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May 14, 2006

Depeche Modalities


A while ago I went to iTunes Music Store to buy the new Depeche Mode CD. An hour later I found I had read 55 short reviews of the record. The opinions, bylined only with screen names, could have been written by record company execs, relatives of band members, spurned lovers. Didn’t matter. It was fascinating to peek in on the sometimes testy arguments, to note the diehard fandom of many of the “reviewers.”

Some of the writers, it seemed, had done little else in their 22 years on the planet than listen to and compare various Depeche Mode records. So while they likely had no special training or expertise, no musicology degree, no 15-year stint as lead critic of Spin or the Star Tribune, my guess is that some of them knew more about the band than most experienced critics, who, after all, are required by their job to range widely and perhaps shallowly over many bands and genres. So whose critical opinion am I going to believe-- “wal-marx” at iTunes? Or an established critic at, say, a major daily paper? Fortunately, as Misha noted here already, the answer is less of an either/or and more of a both.

Posted by at May 14, 2006 3:01 PM


Claude's point about no-name/ano-name consumer "review" is, I think, key to the appeal: no one need know what the Real Person really thinks. Shills can go by m/any names.
As Offical Journalists, our name, our sign, our scat remains to claim us: we, the Actual Person are responsible for our words and what they represent.
Yes, much art journalism is unreadable gobblygook.
Insider, obtuse crap that comes across as more masturbatory than celebratory. Alas, much that makes blogland applies to the latter, as well. To paraphrase Beuys (thanks, Andras) everyone a critic. That may be current, but I believe inaccurate. Critics and otherwise arts journalists, through experience and knowledge and training (and good editors) have a b.s. omerter not at hand for everyone, no matter how opinionated and tech-able they may be.

Posted by: Karen Michel at May 14, 2006 6:34 PM

Isn't the essential issue here one of trust?

It's not about who fact-checks and who doesn't, about who has "experience" and who doesn't.

Art is such a visceral experience, that either a critic shares your sensibilities or they don't. After a while, you learn which reviewers/critics/bloggers match your style.

This isn't to say that you should only listen to people who have exactly the same tastes as yourself. I read political bloggers and "professional" op-ed writers with whom I often disagree, but I don't stop reading them, because they usually have something interesting to say.

In the end, I think this talk of "saving" newspapers or saving critics' salaries is misguided. People will always seek out good critical writing to help them navigate the cultural landscape, regardless of where it's printed.

And maybe fewer people will make a full-time living at it, but that's life.

Technology has been making people unemployed for centuries. There's no reason art critics, of all people, should be immune to that trend.

Posted by: Frank at May 15, 2006 7:24 PM

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