A Note on Criticism

Most of the time, when you read a movie review or any other analysis of a cultural event, you only get half the story. To tell you the truth, I doubt you even get a quarter of what's really going on, once you do the math.

Let me start over.

This publication, as sporadic and periodic as I design to publish it, is concerned with greatness. This means I spend my letters most directly on objects of wide appeal and influence, because it is here that greatness can be most useful and impactful. In doing so, however, I then enter the realm immediately outside these objects, which is the area of popular criticism. It seems, then, that I should both concern myself with what it means for those objects to be great and what it means to be a great and effective critic of those things.

To be a generally effective critic, I have to do three things:
1. First, I have to state and clarify my expectations. This includes assessing what the maker sought to do, as well as what I expect it to do.
2. Next, I assess the object based on how it meets, exceeds, or fails my expectations.
3. Last, I assess my expectations in light of this new object.

The first part, I think, is actually most important, as it would otherwise be an unconscious undercurrent throughout the criticism. It would be the rubric by which I grade a test: the rubric must be sound first before the test can even be judged. So often, though, it's the part that's least clear, and rarely defined.

Take, for instance, the hubbub that surrounds Apple product releases, and the waterfall of content that flows forth from them. Each take on the "quality" of the product and the "success" of its release is launched from a berth of unknown and unstated expectations of that event, and those expectations range from "this product is of no consequence as I expect not to replace my current device" to "this product will be the most remarkable and revolutionary device ever made" to "this product will be an improvement on the current product". The review that comes will undoubtedly be a product of the object's fulfillment of those expectations, regardless of how much sense those expectations make. But, how often do we accept the star rating or collated score as-is, and how often do we reject criticism based on unreasonable expectations?

I submit that most of the time, we choose not to judge based on what's unsaid. We do that because we implicitly trust the publication, or maybe because we're reading in the aggregate and want to develop a wider perspective of opinions, which a lot of the time means you can't dive too deep.

But these are important objects, and criticism of those objects could be just as important if people trusted them to do what they ought to do. It's this goal I aspire to for the next few objects I'm going to criticize, and I thought I should stop fucking around about standards and throw my cap over the wall.