The Relative Critic says, “Compared to everything else, it’s good.”
The Objective Critic says, “Compared to what’s good, it sucks.”
What we want in the arts is extremes, extreme good and extreme bad and nothing in between. We have learned as Ed Wood lovers that there is much to be said in favor of the extreme bad. Certain extremes of badness have very high entertainment value, and therefore must be acknowledged. How intriguing and comic the very bad can be is a paradox of art we are still trying to understand. The two critical mottos illustrate the choice critics have. Critics can take a stance of anti-middle, anti-normal. Critics can aggressively target the mediocre for destruction. We need courageous Objective critics, critics who hate the middle far more than the bottom, who are not afraid to tell an artist to his face that he sucks and should never try again, not because he's the worst but because he occupies an unacceptable middle ground. Critics must know a strong middle is exactly what the "industry" has an interest in strengthening, for the obvious reason that the middle is what they count on to keep business moving. That is why critics must have an attitude of absolute indifference to the business interests at stake in art and entertainment. It is the critic's job to want and expect the best. When the best is not forthcoming, the critic must do everything in his power to dissuade the public in the strongest, most rhetorically ruthless terms possible. The more critics are hated and maligned by the "industry" the better they are doing their job. Today art is invisible behind all the marketing. The cynics are correct who say it's all marketing, it's all how to sucker the conformers into starting a wave. Here is where the critic comes in. He fights the marketing. With his brain the critic exposes the stupidity and mediocrity the marketing tries to hide.
The public does not want normal. That's the truth as I see it, but the Marketers That Be are in every way dedicated to convincing the public that dispassionate money-maker art is what feeds our souls the most. Unfortunately marketing works. I wish it did not. Our vulnerability to marketing must have a deep biological basis somewhere within us. We cannot think or judge for ourselves. Again that's where the critic comes in. He is the anti-marketer marketer. He is the clarifying, extra-biological BRAIN we rely on to keep ourselves honest.
For instance, when Roger Ebert heaps praise on the un-interesting, undramatic, the frankly terrible Kill Bill movies he seriously jeopardizes his credibility. Obviously he's friends with Tarantino. He is a critic who has been suckered by marketing. That cannot happen. Shame on Ebert, who seems otherwise to be an honest, credible man who knows his job and does it well.
A man with Ebert's blend of talents is rare. The ideal critic is almost a social impossibility. The ideal would be a hermit-like brainiac with extensive knowledge of and strong feelings about art, creativity, history, psychology, science, who "gets it" about life, and who can imagine being other people, and yet himself be incapable of producing anything of the remotest quality in fiction art. And he has to be honest. That's a rare blend. Without such men the balance of power tilts toward unalterable corporate brainwashing which would permanently banish all extremes in favor of the safety of a mediocrity monotony monarchy. The profits must be made safe. We have seen in 70's film when corporate control waned, extremes emerged. In the future I see only a tightening of corporate control.
I feel the odds are against us ever seeing another era of extremes in the arts. We won't see the extremely good followed by the extremely bad followed by the extremely good, which would be the ideal of any era. We will instead continue to see a long line of normalised, ultra-obvious and instantly stale products praised for their mediocrity. And more critics will think of their career and take the path of Roger Ebert and decide it's okay to be a sucker. I mean, that's how you get in touch with your audience. And the "Let's all just be a bunch of suckers" movement will hopefully take a stronger hold in the future.