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1 2 5 TOPPLING THE GATES Blogging as Networked Film Criticism 5 In July 2006, the New York Times’ A.O. Scott wrote an unusually candid column on the role of film critics in the age of blogs. Observing the gap between reviewers’ tastes and box office totals, Scott asked, “Are we out of touch with the audience? Why do we go sniffing after art where everyone else is looking for fun, and spoiling everybody’s fun when it doesn’t live up to our notion or art? What gives us the right to yell ‘bomb’ outside a crowded theater?”1 Scott went on to note that tepid reviews of The Da Vinci Code and Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest failed to stem the tide of audiences eager to see those films, while many critically acclaimed films were unable to find an audience. The defensiveness of Scott’s article directly addressed the perceptions that the print-based film critic was being challenged by a populist rebellion, a shift he connected in part to the apparent democratization of film criticism through blogs and other online forums where anyone can become a critic. Although Scott’s comments reinforce a relatively standard opposition between the critical embrace of high art and fan enthusiasm over low culture, they also touch on the degree to which the film critic as arbiter of local or national film taste has appeared to be under siege. Columns on endangered film critics quickly became a staple of major daily newspapers and magazines.2 As if in response to Scott’s column, digital media enthusiast Scott Kirsner celebrated what appeared to be the decline of an older generation of gatekeepers: “Roger Ebert may be endangered, Entertainment 1 2 6 R E I N V E N T I N G C I N E M A Weekly on its way to extinction.”3 Kirsner utilized a predictive tone to characterize the emergence of blogs not only as inevitable but also as revolutionary, changing forever the landscape of film and media culture . Although Kirsner’s comments obscured the ongoing financial crisis in the newspaper industry that has seen dozens of professional film and arts critics lose their jobs, both he and Scott were drawing from a larger perception that formerly passive consumers—often characterized as cultural dupes stuck with lowest-common-denominator entertainment —were now becoming actively involved in the production of culture . This participation in a process of media change reflected a wider cultural destabilization. As a result, Clay Shirky was moved to argue that, in the era of blogging and wikis, “everyone is a media outlet,” while Dan Gillmor referred to “the former audience” and Chris Anderson eagerly added the populist refrain that “the new tastemakers are us.”4 In fact, the relentless promotion of blogging and other forms of online expression led Time to declare “You,” that is, the active consumer , the Person of the Year in 2006.5 However, while Time sought to provide examples of everyday citizens who had become celebrities via the power of blogging and viral videos, what ultimately came across was not a vibrant critical culture but one characterized by self-absorption and the preservation of relatively traditional models of celebrity. The cover itself famously featured a computer where the monitor is a mirror-like panel reflecting the reader’s image back at her. At the same time, many of the articles highlighted celebrities launched via the web, such as MySpace-turned-MTV-reality-show-celebrity Tila Tequila or the web series LonelyGirl15, interpreting much of the activity on the web via the rhetoric of stardom and discovery. Lost in this revolutionary hype was Henry Jenkins’s recognition that bloggers, for the most part, “have become important grassroots intermediaries—facilitators, not jammers, of the signal flow.”6 In fact, bloggers are often contacted by members of the marketing departments of movie studios to solicit publicity for their films. In this sense, much of the radical potential of blogging—its ability to shake up the landscape of media culture—was contained by the role of blogging in perpetuating and promoting the products of horizontally integrated media conglomerates that could now extend even further the reach of many of their media franchises. This celebratory language fit neatly within larger myths that commonly circulated in discussions of the new digital cinema culture’s movie blogs. Much like the digital distribution and projection systems that were developing alongside them, movie...


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