Between Reviews: Medium Musings

Posted on April 12, 2008

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Picture courtesy: taradel.com

MEDIUM MUSINGS

APR 13, 2008 – A FEW GOOD MEN LAST WEEK – and I include myself in that sweeping generalisation – ended up discussing my career, specifically the aspect of being a film critic in this age of the Internet. The second the topic came up, I made my usual whiny noises about how I hate to be called a film “critic,” and the only reason I allow myself to be called one is that it fits better on my business card than “the person who watches a movie, typically once, and puts down his thoughts, his impressions, without necessarily intending these thoughts and impressions to be a cue for the reader to go see (or not go, not see) the work under question.” But before I continue, let me explain what triggered this discussion. It was the fact that David Ansen, film critic at Newsweek, had accepted a buyout. And before that, Nathan Lee, of the Village Voice, was laid off. And before that, a whole bunch of others, for apparent “economic reasons” – but the real reason, according to the slew of analyses on the Web, is, well, the Web itself. With so many bloggers having turned into guerrilla film critics – strictly in the sense of not belonging to the establishment; quality-wise, there are as many great blogger-critics as there are terrible print-critics – the newspapers appear to be questioning the need to pay someone for a function that’s becoming increasingly irrelevant.

Anyway – or does current usage tend towards “anyways?” – that’s what got us started. By the time we ended, the only thing we took away is that we’re living in interesting times – because if you look at it, there are blogs that cover politics and food and fashion and lifestyle and sports and whatever else you’d find in a typical newspaper, so what’s stopping the paper from firing those that cover these other beats? Why have a print edition at all? Why not simply migrate to the Web and be a presence there, hiring the writers of the most popular blogs, either full-time or as free-lance contributors? Even in my case, I have little doubt that most of my readership comes through my blog, which is where my reviews and my other writings are stored. And the great thing about being a blogger – or, like me, a storer of print pieces on a blog – is that your readers talk back to you. This isn’t just about getting superlatives that say how good your review is, or snarky bile about how your views about the film couldn’t be further apart from the reader’s – though, that sort of information is always good to have.

The real advantage of being a presence on the Web, I feel, is that your story keeps evolving. When you submit something for print, you’ve just about managed to crawl under the deadline wire, and the piece, when published, instantly becomes a frozen fossil, ready to be excavated and flung in your face at any given moment. You can’t take back something you said, or rewrite something you’ve not quite written the way you wanted to, or, in the case of a movie, you can’t revisit it in your head and arrive at a different set of blogical conclusions. And all of that is possible in cyberia. Once the review goes up on my site, it’s endlessly fascinating to see how readers view it. It’s something to consider, that my subjective reading of a film (or a piece of music) is now available for my readers’ subjective reading (of my piece). They may be perfectly in sync with what I wanted to say, or they may take away something I never intended – but that’s what’s good about it. The piece I wrote is no longer a static entity. It’s evolving with everyone who cares to respond, with my responses to those responses, to their responses to my responses of their original responses…

This interactivity allows me to be blindsided by, say, something that never occurred to me, something that a reader pointed out, and in the process, you discover as much about yourself – the way you looked at the film, the way you look at things in general – as the movie in question. It’s part communication, part counselling. This isn’t possible in print, but then the argument for print – and for retaining my services; please, Ed., please – is simply that, at least in India, the Web has a lot of catching up to do. There are a great number of people still unconnected to computers, who still bury their noses in their morning papers. But a bigger case for the print medium would involve the respectability that being published brings. For all the problems of deadlines and restricted word-counts and having to toe editorial policy-lines and having to be family-friendly when you’d rather expunge the memory of a movie with a well-chosen cussword, there’s something to be said about a byline. Yes, writing for a Web portal can result in bylines too, but – call me a romantic – seeing your name on a computer monitor isn’t quite the same as having it block-printed on an extrusion of wood pulp. That’s something I’ll miss if I ever switch from print to full-time Web writing – but then, writing is writing, and as long as I have that, the world is still a wonderful place.

Copyright ©2008 The New Sunday Express. This article may not be reproduced in its entirety without permission. A link to this URL, instead, would be appreciated.

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Posted in: Between Reviews