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Plot is not story, and recaps are not criticism.

One of the first and most important—for me, at the time—lessons I learned when I first started taking film criticism classes in college was that plot and story are two different things. There are, or course, many ways of talking about the differences, but for me, it comes down plot being what happens and story being what it means. Up to that point, I had naïvely assumed they were the same, which—of course—they are not.

I bring this lesson up now as I read through yet another “review” that is really just a plot summary. I feel like this is what the majority of film/TV criticism has become in the internet era… recap posts dressed up with a few complaints about how this or that plot point does not make sense.

Actual criticism is hard, so it makes sense that as the quantity of media commentary has exploded over the last twenty years, the vast majority of it is padded out with plot-recap style posts. There is nothing inherently wrong with this sort of stuff; it can be helpful when every TV show is an extended serialized narrative and you don’t want to have catch up on all the previous seasons' worth of stuff, or when you can’t remember the details of the previous season’s finale and want to a refresher before the new season starts. That’s what Wikipedia is for, though.

The problem is that we now seem to be at point where not only the majority of media commentary consists of plot recaps, but where this is what people have come to expect from such commentary. The vast majority of what passes for movie and TV reviews on the web—especially on YouTube—are now amateurs with little understanding of film as an art form or as literature. They want plots that make sense, and characters who do what is expected within those plots.

While I am not that worried about someone being wrong about something on the internet, I do find it concerning when the mass and volume of such wrongness grows large enough to influence the art form itself.

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