Great piece in the April issue of Harper’s Magazine titled “Like This or Die” by Christian Lorentzen. He’s a critic taking aim at the soggy state of criticism, and his article is by turns scathing and amusing and devastating.
After noting that “clichés are pandemic” in newspaper book reviews, Lorentzen says “Endless lists of book recommendations blight the landscape with superlatives that are hard to believe.” (Guilty as charged: The New York Times and New York magazine.)
He goes on:
The basic imperatives of the review — analysis and evaluation — are being abandoned in favor of a nodding routine of recommendation. You might like this, you might like that. Let’s have a little chat with the author. What books do you keep on your bedside table? What’s your favorite TV show? Do you mind that we’re doing this friendly Q&A instead of reviewing your book? What if a generation of writers grew up with nobody to criticize them?”
His sentiments remind me of the youth-pandering boosterism of Vulture and the somewhat more adult slavering of Vanity Fair, to name two obvious culprits that more often than not elect fuzzy over fulmination. They are hardly alone in hailing mediocrities like Netflix’s “Bojack Horseman” and “Stranger Things,” floridly overpraised series that reveal a critical desperation to like stuff.
Being honest isn’t the same as being sadistic. “Negativity is part of the equation,” Lorentzen says, “because without it positivity is meaningless.”
More from the article, which can be read here:
What jars is the self-satisfaction expressed by people who should know better. Editors and critics belong to a profession with a duty of skepticism. Instead, we find a class of journalists drunk on the gush. In television, it takes the form of triumphalism: a junk medium has matured into respectability and its critics with it. In music, there is poptimism, a faith that whatever the marketplace sends to the top must be good.”
2 thoughts on “Critiquing the critics”
I HATE Bojack Horseman, and I’m glad I’m not the only one. I genuinely don’t understand why people like it. I think British newspapers are better at honest reviews – it seems like most of the book reviews I come across are still scathing when they need to be. I think that’s my dream job actually, book reviewer. And you know I would be brutally honest!
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We should start a backlashy anti-Bojack society. That show’s the worst, and I’ve watched several episodes trying to like it and understand the critical hosannas. No such luck. I read the Guardian a lot and they are brutally honest. It’s very refreshing. And you should be a book critic. You have the wit, candor and just the right amount — a pinch — of cynicism!