|Posted on April 20, 2010 at 12:39 PM|
The View of Opinions
Let's take a moment and discuss a trend I've been noticing more and more over the past few years. This has to do with people's opinions, a rather touchy subject because, as they say, everyone has an opinion. To most, I've seen, opinions are varied and because they are completely subjective, they are therefore equal in value. No matter what a person says, how utterly rediculous their opinion may be, their view is equal to the person next to them who is equal to the person next to them and so on and so forth. To some, there isn't even a difference between"good" and "bad." Just different perspectives.
Yet, if that's the case...then how do we look back in hindsight to understand what is good and bad? How can we look at the Mona Lisa and call it a masterpiece or read MacBeth and say "that's a good play?" How do we know what to appreciate and acknowledge as inherently good? How do we simply differentiate?
The answer: because opinions are not equal.
You can have an opinion. Everyone is justified in having one. But having an opinion doesn't mean your stance is on an even keel with others who, through education and profession, surpass your area of supposed expertise. I've always felt that criticism, particularly when it comes to film, seems to be looked at in this "everyone can do it" mentality. If one person thinks Film A is bad, and another thinks it's great, many tend to assume that "it's all opinion and therefore they are both right."
Yet, what if the person who thinks it is bad film happens to be a film critic, has studied film, has written extensively about it and can name the great films going back to the early silent era whereas the person who thinks it’s great hasn't seen a film made before 1980 other than Star Wars?
This is a fact: the person who knows more has a more valued opinion. His view carries more weight because he himself is more knowledgeable of what a great film and a bad film is and might even have those lofty goals of pure subjective disconnect that few film critics aspire to. In other words, his opinion is superior to that of the other person's.
If you're reading that and disagree, let me ask you this. You have two people to get opinions on a very nasty rash you've acquired after backpacking through Western Europe. Both are doctors, but one is a dermatologist and the other a cardiologist. Now I've given you the benefit of the doubt here, I could have easily said one is a doctor and one is not, instead I got more specific and shown there are still profession and education beyond just a "PHD" at the end of a name, just as there is various "critics" out there in the world. You would naturally go to the doctor specific in terms of skin, wouldn't you? His opinion on what the issue is, his professional value and his title holds far more credence than the cardiologist for your specific dilemma.
Now, ask yourself. When it comes to film, would you not value a professional and educated person's opinion, someone who simply knows what they're talking about, over someone who is, say, 22 and has no idea who Stanley Kubrick is?
You know the answer here. You're fooling yourself if you think otherwise. You go with a person that has an informed opinion over one that does not.
Let's bring regular art into the mix. To tell me whether or not something is well written, say a piece of chamber music, would you not need to know a little about music theory in the first place? Sure, I can say whether or not I liked it, but I'm not going to be one to know if it's fundamentally sound and impressively done. That's not my department. I think the act of admitting of not knowing everything, and conceding to the fact the there are people who know more, is the primary reason so many are defensive with their "all opinions are equal" stance (or, similarly, the “it’s a matter of taste” stance which is still basically saying “my opinion is equal to yours.” Especially with something as "entertainment" and "universal" like film where everyone feels they can be a critic and have an opinion on the same playing field as everyone else.
The Role of a Critic
A critic is there to inform (and hopefully entertain if they're good enough) those that do not know as much as they do. That is why they are critics, not just regular moviegoers. Their brains and minds work at a different level when watching a film. Most moviegoers are passive. They sit back and enjoy. Critics, though, observe everything from the use of angles and spatial awareness on the screen to lighting to dialogue to how editing is handled and the flow of the film progresses. Simply put, they are smarter, know more and understand the elements of what makes something good more than most. This is for all critics, not just film. Book critics. Art critics. Even videogame critics (though their approaches are still lacking the degree of respectability, then again the entire medium still has a long ways to go...but we'll save that for another time).
A critic has a way to be both objective and subjective. You can objectively break something apart, look at it, and then critique it. They still have a degree of subjectivity, however, in that they have to still say "I didn't like it" or "I liked it" at the end of the day. At the same time this separation allows a critic to "like" a film but, still, know it's not particularly a good one. For example, I absolutely love films like Rocky IV or Commando (as noted in my Top 25 Guilty Pleasure Movies), but neither of those are particular "good" films I would say.
That's the fine line, you see...one that regular moviegoers don't walk and are usually on the simple black and white subjective side of the fence. A critic is able to separate him or herself and deliver the facts first. They know enough to understand bad dialogue or atrocious pacing and can express that through writing. The same for amateurish directing or bad special effects. The subjective side comes in, however, when they either like the film despite its problems. That's the measuring stick of personal tastes. Two reviewers will say"the dialogue is horrible" but Reviewer A doesn't mind it as much as Reviewer B. Either way, both can have an intelligent conversation regarding the matter, though I doubt either will change their stance (critics are stubborn,you know) and both have informed opinions well above those that don't know the difference between Expressionism and Neorealism. An informed opinion is one of value. A mere opinion is simply not...it is just an opinion. Sure, “everyone is a critic” but only a few are actually good at it.
Acceptance is a Dish Best Served Cold
One thing that informed opinions generate is discussion. This is something that I have grown more and more in admiration of over the years, especially in the past ten where thousands of opinions are floating out there in the ether called the internet. I've also noticed that those who share the notion of informed opinions are intelligent and well-versed and tend to understand this concept of opinions quite well. In contrast, any Tom, Dick and Harry that throw out their views do not. They simply state their case and move on rather than discuss the various views and looks and approaches their opinion is founded upon. It's these people that are your A-Typical and closed-minded opinions that make up the majority. These are the uninformed, uneducated and unaware persons with a small frame of reference. They don't open a discussion because they can't. The minute one is open is the minute their lack of intelligence and probably conviction is revealed, and as I said their crutch of reliance known as the "All Opinions are Equal" argument becomes their mainstay. Deep down, though, they know they've been had.
There are three types of opinions: uninformed, misinformed and informed. Take your pick as to which matters most. Those that truly think all opinions are equal still have yet to explain how there are hundreds upon hundreds of books discussing art criticism, literary criticism, film criticism and so forth. I have yet to read a book that upholds the “every opinion is equal” routine.
Some call this view I present as "elitist" or "snobbish." Roger Ebert himself said the following:
"We should respect differing opinions up to certain point, and then its time for the wise to blow the whistle. Sir, not only do I differ with what you say, but I would certainly not fight to the death for your right to say it. Not me. You have to pick your fights."
Those "fights" he picks are with those on his caliber. His level of understanding and education. Expertise is to be valued, not simply tossed aside just because they may or may not disagree with you. As hard as it is to accept this fact: those critics and those with educated and informed opinions are there to serve you. Even moreso with the critics, they actually get a paycheck because they're good at it.
As time passes, people will grow and learn. Their opinions will change and alter and, hopefully one day, their perspectives in regards to how opinions are perceived will as well. Hopefully, one day, they'll understand the role of those that know more than year - even if it's brutally honest. It's a critic's job to inform his or her audience. It's their assessment, breaking down and reaction to who is going to read, hear or watch their opinion. They present their case and it's up to the audience to look at it as the measuring stick. Depending on just your own is foolish, whether you know everything or know nothing at all. Opinions are to be valued, but only certain ones have value worth their weight in words.