmokinâ€™ Acesâ€ť) took issue with critics who panned â€śEl Chicano,â€ť a tepidly reviewed movie he produced about a Mexican American Batman-like vigilante. Carnahan described one critic as â€śa man who makes a loaf of Wonder Bread look gangstaâ€ť and suggested that another shouldnâ€™t have reviewed the film because heâ€™s based in Mexico City instead of Los Angeles.
Meanwhile, fanboys and girls remain as snitty as ever when you dare to criticize the single most dominant cultural force of the past 20 years: nerd culture. The â€ślet people enjoy thingsâ€ť meme reached its apotheosis last week when an aggrieved fan of Pokemon implied that a (Jewish) film critic who gave â€śDetective Pikachuâ€ť a mixed-to-negative review was a modern-day concentration camp guard.
Artist and fanboy angst fused together in writer/director Alex Ross Perryâ€™s essay for Indiewire, in which he lamented being picked on as a kid for enjoying the dĂ¶rkenkultur and suggested that anyone who believes comic book movies have become too dominant is little more than â€śa square, flat-topped father drinking a beer in a barca lounger while the game is on, telling his son to quit playing guitar/painting/writing/reading comic books/daydreaming and get a real job.â€ť
As a critic, Iâ€™ve generally been of the opinion that critics shouldnâ€™t be too surprised when they receive pushback, be it from fans or artists. Iâ€™ll never forget what Fred Barnes told me when, as a junior editor at the Weekly Standard, I asked if heâ€™d like to reply to a letter about one of his articles: â€śNah, Iâ€™ve had my say. Let them have theirs.â€ť Iâ€™ve had my say (my review); let them have theirs (angry tweets calling for a jihad against me for suggesting that something they like or something they made is bad, actually).
Still, whatâ€™s striking is the way that criticism of criticism is often couched in terms of identity. This is what Perry is getting at when he spends so much of his essay establishing his nerd bona fides, by recounting the comic books he liked and the gym classes he hated and the lockers he was shoved into. His nerd-dom isnâ€™t just a collection of preferences - itâ€™s an identity; itâ€™s who he is. This successful writer/director whose childhood obsessions are now the biggest business on the planet is attempting to recast himself as an oppressed minority in need of protection from even the mildest of criticisms of said obsessions. When fans tell critics to shut up and let people enjoy things, they are attempting to shield their conceptions of themselves from dissolving.
As a critic, then, I ask you to try to remember when you read something you donâ€™t like about something you do: Criticism is not an assault on your identity. Itâ€™s an effort to help you better understand what you do and donâ€™t like about the things you love.