Eddie Pensier writes:
A few thoughts on Paleo Retiree’s musings:
1) The language used in pro-critic writing versus enthusiastic-amateur writing can be a tip-off. Jargon (of whatever field we’re talking about) is a sign of familiarity with the topic, but even more importantly, it’s a signal to fellow members of the club. But new-style web reviewers have little to prove, so they are able to express their thoughts in clear and un-technical language. Jargon can, in the correct context, be clarifying, but too often it’s used to obscure and obfuscate. As if the more tortured and opaque your prose is, the smarter you must be. (Plenty of lib-arts critics have made this argument before.)
2) The rise of the web has enabled the explosion of criticism and informed discussion of topics that were previously deemed by the “gatekeepers” to be unworthy or unimportant. If there is a hobby, interest or collectible out there in the world, sure as sugar there’s also a passionate group of devotees talking about it in minute detail on a blog or forum. The mainstream Cathedral may consider it beneath them, but the devotees don’t care. This was brought to the fore when Chandler Burr was briefly appointed “fragrance critic” at the New York Times. The big media exploded in sniggers and derogatory comments. But for those people who have been witnessing the amazing growth of online forums and message boards full of hundreds of knowledgeable “perfumistas” (as I have), as well as those who consider perfumery to be a form of art (as I do), this was a rare example of the media “getting it”.
3) More and more people are twigging to the expensive fraud that goes by the name “higher education”, especially when it comes to the liberal arts. It has been alarmingly clear for a few decades that the academy is a place to become indoctrinated and coddled rather than educated. The great thinkers of the past discarded with a self-congratulatory sneer, for failing to live up to today’s standards of enlightenment (and I use that term very, very loosely). White male? Screw ’em. Had uncouth opinions on people of color? Unworthy. Wrote (painted, composed, designed, philosophized) in a manner not currently considered fashionable? Don’t waste your thoughts. It’s a terrible and sad symptom of current culture that people can consider themselves qualified to comment on the present without understanding the past, in the context of the times. Even if you’re planning to chart your own course, you can’t be an iconoclast without understanding what you’re rebelling against. As one wise artist told me, “You can’t break the rules without first knowing what the rules are.” If universities are no longer able to provide this basic grounding, curious people will turn elsewhere.
4) Horn-tooting time: for a prime example of how enthusiastic aficionados can be as enlightening and informative as the pro critics, look no further than this here blog. Paleo Retiree excepted, none of us have made lifelong careers in the fields we tend to write about, yet here we have some of the best culture-content on the web. I’d rather read Fabrizio and Sax’s blog posts on movies than most “official” film writers. Same with Blowhard, Esq. on books and art, PR on architecture, Sir Barken on popular music, and Fenster on….lots of stuff. (I’ll modestly admit to coming up with a few choice words on musical theater and food.) The ability to communicate to the average smart reader who isn’t an expert in the field is, as they say in computing, “a feature, not a bug”.