Sunday, June 18, 2006

The problem with the ''Do critics matter?'' debate

Entertainment Weekly's Owen Gleiberman weighs in on the "Hey, studios! Don't ignore us!" cold open issue (I won't call it a debate because the studios show no interest in discussing it). If there was a debate, though, I'd be persuaded by his argument that critics matter not because they can make a good movie profitable or keep people away from a bad one (we all begged people not to go see "R.V" and "United 93" got great reviews but a small audience) but because we serve as "a companionable guide." I'd like to think so.

The notion that a critic's job begins and ends with our power to help films become hits is a specious one nurtured by marketing executives, and I'm always astonished when critics themselves buy into it.

Consider the comparable situation with, say, political pundits. Should an editorial columnist who was stauchly against the Iraq war, and had no discernible influence on either the Congress or political opinion at large, be considered ''irrelevant''? Was the war itself ''columnist-proof''?

My ultimate point, I guess, is that critics should matter not because we're ticker-tape machines of judgment but because we are voices.

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