There’s something to be said for expert critics in the art world, though they have often been criticized for being “elitist.” I am less enamored of “populism” lately, and don’t really have an axe to grind against most elites. The reason is that those who are criticized for being “elites” are often merely the target of less educated people who are envious of others’ achievements, and want to drag them down somehow. Pure and simple.
One may disagree with many of the experts who offer critiques of films, books, restaurants, or other things. But most of the time, the real experts have at least educated themselves in their field, and can offer genuine reasons why they drew the conclusions they did. They can give real critiques of how the writer/chef/painter performed their craft.
But with the current fad of “democratizing” everything, so that everybody gets an equal say no matter how educated or uneducated they are, critiques have become a free-for-all of opinion, often based on nothing but “I like it so it’s good,” or “I don’t like it so it’s crap, no matter how well done it is.” Or, god forbid, critiques are offered not as genuine assessments of how well something is crafted, but as screeds that push an ideology at the expense of, well, everything else.
So for example, I never read the comments after news articles because there is virtually never a reasoned discussion about anything. There is nothing but ideology-pushing, with the most fervent ideologues being the least coherent (and the least able to spell or put a complete sentence together!). And eventually the comments section is merely a shouting match with a few brave souls attempting to speak rationally, while hundreds of others yell at them, frothing at the mouth and proud of it.
(And this is civilization? How do these people look themselves in the mirror and think, “I am so proud of my civilized society, and I’m glad to be a typical representative of it”? How do they not look in the mirror instead and think, “My society is getting more and more barbaric and vicious, and I am a typical representative”?)
Now combine this system of “democratized critique” with the rabid capitalism of our day, and you get what has long been a problem on Amazon.com — people writing scathing “reviews” of a book that competes with their own, or a book that contradicts their own ideology. These so-called “reviews” have nothing to do with whether the book is good, well-written, well-crafted, well-argued. It’s all about “preventing anyone from buying their book so they will instead buy mine.”
Amazon has tried to prevent this sort of thing, but has never really succeeded. And now we have another instance of it: Women writers at war over fake book reviews on Amazon. Not only are rival writers seemingly leaving blistering anonymous (cowards!) “reviews” of others’ books. But there are firms who actually hire themselves out to place favourable reviews for other books.
All for the almighty buck (or, in the case of this story, the almighty pound). This scrabble for dollars and, of course, prestige has turned everyone into slavering beasts clawing each other’s eyes out. It demonstrates that no, we haven’t learned anything in our efforts to civilize ourselves, and we’ll happily turn back into animals at the least opportunity. It’s depressing and nasty. And a desperately failed experiment.
I think I’ll watch out for true, educated, thoughtful Experts from now on. And maybe the occasional personal review on book blogs where the writer is just talking about books they like, and has nothing at stake.
I’m also thinking that I may no longer read reviews on Amazon, any more than I read comments on news stories. At least — no reviews of new or current books. At least I know that reviews of older books are more likely to be honest, because nobody is scrabbling on the floor for loose change over them any longer.