Old Critics vs. Young Critics
I understand why Drew McWeeny of Hitflix is upset. If you’re part of a group, and an outsider disparages the group, you rally ‘round even if you tend to agree with the outsider. When I lived abroad and someone said something negative about the U.S., my back went up even if I tended to agree. Hell, even if I agreed completely. It’s a human reaction.
So older movie critics (A.O. Scott, Jeff Wells, Roger Ebert) have disparaged the tastes of younger moviegoers, and WcWeeny, a younger movie critic, has sided with “young” rather than “movie critic” and fought back. It’s understandable. Not being young, I read the above pieces and merely nodded. A.O. Scott’s article felt particularly spot-on. He was describing my feelings about the current state of movies and popular culture. He was describing the reality I was seeing. “Delicate, exotic flower, released into art houses” is the quote of the year.
At the same time, this debate isn’t really about “G.I. Joe” or “The Hurt Locker.” It’s about “Transformers 2.” That’s the one that hurts. That’s the one that feels like a final insult to movie critics—no matter their age.
Other no. 1 box-office hits of the year could be explained away. “Dark Knight” was good. “Spider-Man 3” and “Dead Man’s Chest” and “Sith” were crappy sequels to good movies, and, one assumes, moviegoers went for the good movie and wound up seeing the crappy sequel. C’est la vie. C’est la mort. Movie critics knew that we were far from the days when “The Graduate” or “The Godfather,” or even “Rain Man” or “Saving Private Ryan,” could be the no. 1 movie of the year, but at least moviegoers hadn’t lost their minds.
But the mindnumbingly stupid “Transformers 2” was sequel to the mindnumbingly stupid “Transformers”... and people still went to see it. And they didn’t stop seeing it. It didn’t have great legs but it had better legs than I’d hoped. I wanted it to fall off a cliff but it just rolled down a steep hill like a happy idiot, babbling grosses all the way. It’s knocking at $400 million domestic right now.
At one point in his piece, McWeeny argues that the perceived direction of our culture is off-limits to critics. That you talk about the film and that’s all:
I don't care if anyone agrees with me. Ever. ... I don't think the job of a critic is to rail against what is popular, or to insult the taste of the viewing public, or even to question it.
I’d argue that none of this takes place in a vacuum. Everything matters. What we see, what we eat, the sites we click on, all affect us and our culture. I know I’m part of all this, not apart from it. If this air gets polluted it pollutes me, too.
I have no doubt that the 14-year-olds who flocked to “Transformers 2” will be the 15-year-olds, and the 20-year-olds, and the 46-year-olds who will blanch when they see it one or six or 32 years from now. Doesn’t matter. It’s already pulled in tons of money. That reality’s been made and can’t be unmade. Other movies just like it—violent movies based on toys, but for everyone— will be produced and marketed to us and to the people coming behind us. And on and on, world without end. Until it ends. And it won’t end when Decepticons try to turn off the sun; it’ll end when we all become as blisteringly stupid as the stories we absorb.
The latest news? Warner Bros. plans to develop a movie around Legos. Here’s hoping the Eiffel Tower survives.