As digital technology offers countless contrarian voices the opportunity to add their share to the din of popular culture, I thought I’d take a moment to look at the difference between a valid objection and a foolish remark that ought to be dismissed outright. Within the democratised digital world, it is a potentially demoralising reality (especially for the critic) that the latter is far more common. Thus do I present, in no particular order, the top seven categories of erroneous statement intended to silence dissent and the expression of critical opinion in the digital world:
“Let’s see your movie/book/equivalent artistic product. Oh, that’s right, you’ve never directed/written/created one.”
A false appeal to accomplishment and ridiculous tu quoque argument. The function of the critic is not to appeal to authority so as to win an argument on the basis of experience. Moreover, the corollary does not hold true: having directed a film does not arbitrarily make one adept or even qualified to criticise a film. The tools of the critic are of an entirely different set than that of the filmmaker, though often they will borrow from one another. Essentially then, this argument is a non-sequitur, it makes no difference whatsoever whether the critic has made a film or not. Moreover, the homology would require the commenter to supply their own comparable criticism to legitimate his or her right to offer a reproach.
“Seriously, it’s just a movie/book/equivalent artistic product.”
A half-hearted attempt at an argument ad absurdum. In some instances this declaration may be valid, but as always, it depends on the context. It may be foolhardy and/or nonsensical to criticise a movie starring Kellan Lutz for not having a more intelligent or intricate story, since one is antithetical to the other, but arguably valid to impeach a veteran like Ridley Scott for any number of his films over the past decade. More than this, the criticism of an individual cinematic work, however trivial that work may be, may well sit within a broader critique of the cinematic form as a whole. For example, criticising The Legend of Hercules (2014) for being derivative hackwork may well be tackling a broader problem in cinema than a single mediocre film.
“Who the hell cares?”
Sarcastic, hyperbolic, hasty generalisation. Anyone who cares enough to type out a response admonishing someone for caring enough about something to type out an equally withering reproach about a film is evidently guilty of the same crime and wholly ignorant of irony.
“That movie/book/equivalent artistic product is so old, who cares?”
Much like the fallacy above, this argument ad nauseum attempts to silence the opinion by declaring it not worth having. The criticism is not a time-sensitive matter. If the film no longer occupies a prominent position in the cultural zeitgeist all that entails is the reduction of the criticisms , and not its validity. This attack also foolishly underestimates the importance of cultural products in the matrix of culture. For these people, culture is always and only ever the immanent here and now, defined in version updates and model numbers. For them life will only ever be the few scraps of insight they ever manage to grasp fluttering by, unaware of the vast field of knowledge that lays all around them.
“If that movie/book/equivalent artistic product wasn’t good, it would not have made X number of dollars.”
Argument ad populum. Just because a work is popular does not mean it is without flaws, or indeed, beyond criticism. Given the unprecedented success of the Twilight franchise I’m still consistently surprised whenever this argument gets thrown down.
“It’s just a movie, get a life!”
Borderline ad hominem. I think at this point in our culture, any individual who offers the unsolicited opinion that works of cinema are to be considered with the same enthusiasm as a used condom, and should be similarly disposed of as such, is the one who’s out of touch with what most people would describe as a life. That, or with one insult the commenter has undone the entire field of cinema studies.
“Opinions are like [name your suggestive body part], everybody’s got one.”
Thought-terminating cliché intended to pass as wisdom, when in fact the false equivocation is rhetorically null. If opinions are as common as body parts, then they are unavoidable. Moreover, if they are so common, they must then be unspectacular. However, the very fact that the respondent chose to utter this remark about this specific opinion designates a unique quality about this opinion which compelled the response. In the same way that we don’t respond or even register every body part of every person, we do notice and indeed even sometimes venture an opinion on remarkable features (whether desirable or undesirable). So, by calling that particular statement worthless, the attacker has ironically designated it as an opinion of some worth. However, the remark is so vague as to lack all causal referents, i.e. the statement does not respond to the opinion in question, except to acknowledge that opinions are common and unavoidable. Thus the greater irony of the statement is that it contains in embryo its own refutation.
About the Author
A grad student scribbling his English Literature thesis lento in-between clandestine snorts of cinema and rebarbative bursts of balladry, Jason Lajoie also chews the celluloid cud over at Digital Didascalia when time permits.