Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Future of Television Criticism

Television criticism needs a punk rock movement.

Normally, I’m an expert in burying my own lede. But since what follows will concern a radical rethinking of the way that criticism is currently performed online, I figured I would practice what I preach. I’ve been coming at this thesis for some time now, and while I’m not remotely convinced I’ve nailed the specifics of how I think this should be achieved, I do think I’ve reached a point in which I can share this with everyone at this time. This isn’t the start and end of this conversation. This is only the beginning of it.

So, what does that oh so catchy first sentence actually MEAN? I need to define my terms before actually getting into the guts of this thing. Let’s state up front that the bloated enemy that needs taking down doesn’t take the form of certain individuals practicing criticism at this time. I hold many critics in my state of regards, but don’t attempt to try and tease out anything below as directed at a specific person. If anything, the punk rock movement I want to describe opens up space, rather than closes any down. This isn’t about attacking television critics. This is about driving a sword into the heart of criticism and seeing where the entrails fall.

The notion of what online criticism really is has swirled about since the now infamous Slate article by Josh Levin that chronicled the rise of Alan Sepinwall’s status once he directed his energies online. That turned into a “Firewall and Iceberg” podcast about the article, which turned into a “Talking TV with Ryan and Ryan” podcast in which myself and Mo Ryan were joined by Noel Murray and Myles McNutt, and all of us went into the navel-gazing rabbit hole without really having any concrete answers once we hit the ground. But what’s been clear to me in the wake of all this “controversy” (in quotes because Jesus Christ, this is the mother of all first-world problems, no?) is that no one can really agree upon what constitutes actual criticism.  And while this seems like largely a semantic problem, it’s actually one that is creating a white noise that threatens to engulf any possibility of intelligent discourse online.

So what’s really happened as a result of the trends established by Sepinwall and others mentioned in that article? People have glommed onto a few key figures and/or models, and simply reproduced that as best they can. I am as guilty of this as anyone, and don’t for a single second pretend like I’m outside this issue. The whole point of writing this in the first place is to try and push myself out of these models that I once adored and have internalized so successfully that doing anything else but a pale version of the original is damn close to impossible. As brilliant as Alan is at what he does, here’s a news bulletin to which even he might subscribe: his is not the only way to do it. But here’s the real question at hand, and one that needs to be asked in order for any type of movement to arise in the field of television criticism: Why should anyone WANT to do it Alan’s way?

Or, to rephrase: why copycat off an existing, albeit successful, template when that space is for all intents and purposes taken? Recently, the videogame “Battlefield 3” sought to take on the “Call of Duty” goliath directly, rather than define itself in the marketplace as doing something different from, not better than, the current gold standard. There’s more than enough room to do interesting things without all trying to fit into one small sliver of virtual real estate. It’s far too easy to simply copy what’s come before. It’s far more difficult, but equally important, to identity what’s absent and then fill that space.

There’s little time to really play with form when you write about 8 shows a week for sites with rigid editorial standards, however. And those standards generally demand a review of each episode. It’s a tidy slice for a writer to analyze and also a consistent stream of content for websites. I’m not here to try and tear down the infrastructure of such sites: they work well enough, but again: THIS ISN’T THE ONLY WAY THIS CAN BE DONE. And the work needed to break out of this isn’t going to happen on TWOP or The A.V. Club, but somewhere in the fringes, where people have the ability to produce criticism even if they don’t know how to do so. And hell, producing something without the pre-knowledge of how to actually do it is pretty punk rock.

As a way of trying to kick start this movement, let me offer a few ways in which the currently landscape is lacking, holes that need to be filled, and ways to encourage more people to actually pick up the practice and forge new paths.

1) Write only when you feel the need to write.

This to me is the granddaddy of them all. I’m typing all this up after a weekend in which I’ve produced four other reviews already. I’ve got a horrible cold that won’t let up. But there was no way I was going to bed tonight without publishing this. If you aren’t wildly typing for the majority of your writing session, then you’re probably writing about the wrong things. Passion comes through onscreen, and it’s very easy to tell when someone is going through the motions. I read every one of Mo Ryan’s “Supernatural” articles, and I don’t even watch the show. Why do I read them? Because I can hear how much she gives a shit about that show, how much it means to her, and that it turn makes me want to read every word. All of my favorite authors are the same way: their passion for their subjects is infectious.

The specifics of what you write about will inevitably improve over time. Craft comes with practice. Craft is a teachable element. Passion is not. If you’re just writing about “Breaking Bad” because you want to join the chorus of people falling over themselves to praise it, that’s not going to add anything to the discussion. (And just shitting on it because you think it will make you stand out is also beyond stupid. If you dislike it, make your case. But being contrarian for contrarian sake won’t help anyone.)  If you have true passion for it, fine. But don’t write about shows because everyone else does, and don’t write about them on a weekly basis unless you really, really have something to say. Newsflash: most shows don’t have enough to talk about, and most people don’t have enough to say about them. Less can be more, especially when it’s passionately written.

2) All criticism should be subjective, personal, and unique.

Fuck objectivity when it comes to criticism. Seriously. There’s a difference in being able to look at a piece of television objectively and writing about it as such. Instead of hiding personal biases, opinions, and history, these should be part of the critical process. In order to differentiate yourself from other critics, readers should be able to feel that whatever they read from you comes from a place of truth. Whether or not they agree with your assessment is largely irrelevant, and out of your control. But the authenticity of the piece is something you can absolutely control. Owning up to one’s shortcomings is just another way of providing context to the review. Above all, people should be able to identify a piece by you with the byline removed. By letting yourself into the piece, you’re giving yourself a voice online. Trying to be “objective” will only make you sound like everyone else. And who wants that?

3) Kill the form before the form kills criticism.

Honestly, how much longer can we all just produce 1000-3000* word pieces about individual episodes on a weekly basis? We all do it, because that’s what everyone else does, and so we flood the market with similar stuff and hope ours gets read. But at some point, this model isn’t sustainable, either for writers or readers. It just turns into content to which ads can get attached adjacent to people pointing out typos. We’ve saturated the market to the point of breaking, without any real innovation in form. Why? Again, because producing weekly reviews/recaps is the easiest way to organize and produce content. That’s not a slam on sites looking to make money. And Lord knows I’ve taken plenty of money from that format. (Well, “plenty” being a relative term in the world of online writing.) But there’s got to me more to it.

* Range included to incorporate the existence of Myles McNutt.

Some ways this could potentially be achieved:

  • Stepping back from the Bataan death march of weekly reviews seems like the first and easiest step. If you aren’t in a contractual position not to do them…then don’t fucking do them. Everyone else already has this market locked down. Stand out. Do something else. Do a monthly check in. Rotate your show attention each week and draw out parallels/trends.
  • Podcasts and vodcasts are an untapped market at this point in time for criticism. Mo and I haven’t remotely scratched the surface of what can be done there.
  • I think there’s a strong market for collaborative written criticism, which not only removes the inherent isolation of writing but also provides new dynamics and multiple perspectives for readers.
  • Collaboration between the printed word and the visual image seems like a pretty interesting way to succinctly and powerfully convey points in a way that a 1,500 word review would not.
  • Why the hell is there not an “At The Movies”-type show about television yet? Some industrious types with time, energy, technical know how, and critical skills will make this and probably make a mint.

And that’s just a few ways in which you can do criticism, but in a space that’s not already overrun, overcrowded, and quite frankly, on the way to extinction anyways. Lead the pack now. You’ll thank me later.

4) “Niche” is the new “mass market”.

This is the last takeaway here. The last thing you want to do is create work that will try and appeal to everyone. If you do that, you’ll be the “Terra Nova” of television criticism. And trust me, you DO NOT want to be the “Terra Nova” of television criticism. That way lies shame and cock-blocking dinosaurs. It ain’t pretty.

Instead, use Suggestion 1 above and either write what you know, write what you love, or ideally, some combination of both. Don’t be afraid that others won’t find you. At first, they won’t. But you have to write every single thing you put forth as if it will be read by the most important people possible. For some, that would be the editor of a magazine. For others, a scholar in their field. For others, someone who is as big a “Stargate: Atlantis” fan as he/she is. Write irrespective of mass audience: such a thing doesn’t exist anymore, anyways. And without 40-50 people at your beck and call to cover all the bases, it’s best to cover that which inspires you the most. Cultivating a collective that shares the same passions (if not opinions) as you will be the future here. After all, criticism isn’t about arriving at the right answer. It’s about arriving at unique, interesting insights. And we can’t achieve that if everyone is writing in the same way about the same things. Trust your instincts, trust your taste, and go from there. Sure, more people will go to the supermarket than Whole Foods. But people who go to Whole Foods…dude, they love themselves some Whole Foods. That’s the type of reader you want. You know, sans the hipster attitude. Unless that’s your thing. Which is totally OK if so!

***

In the end, this isn’t about tearing down existing structures within television criticism. It’s about getting outside of them and exploring new options in order to keep its overall vitality in check. Simply replacing the existing model with a newer, brasher one won’t sustain criticism anymore than maintaining the status quo will. Soon enough, the television criticism equivalent of The Knack will come along, and all readers will crave will be 800-word recaps of “My Sherona.” And man, will THAT ever suck. But hopefully, we won’t have to come to that, especially if television criticism gets the punk rock movement it deserves, and frankly, desperately needs.

Thoughts? Questions? Mohawks? Leave ‘em below!

16 Comments

  1. Posted November 6, 2011 at 9:01 pm | Permalink

    In a lot of regards, the basics of these ideas apply to many forms of criticism. I think we’ve realized the first generation of benefits of going digital. It brought new blood and opened a lot of creative avenues for existing writers. Things have since become a bit flaccid.

    One problem (as usual) is getting past the economics of industries. We need people who, frankly, don’t give a damn about the economy of criticism. But just as punk bands had indie labels, a vibrant club scene, and eventually magazines and other institutions propping up the culture, critics need the right venues to showcase the work and get it out to readers. A giant cloud of disparate blogs and Tumblrs just won’t cut it. And they have to not care about money, or at least care more about content.

    It CAN be done. A friend of mine has built a great multi-city network of food sites (http://poortastemag.com/) starting with nothing but time, smarts and willpower. She has many writers and editors on “staff” now, simply due to others sharing in her approach to a new type of food site. No VCs, no trust fund, just a DIY attitude.

    This also means giving up on chasing the dragon of web hits. It’s bogus, largely meaningless and forces writers into slavishly pandering for every reader they can get. “Niche” is the new marketing, but I think trying to carve out a readership based on niches (or genres) of television programming is the wrong way to go. (Look at the number of writers who gained followings thanks to shows like “Lost,” but who haven’t had a damn worthwhile thing to say about anything else since.) Television criticism can have its own niches by introducing unique perspectives and voices.

    As liberating as the Internet has been, it’s also led to the devaluation of creativity, knowledge and expertise. This has happened to many professions, but writing in particular has been dragged down. There’s far too much chaff, not enough wheat. Great critics aren’t just people who sit in their living rooms, then type pithy commentary about what they’ve just seen. It requires a broader knowledge and understanding of culture. TV needs a Greil Marcus. Good TV criticism can’t be solely about TV.

    Readers no longer understand what “real” criticism is. They haven’t been exposed to it. Having a quote from a producer, getting the scoop, divulging spoilers—none of these things make a writer a critic. You can love a show and have nothing but good things to say about it but you can’t be both a fan and a critic. Punk rockers (or at least the romanticized ideal of punk rock) were willing to be hated. The punk rock critic should be willing to lose the popularity contest, too, even among their peers.

    Fortunately, since there aren’t any new jobs out there for TV critics, so those who are willing are free to give the finger to world and do it out of a passion for it.

  2. Posted November 6, 2011 at 9:36 pm | Permalink

    Is there a way to officially co-sign this article? Because, I’m there. I hadn’t really considered changing the way the online version of television criticism works before, but your arguments aren’t only compelling, they’re things I’ve thought of now and again, especially writing when you need to or when you have passion for it, and focusing on the niche you’re best at.

    And I will say “Hell yes” to an “At The Movies”-style TV show. Put that on PBS right now, and I’m there.

    Seriously: great, great stuff.

  3. Jim
    Posted November 6, 2011 at 9:43 pm | Permalink

    Great article. I’ve considered getting into TV “criticism” for a little while, but have been avoiding it. I read you and Alan and Dan and Tim and I find myself agreeing with many of the things I read, so I failed to see why the market would need yet another baritone in the TV critic chorus. But I find myself talking intensely about television, whether it’s Breaking Bad or Big Brother or Psych or The Challenge formerly known as The Real World / Road Rules Challenge. I don’t have credentials, but I have passion and a lot of time on my hands. I might as well give it a shot. I’ll send you a link to my first poorly written article as soon as it’s finished.

  4. Posted November 6, 2011 at 10:39 pm | Permalink

    One thing that’s come up, maybe not here but on Twitter, is something that was implicit in this article but maybe not fleshed out beyond my head. And that’s critical to all of this isn’t just reducing the barriers for people to practice criticism, but in doing so opening up criticism itself to a wide spectrum of experience that is often lacking in television writing itself. (My favorite example of this: what is two broke girls actually wrote “2 Broke Girls”?)

    Getting into a writer’s room is difficult. Getting a body of critical work accumulated isn’t easy, but the barrier to entry in this case is largely personal instead of institutional. So it can be done, if force of will is there to inspire it.

  5. Ken from Chicago
    Posted November 7, 2011 at 12:06 am | Permalink

    Tuning Into SciFi TV podcast is a weekly review of scifi tv. It’s hosted by Kevin, Wendy and Brent. However they only review shows they watch. Some shows are only reviewed by 2 or even 1 of the hosts. Some episodes are only watched by only 2 or 1 of the hosts.
    http://tuningintoscifitv.com/

    Televerse podcast is new weekly podcast (they are up to #9) that reviews various kinds of tv shows from drama, sitcom and genre shows.
    http://www.soundonsight.org/category/tv/televerse-podcast/

    Of course there’s the aforementioned Firewall & Iceberg podcast hosted by Alan Sepinwall and Dan Fienberg and a nifty lil podcast Talking TV with Ryan & Ryan (might I suggest “TV R&R” if you ever consider a rename?) with Maureen Ryan and the inimicable Ryan McGee.

    There are hosts of various blogs that review a genre or wide variety of tv shows.

    And then there’s the Usenet Newsgroups, the original social network, where you can find reviews and discussions of shows that interested the reviewer based on their interest in said show or said episode of a show. Anyone with a web browser can post what they like. If they have a newsreader client, ala Outlook, Outlook Express, Forte Agent, Xnews, etc. and access to Usenet provider (some are free), then they can have more detailed filtering–tho since many of the newsgroups are unmoderated well, there’s some spam or worse, so be on your guard. Two of the more notable mostly on-topic newsgroups being:
    Rec.Arts.SF.TV:
    http://groups.google.com/group/rec.arts.sf.tv/topics?lnk
    Rec.Arts.TV:
    http://groups.google.com/group/rec.arts.tv/topics?lnk

    Long story short, Ryan: Your future is not now, no, it’s always been here, online, all along.

    – Ken from Chicago

  6. Posted November 7, 2011 at 2:51 am | Permalink

    Great piece, Ryan! Much of what you say applies to other forms of writing that have become routine (in my neck-of-the-woods, academic publishing is in the midst of a similar shake-up). I do think there are some places where innovative forms are emerging - certainly Matt Zoller Seitz, with his slideshows & video essays, comes to mind. And I think back to Heather Havrilesky’s Salon reviews of Deadwood & Six Feet Under years ago are models of how to do weekly coverage in a distinctly non-Sepinwally way. So there are other models happening at major sites, but certainly those cater to a different audience than AV Club & HitFix.

    So my question - not meant as hostile (well, aside from the inherent hostility of punk rock) - what are you going to do about it? Are you going to pick-up an instrument you can’t play & start a band? Or maybe be a Malcolm McLaren svengali to some upstart critics? Manifesto-ing is fun, but putting forth models of What Could Be is the crucial hard work. I look forward to seeing what you come up with!

  7. Posted November 7, 2011 at 8:17 am | Permalink

    Well, way to make me feel like a sell out, McGee.

    I say this half facetiously, but on some level I can’t help but read this article (like some others, I’m sure) in terms of my personal experience. Mind you, this is not to suggest that you’re singling me out, or suggesting that I am “part of the problem.” Rather, you’ve reminded me that I didn’t start out doing what I’m doing currently, and that my move into the “professional” realm has been in some way limiting in terms of the type of criticism I practice. I used to be someone who pushed boundaries, who wrote a ludicrous number of blog posts on any and all subjects, and of whatever length I wanted (although I suppose that hasn’t changed so much, given that I’m still the go-to reference point for longwindedness). Now? Not so much.

    Of course, this is at least partially the result of time constraints which make writing long-form, non-episodic criticism more challenging (and that make even writing this comment challenging were I not randomly wide awake before 7am), but even then I can see a clear evolution in my work which has led me to a nearly exclusively episodic perspective.

    As a scholar-critic, or whatever I’m self-identifying as when I’m awake this early, I have an outlet for more long-form commentary, commentary that certainly extends beyond episodic coverage. This occasionally informs what I write about at Cultural Learnings, but often I create a separation between the two spaces to create some sanity. Episode reviews are manageable (even with my word counts), with a clear beginning and end which keeps things from spiraling out of control. As someone who writes criticism as a side project, even if I now do so in a professional outlet once or twice a week, there’s a structure there which actually helps me balance the two sides.

    I guess that’s the point where the “punk rock movement” becomes problematic, then. Is there a way to live the critical punk rock lifestyle once you reach the point where real life (either in the form of “real” work in criticism or a day job) takes over? I developed a voice and practiced my subjectivities and exhibited my passion for television while I was an undergraduate, and while in between degrees, but how many people stay in those positions? I realize that your call to action is in part a response to this fact, but I suppose I’m simply reiterating that 20-year-old Myles who started Cultural Learnings would be in a better position to act on this than 25-year-old Myles, even if 20-year-old Myles’ attempt would suck.

    That being said, though, very pleased to see us talking about it - on some level, that’s all I have time for right now, and so hopefully talking about it inspires some people with more time on their hands to get to work(ing for free).

  8. Posted November 7, 2011 at 9:49 am | Permalink

    I’ve been fortunate enough to employ the “write what excites you” rule recently, and it’s made all the difference. When I started doing episodic reviews and weekly news wrap-ups for the Houston Press a couple years back, the editors tasked me with the dregs like “Dancing With the Stars.” But I eventually refused to write about shows that I wasn’t interested in, even for an episode. I cover “Community” and just wrote about the fourth season of “Breaking Bad” for Pajiba.com after falling in love with the show last summer. If there’s no joy in watching it, there’s no passion in writing about it, and you get an inferior product. Readers can always tell.

    I also can’t help but feel that “write what you feel you need to write” would be a good way to cut down on the episodic recaps of TV shows from 20+ years ago. I’m all for columns and reappraisals that talk about TV art with an eye on historical context, impact, creativity, etc., but it feels like there are more and more sites now churning out episode-by-episode pieces about old TV shows with the same approach they take to new ones. These always feel like a traffic grab, but they’re also wasted opportunities. We review new shows weekly because we have to, but it’s always better to be able to look at several episodes or an entire season at a time. Episodic breakdowns of old shows always seem to miss that point.

  9. Lou Sytsma
    Posted November 7, 2011 at 10:29 am | Permalink

    Great article. Passion is definitely the key. I like the mix of written and podcasting reviews. Both inform the other.

    The written review allows you to get your viewpoint out there.

    The podcast allows you to get multiple viewpoints out there, expand on your written reviews, and at the same time often provides fuel to refine and redefine your viewpoint.

  10. Posted November 7, 2011 at 11:11 am | Permalink

    Ryan, this is an intriguing post. I’m going to bookmark it and re-read it when I’m struggling to prepare words for both TV and movie reviews. This comes at the right time for me because I just started doing TV recaps of Chuck. This is the first time I’ve tried this type of writing, and my first impression is that it’s extremely hard. Trying to write something interesting that’s not just a recap is much tougher than I expected.

    You’re also right that TV criticism still has plenty of room to grow, especially in the podcasting arena. Talking TV with Ryan and Ryan was the first TV podcast I started listening to regularly, and I’ve added a few more recently, but it’s still such a new medium for that part of it. I also really like the idea of an At the Movies-style show on TV. Considering the high-quality shows that could be discussed, it has the potential to be a great resource. Of course, it needs to be considered seriously or it will end up falling flat.

  11. Posted November 7, 2011 at 11:27 am | Permalink

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts Ryan. It has definitely given me a lot of great stuff to think about!

    When I write articles about television, I tend to be most interested in pacing, character arcs, thematic content, and larger trends in the televisual medium. While those elements can still be found on a week to week basis, they generally work themselves out over a larger number of episodes (or shows). That’s one of the major reasons for which I find myself so much more invested in long-form art with dynamic contours (TV, Novels, and Music) and its criticism rather than criticism of the short-form (Movies and Short Stories) or the static (Painting/Sculpture/etc).

    I’ve tried writing weekly reviews, but I often don’t have enough to say from episode to episode. Sure, I could comment on acting or specific plot elements or any number of things, but the more I write with fewer things (about which I am truly passionate) to say, the more any interesting insights I have become diluted. Instead of having brilliant flashes of inspiration leading me to write 2000 word essays with strong theses, I’ve already expressed my point or its conclusion (somewhat nebulously) over the course of a bunch of 200 word articles. This leads to me fighting with the evilrecapmonster in an attempt to keep my review not a recap.

    I guess I only have one issue with the ideas present in your post. Not that I dislike or disagree with the ideas, but rather, that I don’t really know what to do with them. While page hits don’t necessarily interest me on a purely numerical basis, I like engaging people in discussion. Unfortunately, I’ve found that if I’m not churning out some regularly featured piece, then fewer people are checking back and responding. While I’m very passionate about what I have to say, I’m equally passionate about any debates that we can have about the content of my post (or its implications or the series about which I’m writing in general). This, in turn, leads me to write fewer “reviews” or “pieces” about television in general and sends me to forums where I can post 1000 word essays and actually get to engage in discussion. This if fine and fun, but I don’t really know how “criticism” as an art or as a profession would work out on forums or in chat rooms.

  12. Posted November 7, 2011 at 11:45 am | Permalink

    Awesome manifesto, an honestly about time someone wrote it!

    My favorite point is this one:

    2) All criticism should be subjective, personal, and unique.

    That is what I mostly look for in reviews, because I hate the feeling that I’m reading something produced by a machine. It’s also the reason why I think Sepinwall achieved so much sucess, it’s not uncommon for me to be watching a show and think (I bet Alan will love that!) or something like this. The same thing with Mo. So I really hope that this manifesto is only the start of some changes in tv criticism.

  13. Tausif Khan
    Posted November 7, 2011 at 2:10 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for the piece on your perspective on criticism. This is quite helpful. After a cursory look at the piece I want to take issue with one of your points (I will go back for a more thorough read of course).

    2) All criticism should be subjective, personal, and unique.

    Fuck objectivity when it comes to criticism.

    I disagree wholeheartedly with the idea ignoring objects. In the world of television criticism the television program is the object shaped by a multitude of creative voices to create a single product which appears on your television screen. I feel that critics must be attendant to the object otherwise a television critic could right an entire piece about anything they wanted and not even address the television episode or series at hand. It removes the necessity of even having a conversation about the same piece of art and to be concerned only with themselves and their own ideas. The field of criticism becomes to myopic and will lead to deep abiding disagreements which cannot be settled. It does not lead to health conversation.

    I leave with an example to illuminate the problem of pure subjectivity which ignores objects in television criticism.

    In one review of Parenthood, Alan Sepinwall surmised that Sarah Braverman was leaving her home to chase after her ex-husband Seth Holt because he saw a piece of luggage in a shot where Sarah was writing something. The pad had the words Mom and Dad on them. If you look at the shot his interpretation has some merit. However, given the context of the episode it did not make sense. Many commenters respond to this point on his blog as soon as they read it questioning the veracity of his statement. No one else had had his interpretation. The next week the writers of Parenthood that Sarah had been writing a play and that piece of luggage had just been in the shot and did not signify anything. Alan Sepinwall offered forth a mea culpa to his readers.

    If there had been no object and no empirical world Alan Sepinwall could have stuck to his opinion no matter what his commenters said. Each would think they are right and would have caused undue tension that could not be resolved because no one could provide definitive proof that one had been right and the other wrong.

    Therefore subjectivity does not inherently lead to a more democratic communal world. Objectivity has it place within the world of criticism and communication among humans.

    I firmly believe that critics have a duty to be at least attendant to the details of a television product as the object of criticism.

  14. Posted November 7, 2011 at 4:05 pm | Permalink

    Tausif: Reread what I wrote. And not in a cursory manner, either. I don’t say there’s no such thing as objectivity in terms of analyzing a piece. I refute as a way to practice criticism. This is what I said: “There’s a difference in being able to look at a piece of television objectively and writing about it as such.” That’s a HUGE difference, in my view. It’s not about throwing reality into turmoil and stating there’s no single answer. I’m saying that trying to write from the perspective of objectivity, in which the writer either tries removes him or herself from the piece or seeks to establish a singular way in which something can be interpreted at the expense of all others, is the wrong way to go about things. Good criticism doesn’t close off the conversation, and doesn’t close off the writer from the reader.

  15. Tausif Khan
    Posted November 7, 2011 at 10:19 pm | Permalink

    Ryan

    After I wrote the comment I went and read what you wrote. I read your comment and also your entire piece. What you wrote in your comment I feel is not present in the document you wrote. The clarification you wrote in the comment was helpful.

    Despite this it is important to clarify that I was arguing for both a subjectivity and objectivity. A subjectivity that is responding to an object. I am not saying that a person needs to look at an object and come out with the same view as the five people sitting next to them. This is the value of subjectivity as you point out, establishing your own voice. However, this subjectivity giving the object of television must respond to the object the piece of television product in some way. The objective responds to the subjective opinion at times to reveal what is wrong such as the case with Alan and the suitcase. However, as you point out, we must be attendant to different viewpoints and not excise our own personalities, thoughts and experience but acknowledge that as a crucial part of the field of criticism. So for me it is a both and not an either or.

    More importantly I was trying to point out the inherent problems to a pure subjectivity as a concept. A critique that immanates from the concept itself.

    Tausif

  16. Tausif Khan
    Posted November 7, 2011 at 10:52 pm | Permalink

    “Instead, use Suggestion 1 ( 1) Write only when you feel the need to write.) above and either write what you know, write what you love, or ideally, some combination of both. Don’t be afraid that others won’t find you. At first, they won’t. But you have to write every single thing you put forth as if it will be read by the most important people possible. For some, that would be the editor of a magazine. For others, a scholar in their field. For others, someone who is as big a “Stargate: Atlantis” fan as he/she is. Write irrespective of mass audience: such a thing doesn’t exist anymore, anyways.”

    Ryan what you write here has great democratic potential. I a completely agree that only “the professional” critic voice is the death knell of criticism. Opening up the field to many voices is the ideal, the possibility and hope of internet blogs.

    However, there is a flip side to this conundrum. It introduces new vibrant and appealing voices is great but they also must be recognized. Marginalized voices will only succeed when they become unmarginalized.

    The danger of the project you propose is that it masks the current mechanisms or power and its hierarchies. The powers that be must listen to the marginalized voices in order for this democratization process to work. People can only keep so many blogs in their head and read only so many blogs at a time. There is no guarantee that they will be reading different blogs with varied content. If the same blogs are attentdant only to their subjective personal desires then we end up in isolation and the voices which are marginalized continue to be marginalized.

    The questions I ask and want from television and other media I consume are different and are not derived from media studies. For me my interest is simply Who can speak? How well can they speak? It means something to society when they see The Huxtable family on television. It means something to society when they see The Connor family on television. Those marginalized voices are important but only if they can speak to the center and open up the space for more mariginalized voices. For me this is the power of a blog. The comments space allows people of all kinds (well class and ethnicity becomes an issue because of the digital divide) to speak and talk about these marginalized voices, for the marginalized voices themselves to pop-up in the comments and as you point out a marginalized voice be the blogger themselves.

    However, for me the problem inherent in what you propose is that we would have marginalized voices speaking among themselves and more influential bloggers or more mainstream bloggers attendant to their own interests and own followers. It will be a reproduction of nationalism online! Instead of Sioux, Irish and Bangla nationalities online per se (they could reproduce themselves online as well) you would have the nation of carpenters talking about This Old House, hoarders talking about Hoarders and robots talking about Battlestar Galactica.

    The problem with niche marketing being attendant to subjectivity and only their personal interests is that people with different perspectives and expertise would not be talking to each other and bloggers could ignore one another.

    I am not saying that you are saying this is okay or this is what you are saying I am pointing out that this is a problem inherent in the concept and that there needs to be a sense of a common critical community not devoid of different voices. This different voices should speak to one another however and acknowledge and address their different perspectives rather than remain attendant to their own subjectivities. This is why I fight for blogs to cover shows that they are not covering. Not because I want to hear them agree with me but I think a mass conversation with all different types of people needs to be had on some important shows which society as a whole can benefit from.

    Another important point I want to bring up is that I think it is important that you brought up that not only one type of knowledge should be valorized.

    I see this knowledge being the insular esoteric knowledge of academia, art and industry. While I agree that this should be case what must be made clear for me is that this is not an anti-intellectual movement. That what you mean is a movement where other knowledges and perspectives are valorized and not a system where all knowledge is condemned (as the birthers would have it).

    This all being said I think this is an important piece. I like what you wrote.

    But my question remains, What do you personally get out of writing a review? Why do you want to write reviews? You are a busy man with another job. Why do you love writing reviews what you get out of writing reviews and reading comments about the object of your review and the review itself?

    Cheers,

    Tausif

9 Trackbacks

  1. By Hi « Talking About TV on November 7, 2011 at 7:45 am

    […] Hi, I’m Danny and I’m going to be writing about TV. While what I write most of the time could vaguely be described as reviews, I’m not forcing myself to review each show I watch on a weekly basis. Instead, I think I can produce better content by only writing when I am passionate about what I am writing about. My decision to start this blog largely came from reading this article. http://boobtubedude.com/index.php/2011/11/06/theory/never-mind-the-bollocks-heres-the-future-of-tele… […]

  2. […] week, I posted a piece in which I called for a new kind of television criticism. In truth, it’s not especially new so much as a return to the old. In short, it called for a type […]

  3. […] of networks, never mind actual shows, onstage during my time there was overwhelming. It reinforced something that I wrote about a few months ago: the online television industry is set up to redundantly cover the same 30-40 shows at a given […]

  4. […] retrieve some big-picture viewpoint on a medium. And A.V. Club author Ryan McGee final year wrote a thought-provoking piece on his Boob Tube Dude blog about given he thinks TV critique in ubiquitous needs a radical […]

  5. […] been thinking a lot about my “punk rock” piece that I wrote back in the Fall. Not because I’m narcissistic…well, I am narcissistic, but that’s not applicable in this […]

  6. […] punk rock piece from last Fall featured this as a central tenet: “Kill the form before the form kills criticism.” What was […]

  7. […] and my intense, intense, intense desire to bring it into the next phase of whatever it will be. I wrote this piece about punk rock criticism ages ago and I haven’t come close to living up to the ideals I expounded in it. There are so many […]

  8. By www on April 1, 2014 at 7:57 pm

    www…

    Boob Tube Dude » Never Mind the Bollocks, Here?s the Future of Television Criticism…

  9. By bernard on December 6, 2014 at 12:37 pm

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