I’ve seen a bunch of posts and pieces the last few days reflecting upon and lamenting “the death of the critic.” Most—but not all—of them begin with GQ’s effective shutdown of Pitchfork or the news that most of the staff at Sports Illustrated is being laid off.
Some of this sudden burst of coverage is related (I suspect) to Kyle Chayka’s forthcoming book Filterworld; his thesis seems to be that algorthmic recommendations are destroying individual curation, and he has been making the rounds of a bunch of different podcasts.
I think Chayka is broadly correct and I am interested to check out his book. That said, I am having some trouble with the “death of the critic” framing.
To be clear, I think it is generally a bad trend to see media outlets getting shut down, although when said media outlets have already been gobbled up by large holding companies or investment firms, I suspect much of the damage had already been done and the changes we are seeing now were set in motion a while ago.
I’m not sure that what we are seeing here is The Death Of the Critic so much as it is a tearing down of the cultural structures that enshrined a small set of pundits and tastemakers. I do not particularly like the reasons that is happening because I think those forces have other worse effects upon the world.
However, there is part of me that thinks we all might be a bit better off in a world where what books and music and movies are good and worthy of cultural attention is not determined solely by people who happen to work at a select set of high-brow media outlets.
If there remain places (and I’ll grant you—this is a big “if”) for people both on their own and in small groups to express and discuss the art and music and literature and films that they like, I’m honestly not all that worried about the passing of outlets like Pitchfork, at least in terms of their direct impact on culture. Honestly, I kind of thing it’s better not to have sneering critics lecturing us about what albums are good and shaming us for not appreciating Infinite Jest on all of the proper levels. I think we’re all probably better off having to go out and use our judgement to find new art and decide what we like on our own.
What I do think is worrisome is the degree to which the same forces that are pushing algorithmic recommendations can suck up all the oxygen and leave us with no space for any of this conversation, whether it be mediated by critics or not. But that is probably a topic best saved for a different post.