Do Cultural Critics Have Any Value Left?

[T]he Internet has dramatically changed the role of the cultural critic. Albums and movies “leak” far in advance of their due dates, entire libraries of music or television shows can be torrented and hoarded in a matter of hours, and as quickly as terabytes of .mp3s and .avis are transmitted, so too are all of our opinions on the media we are consuming. All of this means critics no longer have exclusivity, priority, or even, necessarily, expertise.

Expertise requires that, compared to the average person, one has a deeper understanding of a topic, a more well-researched opinion on the topic, and privileged information on the topic. The ability for anyone with a fast wireless connection to obtain an entire Lou Reed discography or the entire compendium of Get a Life episodes means that anyone can dig deep into a particular body of work. Access to carefully written blog posts about the true meaning of Inland Empire and the hidden samples used inPaul’s Boutique (not to mention access to Wikipedia) means that research is easy. Music and film piracy means that priority access has become a thing of the past.

Much has been written about how the Internet has granted the opportunity for celebrity status to the masses, making good on Andy Warhol’s promise of everyone getting their 15 minutes of fame, and justifying Time magazine’s decision to give you (me) their 2006 Person of the Year award. But Thomas de Zengotita wrote the most intelligent treatise on this phenomenon in his prescient, pre-YouTube article, “Attack of the Superzeroes: Why Washington, Einstein, and Madonna can’t compete with you.” In it, de Zengotita noted, “Being famous isn’t what it used to be.” —Pacific Standard

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