Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Careful With That "Snob" - It's Fragile

Snob - "one who has an offensive air of superiority in matters of knowledge or taste" (Merriam-Webster)

An odd pattern has emerged in the realm of film criticism. It's nothing new by any stretch, but it carries with it a greater meaning now than I ever recall it having before. Bloggers, forum writers, tweeters, and facebook walls all present it before their followers/readers as a scathing attack. Hostile in approach, it sets the tone for the review like few others - the ANTI-Critics Review.

You know them better than you'd like to admit. Like me, you've probably written a few of them. They come upon us like a wave of air on a windy day. Critics fall seemingly unanimous upon a film, the triumphant calls scream out - "Critics are _______, this movie was AWESOME!" Of course the opposite, in which you replace the word 'awesome' with 'horrid' or any derogatory term you can think of, works just as well.

Or, as I like to call it, the "Anti-snobs snob" position. The general components of these posts are rather similar. The reviewer differs from the general consensus (but not universal - nothing ever is) of critics, and therefore feels the need to rage against it. The social group is wrong, obviously making the post writer right. I've talked enough about this notion to make your head spin on a swivel. Arbitrary sycophantic reviewing meant to inspire a certain attitude in the reader with no leeway for constructive analysis and discussion.

The perception of critics as a bunch of snobs sitting in their mother's basement rambling on about films the general public have never heard of is a mainstay of popularity. We all know directors and writers love to sneak in the pretentious twit whenever they do a theater scene (see The Fighter) in the hopes of getting people laughing at them. Why? Well obviously because anyone who likes things that involves subtitles wears their sweater around their neck in a faux 90's hipster routine. Not to mention that natural air of smugness. Just the other day I told someone that I appreciate them for knowing why they liked a particular movie and not just saying 'because.' Oh the audacity! Perhaps I should retire to a small hole in the ground (with cable) and void society forever.

No. Somewhere along the line having an opinion wasn't enough. We had to have the right opinion (whatever the hell that means). To prove that our opinion was superior, those who disagreed with us earned the label "snob" and were cast aside. Thereby proving we were not snobs, because we were superior to them. If you read the above definition you ought to be scratching your head right about now.

All of this has done a fun thing in the world of film - it has annexed and destroyed the power of the critic. Horrible filmmakers can get away in mildly successful films because the main force that exists to monitor them is being slowly unformed. Well, I'm here to tell you right now. You don't have the right opinion, because you assume there is one. Don't shy away from stating what you like or dislike about a film, but be prepared to have people disagree with you. Accept them in, and try to see things from their side.

It is not enough to have an opinion. You must have one you can defend.

18 better thoughts:

Brian Dunn said...

So does that make you an Anti-anti snob snob snob?

snobbyfilmguy said...

This seemed like it was speaking to a one person audience: ME! I'll take this into consideration in future discussions with other film snobs.

Walter L. Hollmann said...

Caught me! I agree, and I know I'm guilty. I will do better to get my own self back on track. Preach it!

TJMAC510 said...

Ya know it's almost unbelievable how often this seems to happen. Every time a critic posts a negative review of a highly acclaimed movie they get bombarded with the snob line. Whether it's out in the open like on Rotten Tomatoes (where some will fight to the death to prove their opinion is right and yours is wrong it seems) or on Blogger with the wonders of anonymous hate comments telling me I'm a nazi with no taste this is an epidemic. That's why I appreciate people who go against the grain.

In my film class I took last semester the whole class, teacher included, said the best movie ever made was Avatar. And we had to do a paper on what we think is the best movie ever. One by one they all went up and they all said Avatar, Avatar, Avatar. Then I got up and said the best movie ever made was The Godfather. It's not my favorite movie (that's Shaun of the Dead) but I consider it the best made movie ever. The class looked at me like I was crazy, but I explained in great detail why I believed that. The teacher appreciated it but I was deemed the snob of the class by my peers.

I wish the sheepness would stop. If you like something, say so. If you hate something, don't conform just because you don't want to be "that guy."

Great article Uni.

SugaryCynic said...

As someone whose two favorite movies ever are The Rock and The Third Man, clearly I am the perfect hybrid of the snob and anti-snob and will morph into some kind of hyper-critic terminator and visit DOOOOOOM UPON ALL!! ...or I have bad taste in movies?

Good post by the way, obviously :D

Univarn said...

@Brian Most definitely. I pride myself on the length to which I can come up with countering elongated titles.

@snobby Nope, in fact I hadn't taken you in mind for this after all. If you think it applies, however, then maybe it requires a bit of reflection.

@Walter I would preach, except my podium was sold on ebay for my illegal ninja army.

@TJMAC It is a bit of an epidemic. Group Think is the prevailing form of society these days and we're all the worse off for it.

Rachel said...

Excellent post, Uni. Nothing pisses me off more than someone saying my opinion on a film is wrong because I "didn't understand the film." Just because I didn't get the same thing out of a film that someone else did, suddenly I'm an idiot and a bad writer (they always bring that one out when they disagree) for having a different experience.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

What Brian said!
And that's why they are called opinions and not facts.
I've never called a critic an idiot, but I'm guilty of wondering what movie the critics saw. Sorry.

The Mad Hatter said...

Speaking of snobs and critics...y'all need to read this:

Castor said...

So... so you understand me when I say Black Swan or Inception aren't all they are pumped to be? When these movies came out, it was literally an echo chamber with everyone absolutely raving how great these movies were. I felt lonely ahah

Univarn said...

@Rachel The understanding a film is quite different, but I totally agree on that. I will say sometimes someone will point out a particular aspect of a film that I hadn't notice, but seldom does it make me feel greater towards it.

@AlexJ People seem to forget what an opinion is these days. Definitions or not, everything has to be split into infinitives - right or wrong, end of debate!

@Mad I saw that, some people just don't know where the line is - others don't care. I'm not sure which White is, but I know how he comes off.

@Castor It's easy to feel lonely - it's another thing to assume everyone's wrong because of it :)

Fletch said...

Seems like this post is a book-end to your Alienation Theory post. Two sides of the same coin, only it's possible to be alienated without being an anti-snob snob, as you've demonstrated.

Fletch said...

Oh, and Hatter - I've got better things to do with my time than waste it reading anything about, by, or for Armond White. Just say no...

Yojimbo_5 said...

I LIKE it when people disagree with me. I HATE it when their arguments are puerile, prejudiced, or based on a wrong observation of the film ("Uh...that didn't happen in the movie..."). But, I LOVE it when I get attacked in a comment because it allows me to "release the hounds," as it were.

I thought it odd that most of the comments yesterday started with "Well, I (insert emotion) this film (more/less) than you did..."

Univarn said...

@Fletch I might make an argument that about 90% of my articles are bookends in some variation on that post. It's such a rampant thing in the blogging world I try to keep attacking it from as many different ways as possible :)

@Yojimbo I noticed that as well. It's an interesting blogging phenomenon. Somewhere in the range of 90% of the comments I get are of the format: 1. I think. 2. You Pointed out. 3. Nice/Good review. And I'm as guilty of it as anyone.

The Mad Hatter said...

@ Dylan... You don't have to do a post on it or anything, but do read it. I'm still amazed that this actually happened.

@ Castor... I hear you as I'm one of those who doesn't think that THE SOCIAL NETWORK was the best film of the year (didn't even make my top ten). While I did lovelovelove both INCEPTION and BLACK SWAN, I can see how others might not dig 'em.

Where I get hung up is on that person being able to articulate what they didn't like about the film in question.

Simon said...

We are snobs, they are idiots, your mom's a whore. Can't we all just fight on the street where it won't be so embarassingly recorded?

filmgeek said...

Great post! I like a lot of the same films as my boyfriend but we also love vastly different films. He made me watch the original Tron and Flash Gordon one night (yes, it was a terrible double bill) and he looks at me and shakes his head when I claim that Bring It On and other such cheesey teen filcks aren't terrible. S'all good though as he doesn't say 'because'. Like me, he can rant passionately for hours about why he loves 'terrible' films. Although it does irk me that he won't even give Bring It On a chance as he 'can just tell' that it's an awful film. Seems he still has some things to learn

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