Critiquing the Critic: Film Criticism and Subjectivism

I follow up on my discussion of narcissism in how we talk about film by responding to an article by a film critic in which he claimed that "the point of all film criticism...is to describe a personal experience."

Yesterday I wrote a piece identifying the rampant narcissism in the way we talk about movies. I concluded with: “There is…a wide chasm between voicing your thoughts and equating your non-expert thoughts on a subject with an expert’s thoughts on that same subject.” Coincidentally, a so-called expert wrote on a similar subject yesterday–the purpose of film criticism.

I used the descriptor “so-called” because I have no idea who Devin Faraci is or why I should pay attention to him. All I know is, over a period of a few years, his name has come up many, many times on movie news sites and Twitter as someone who gets “scoops” and is “in the know.” Generally though, I have ignored him because the internet has a major problem with the illusion of expertise.

My point isn’t to discuss the broader issues the internet presents us with or to attack Faraci personally. I want to follow up on my article from yesterday using a quote from Faraci’s article “I Am Biased.” In it he writes “the quality of a film – or any work of art, for that matter – is almost entirely subjective” before building to his main point:

the point of all film criticism…isn’t to declare a movie good or bad. It isn’t to be right or wrong. It’s to describe a personal experience with a movie, and that personal experience is based on subjectivity…

(Note: I added the ellipses only to fix the flow of the statement, not to change the content.)

Notice how the primary idea Faraci wants to drive home is subjectivity. Without it, there would be no reason for anyone to read him. His personal experience would mean nothing to anyone but himself, as its value comes from the fact that it is unique in its subjectivity. In contrast, if the point of film criticism is to objectively understand a film, communicate its quality, and delineate that quality from your personal taste and experience, then the value of your reviews comes from your ability to understand film and communicate that understanding to your audience.

Embracing Faraci’s ideas can only lead to narcissism. If all you’re doing is describing a personal experience, then the subject of your experience is just an excuse to talk about what you went through. In other words, you’re primarily talking about yourself. Similarly, if your audience is reading about your personal experience, they’re primarily reading about you, not the subject of your experience. Thus, anyone writing from Faraci’s perspective is not thinking about the subject (or audience) of their writing. They’re only thinking about themselves.

I said as much in two tweets wherein I quoted the original tweet the article was promoted in:

Faraci blocked me for those tweets. I’d never interacted with him before in my life nor did I say anything malevolent or hateful–except that to a subjectivist being denied validation is the ultimate form of malevolence and hate.

Because if all there is to talk about is personal experience, then any critique of a critique is a critique of the critic.

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