We don’t agree with everything Rowland Manthorpe has to say here for Wired about the death of “real” criticism at the hands of stupid algorithms, listicles and excessively fannish Twitter threads, but his frustrated experience of trying to find media outlets with something worth a damn to say about that new Childish Gambino video does exactly mirror ours. It’s the below passage we find most interesting and problematic, though — some of the most satisfaction we’ve found in the week since “This is America” dropped has come from diving into countless endless nuanced Twitter threads, where minds much smarter than ours try to wrestle, not uncritically, with the dense symbolism of the song and video. It’s the old Twitter, the one it could have been, where we work complex things out together in the public square. Is there a better way, wherever we’re headed, wherever Donald Glover might be leading us, to surface and engage with that discourse without just spewing out goddam listicles?
Fandoms do provide criticism, albeit of a different sort. For one thing, it’s more likely to be well-informed. George Orwell, a prodigious reviewer, admitted that, “The great majority of reviews give an inadequate or misleading account of the book that is dealt with”, an inevitable consequence of poorly-paid generalists dashing off pieces at the last minute. Fans are obsessives. They know their stuff (and they won’t even ask to be paid). They also have a more creative relationship with the creator, so criticism takes the form of remixes, or fan fiction, or animation, or cosplay. The critic has been replaced by the co-creator.
This system is undoubtedly more fun, diverse and creative than the one it has displaced. Even so, there are losses, most notably independence and impartiality. In this new model, there is only love, hate and aggressively nerdy detail. The idea that you should write from a perspective of Olympian ignorance feels absurdly old-fashioned.