Digital Polyphony

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Know Your Enemy

Posted on January 15, 2014 at 5:45 AM

Know Your Enemy

The last time I wanted to write about Armond White, I claimed it would be my last. Well, sometimes you just get that little seed of vileness that you have to unleash in some form. Some go to the gym and punch a bag, I only have a lowly blog at my disposal.

I should point out my previous entry was back in 2011 and happily titled "Armond White is a Piece of Shit." You can read it here.

I wrote that  around the New York Film Critics gala of self-congratulations that year as well, where White decided that he didn't like Black Swan all that much and wanted to make sure that nobody else liked it either my acting like a complete jackass.

He did it again the following year, and again this year at that same dinner where, again, he wanted to make it clear he didn't like 12 Years a Slave and proceeded to heckle director Steve McQueen when he was on stage presenting the award.

Of course, White insists he didn't do it. Unfortunately it doesn't matter at this point, these stories seem consistent over the years he has been a film critic. He and his defenders, of which there are few, feel that he is being victimized and that people are "out to get him" because he hhas a dissenting (if not contrarian) view of most films.

That's not the problem with Armond White, nor should it be. A variety of opinions is what makes film criticism unique and important if not outright enjoyable. The problem is his ego-maniacal desire to be noticed and receive attention at every turn. The problem is his less-than-appreciative attitude towards his readers, going so far as to call them "stupid if you like this movie." The problem is that he's the smartest guy in the room but at the same time the rudest and most impersonal, making any of those opinions not invalid, but meaningless because the point of an opinion is to have people want to hear it.

Seriously, go and read an Armond White review of a movie he liked. Careful now, watch your step. Avoid anything with "Spike" or "Lee" in it. His "normal" reviews where he's not tyring to hard are fantastic, if not outright brilliant. But if there's something he doesn't's as though he regresses to a teenager really upset his friend has that cool new toy and will sneak over there and break it just so neither can enjoy it.

When your attitude overshadows your voice, then nobody cares what you have to say. Even if it's something good.


It's not the Criticism, It's the Critic

I actually enjoy reading negative reviews of movies I like. It allows perspective and thought as you ponder the “other side” because that’s what film analysis is all about. But with White’s approach, he does film criticism a disservice because he causes that perspective to no longer have value or any weight.


Even having a contrarian opinion can be (note: can be) a great thing. True, some call him a troll for this because he has a very odd record, but that's not why he's a troll. He's a troll because he's an asshole. Period. You can give an alternate opinion on something, but if you present it in the most intrusive manner possible, looking down your nose or calling people  then any point or criticism you want to make is no longer who you are or what you do.

Respect runs in both directions, you receive as much as you give. White likes to say that he is what film criticism is all about. In a way, he’s right. We need those alternative views when critiquing anything.  But at the same time…he has to say that. It’s no wonder he loves Kanye West so much - West being a man who has to tell everyone how much of a musical genius he is, often referring to himself as a “god.”

If you are those things, then you wouldn’t have to tell anyone. People and your peers would already know. It’s a combination of insecurity and ego-stroking and in the case of Armond White, it’s bad for film criticism. Not that dissenting opinion, but how his persona and attitude. White is bad for how people, including his own colleagues in the medium, view film critics. Already presumed to be “self-righteous snobs,” he more than validates it with each incident he makes ink on.

As a result, all that “alternative view” provided won’t matter and will fall on deaf ears. A lot of work on offering perspective will amount to nothing and become lost because nobody respects the person that wrote or said it. Alternative views are what make criticism thrive, but critics like White are what kills it because it does nothing but show that those with that “alternative view” love themselves more than what they’re actually critiquing.

This is best exemplified in the following quote:

"It's a shameless attempt to squelch the strongest voice that exists in contemporary criticism."

That's from White's response to all this, as self-righteous and delusional as ever. It makes me think this article is needed.

There's nothing wrong with being the dissenting opinion. I love the dissenting opinion as long as I'm not insulted while reading it. Pauline Kael made a career out of being the dissenting opinion. But she did so with great arguments, great writing and, above all else, great admiration of cinema. Kael made you think. White likes to think he makes you think. I never get that sense of trying to make me think from Armond White, who spends more time yelling how right he is rather than proving it. You can have that dissenting opinion without the classless, ego-maniacal drivel best kept to twelve year olds arguing over their favorite Ninja Turtle, but not in White's world. There it's all a swill of bad flavors.

Film Criticism and theory is about communication as much as it is about opinion and analysis. If all you care about is expressing your opinion and nothing else, then you're useless to the conversation. The "I am right, everyone else is wrong" approach marginalizes everything that film critique is about.

But hey, look what it achieved. The man who many are trying to quiet, even removing him from Rotten Tomatoes entirely or linking to his blog, is making headlines. Mission accomplished, Mr. White, at the cost of people actually respecting you and therefore uncaring of whatever it is you have to say. Then what does that achieve? All that supposed "criticism" just becomes lost, and all that effort worth nothing.

For a more detailed article of the incident, and a few past ones, you can check out this wrap-up. No pun. Promise.


And He's Out

As of Monday, January 13th, White was unsurprisingly voted out of the New York Critics Film Circle, the final achievement he could hope for to prove that the world is against him. What's that they say about someone not realizing they're the problem? If you see everyone else in the room as wrong, then you're the one that's actually wrong? Yeah, some idiom like that I probably can't recall.

White needs to get away from film criticism and go more in to film theory. He likes to remind us all he's a scholar, after all, and his abilities are best left there rather than take the form of a "review" where he interjects himself at every possible moment and insults the reader directly for even considering disagreeing with him.

I wish we could have contrarian views without someone being a complete tool. But ego has superceded that within those circles and they no longer seem mutually exclusive. Are we better off not having to put up with shenanigans? Absolutely. Is the world of film criticism and discourse better? Probably not, but those causing the shenanigans only have themselves to blame.

Whether White likes to admit it or not, there is a purpose to being a film critic: to inform the reader. Not berate them. Not insult them. Not have a high-and-mighty opinion of yourself, but to relay information about a film, utilizing your knowledge and education, to everyone else who may or may not have that. To make an arguement without arguing. To have an opinion and show valid reasons why your opinion matters. To understand the purpose of communication with your peers and to have respect of intellectual discourse. To relay the experience to someone who hasn't had one and offer perspective without insults and pretention. If you want a schtick, fine, but don't have that overshadow the points you're trying to make, but don't fall in to "hack" territory where you become dependent on that schtick.

Otherwise you're just be another Armond White, who tells us much and says anything he likes, but will be forgotten over time because nobody cares what your opinion is if you're a complete dick about it and all people will think of when they hear your name isn't "he was a fantastic critic and film scholar" and, instead, "fuck that guy."

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