Fri 14 August 2020
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Is the age of the critic over?
Critics reflect on how social media, such as Facebook, Twitter and myDigg, fit into the perennial debate on cultural elitism

When I was writing for the Face, during the 1990s, I went to interview some boy racers: young lads who spent all their money souping up their cars in order to screech around mini roundabouts or rev their engines in supermarket car parks until their tyres smoked. The kids asked me who I was writing for. When I said the Face – a magazine that prided itself on representing all aspects of British youth interests – every single one of them replied: "Never heard of it."

The point is that most people – especially those outside the high-culture capital of London – are involved in culture of their own choice, often of their own making. Professional critics spend their time whizzing between private screenings and secret gigs, opening nights and exclusive playbacks. Everyone else just does stuff they like, with people who like it too. We naturally gravitate to others who share our interests, whether we spend our time collecting first editions, following Stockport County, yomping up mountains or watching three series of Breaking Bad all in one go. Our interests – our personal cultural choices – are what define a good part of our identity.

And mostly, those choices are ignored by the mainstream media. It was only during the 90s that newspapers began to cover pop music in a serious way; only very recently that computer games were deemed worthy of mention. There is still a hierarchy of culture in the media. On The Culture Show or The Review Show, for instance, contemporary art will always trump standup comedy. As a radio critic, I know full well that my reviews will never get the space of those that discuss TV or film. (Sport is even worse: if you're interested in any sport other than football, cricket, rugby or tennis, forget it.)

The reason why professional critics agree a lot is that they tend to be of a type. They've often had a go at what they're reviewing (they went to art school or were in a rubbish band or tried acting), they like writing and they're a product of their age. I often find myself nodding along with the Guardian's Alexis Petridis, Lynn Gardner and Grace Dent, with Laura Cumming or Kitty Empire from this paper or Caitlin Moran of the Times. But that's because we all want our culture to do the same things. We have similar taste.

The big difference Facebook and, especially, Twitter has made is that it is easier for critics to hear other people's opinions. Even then, though, you tend to hear similar views to your own; after all, if you follow someone on Twitter it's because something about them appeals to you. I tweeted about PJ Harvey's new album the other day. The excited response I got from followers was amazing. But then, what did I expect? I wasn't talking to fans of Justin Bieber. We don't really connect.

For more views

The Guardian