All The Young Critics
I’m 23 years old. This feels cynical to say, but it seems like a lot critics my age have been conditioned into not really talking about music, no matter how passionate they declare themselves; instead, they want to flow into this giant ocean of critical consensus and connections, get Tweeted at by minor rock writers and/or Megafaun. “There are no jobs out there,” they’ll say. “You’ve got to network where you can.” Everyone wants to be friends, and that’s fine — the world feels like a better place when you wake up surrounded by people you know and who know you back. But I keep thinking it blurs the lines of objectivity, of being able to call out a bad opinion without worrying the usually-more-connected-than-you person will overreact and shit talk you around this way-too-tiny semi-professional circle. So we bite our tongues when our elders say stupid things and sneer when our peers suck up, but they’ve won and it doesn’t matter. When you look into the Internet and see a Facebook group, it’s hard to not want to back away and never give a shit.
Last month, Pitchfork Reviews Reviews asserted that “artists want critics to like them (obviously) and critics want artists to like them back (maybe more?).” I disagree completely with this, but there’s a third evil here: critics wanting other critics to like them back. Without realizing it, it feels like everyone is just being trained to agree with each other, and if not, they often fall back on petulant personal invective rather than entertaining the idea that hey, they might be wrong.
Last year, I witnessed two critics get in a real argument at a music panel. It ended cordially, but it was real discourse, intellectually provocative without crossing the line. They both made concessions, asked the other to clarify his point, refused to let a bad point slide even if it meant getting a little heated. They were fair without neutering the discussion out of civility. That’s the middle ground we can reach in the discourse, and it’s one people my age should be aspiring towards rather than getting wrapped up in the social network of this frankly inconsequential profession.
I don’t know what the solution is. Maybe everyone needs to stop feeling the pressure to comment on everything and be “on” all the time. Maybe we all need to stop being friends and lending too much importance to our elders’ personal opinion, no matter how often we’re dazzled by something they write. Not networking goes against everything we were told in college, but it’ll force a generation of young critics to develop on their own terms. Why be a part of something that already exists when you can do something new?