Wednesday, August 18, 2010

A New Generation of Critics

This appeared in The SA Times on Saturday.

You know you were born in a pre-independent India if you strongly believe that a critic of books, theatre, cinema, art or anything else that fits the ‘creative’ mould would be someone who is qualified to carry out the task through detailed study, evaluation and interpretation of the subject. Someone who has a deep understanding of the form of art and is able to objectively assess without letting mass media opinions and biases impact his decision. Someone who has the requisite experience to understand the why, how and what of it.

Fast forward to 2010 and EVERYONE is a critic. Me included. I’m worse off actually. This article will in fact establish be as a critic of the new generation of critics. It’s a spooky place to be but someone has to do it so I shall oblige. And it’s not like I live in Iran where people get sto… terrible things happen when you do irresponsible acts like this so what the heck.

In the 90s, when every other news and tech magazine was running cover page stories of ‘internet explosion’, the extent of explosion was unfathomable. Some possibilities looked promising, some fascinating and most were inconceivable. Social media was one such concept. It’s gone from ‘ya right’ back in the day to a ‘the only way to live’ super rapidly. It’s also the sole reason why everyone is a critic now.

I have my reservations about whether people produced a million opinions a day in the pre social media era. With the ‘whats on your mind’ and the ‘whats happening’ questions that these website pose, one is forced to think and in turn produce an opinion on the spur. Opinions are a dime a dozen so guess how much these websites are worth. Some opinions have to be limited to 140 characters and if one doesn’t take a bold stance, the ‘likes’ make a no show. And we all know those likes are almost as important as paychecks. I’ve noticed trends lately where even zygotes criticize established authors and actors mercilessly especially if their gender is male. Women get the soft treatment atleast on the face. If the good old notion of ‘no publicity is bad publicity’ is to be relied on, it must help those on the receiving end of it a tiny bit. But I can’t help but feel a little sad every time I come across brash and brazen virtual bashing. Wittily worded criticism sounds catchier than simply expressed admiration and goes viral much faster thanks to those impressionable brains amongst us. Forwards, Retweets and several copy-paste statuses later, it becomes something equivalent of a movement ruthlessly scrutinizing those in question.

In good old days, an author or an actor would just have to open a few newspapers and flip a few news channels the morning after to check reviews. It is a rather extensive process now. First thing in the morning, with trembling hands, check Youtube or MTv to see if someone’s made a parody of their work already, then check online newspapers before checking their print versions to read public comments on the review, then watch news channels through fingers covering their faces to listen to random civilians being interviewed outside movie theatres expressing candid views, then log onto their Facebook fan pages and check who’s said what, then check their personal Twitter account to check how badly they’ve been butchered … and so it goes.

Yup, it’s a way of life. Perhaps soon enough, everyone in the public eye will mutate enough to swallow the superfluous criticism and go about life as usual. After all, as Aamir Khan once infamously said “Apun public hai public, jisme apna paisa vasool nahin, uska dabba gul.” True that.

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