ThePageBoy

Writing, Reviewing and Criticism In The Internet Age

Category: Random Thoughts

Commissioning Ideas, or, Don’t Screw These Up

Right,

Given how utterly risk averse the big studios have become in recent years the number of literary titles that have been adapted into one form or another. By and large though the results haven’t been good. Quite often they’ve been very not good and to be honest it’s getting more than a little frustrating. Reboots and remakes have been dominating the box office and it would be beyond nice to see an adaptation done well. It can, after all, happen even if lately it seems to be only classics that can be translated from one medium to another with any skill. So I kicked around a few ideas for new films and TV shows based on books that could work well in a different format. Any ideas of your own? Think I’ve missed something obvious? Let me know and join in in the comments.

Brave New World

Yeah, this just about does it justice...

Yeah, this just about does it justice…

 

I’m not sure what’s behind it but has anyone noticed that recently we’ve stopped doing sci-fi? And I don’t mean pieces of disingenuous lens flaring fan service but proper high concept film making that tried to do something smart. I mean, Blade Runner is widely considered to be one of the best films ever made, and whilst the Matrix trilogy had serious issues it was at least packing some serious philosophical and intellectual ideas. Lately though it seems like the ideas have just dried up a little – Oblivion was dull, Source Code and In Time were good ideas but not given nearly enough attention and the Ender’s Game movie? Yeah, I wouldn’t hold your breath if I were you…

That’s why Brave New World could be a great idea – first published in the 1930s by Aldous Huxley it’s the dystopian vision of a world were humanity has achieved happiness. Sex, drugs, technology and genetic engineering has made the world stable, safe and completely horrifying. The one person who seems to feel out of place is the intellectual Bernard Marx, who goes to the Savage reservation to find someone who doesn’t live the way that everyone else does. I’m reluctant to spoil it as this is one of favourite novels and if you haven’t read it, you really should. It’s a high concept work of art that contains a powerful warning against mindless consumption, the benefits of language and solitude, the power of poetry and even the upside of being unhappy. It would have been hard to make because of the high level of world building necessary and, as it’s a dystopia, it does not have the traditional happy ending but there is a smart, scary intelligent thriller here waiting to get out – (and be better than the made-for-tv movie starring Lenard Nemoy, yes, really…)

Potential Director: David Cronenberg and his skill with body horror could be an interesting choice or failing that, Duncan Jones deserves the chance to do a real sci-fi epic

Stonemouth

From sci-fi to the very mundane and the setting of small town Scotland. Following his recent announcement of terminal cancer the Scottish author Iain Banks won’t be around for too much longer so it would be nice to see an adaptation of one of Scotland’s brightest literary talents. Banks first came to national prominence on the back of The Wasp Factory, a deeply unpleasant and unsettling portrait of a disturbing young man called Frank. Reading it is like stepping into another world, and it’s the same here with Stonemouth. The story follows a young man who returns home to a small town in the North of Scotland for the funeral of family friend after being forced to flee town years earlier by the local crime lords. It’s a Scottish soap opera, full of sex, drugs and violence. Banks captures what it’s like to go home after leaving and the strange combination of familiarity and melancholy, especially if you’ve never fit in all that well in the first place. The book is compelling readable thanks to Banks’s ability to ratchet up tension and the story is told from the point of view of a flawed, but sympathetic protagonist trying to deal with the one night where he made an incredibly bad decision.

Potential Directors: Given his work in Scottish cinema Peter Mullan would be the obvious choice. It’d just work.

Don't let the smile fool you...

Don’t let the smile fool you…

The Little Stranger

Described as 'charming' by any estate agent who looks at it

Described as ‘charming’ by any estate agent who looks at it

 

If there’s one thing that there just isn’t enough of on TV it’s something that can provide chills and scares for the whole family. Yes, I know there’s Doctor Who but when that’s off the air the choices are few. This novel from the exceptionally talented Sarah Waters would be perfect. Set in rural Warwickshire in the 1940s the story follows a young doctor called in to help the family who own the dilapidated stately home. Strange things start happening as the family, and the doctor himself start to entertain the idea that the house is haunted. The story is aching for the BBC treatment, elegant costumes, beautiful but faded locations and things that go bump in the night. It helps that Waters’s has had book adapted previously – the excellently received Tipping the Velvet and Fingersmith were both done so it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch for this to be put into production. With some great characters, strong dialogue and a setting that could(would) look stunning if done right this could be a brilliant six part series to liven up a schedule somewhere.

Potential Directors: Tom Hooper. After the success of Les Mis he may well be too much in demand but with his penchant for beautifully arranged and artfully shot films something like this would be the ideal project to return him to the small screen where he started.

Blindness

If there’s one thing that has been popular at the box office it’s the idea that we need someone to come and save the world. That life as we know it is on the brink of completely falling apart and the only thing that can stop it is some heroes (masked or otherwise…) Still, an interesting question to ask is what would really happen if the world really did ‘end?’ Jose Saramago breathtakingly brilliant book could be the wake up call that the horror genre needs. The premise is wonderfully simple. Everyone starts to go blind. A man goes to the doctor but the doctor loses his vision when he tries to read his textbooks. The afflicted are rounded up and imprisoned but escape when the asylum they are trapped in catches fire. Society collapses and chaos reigns. There have been a few films that have tried to look at society in this way but they tend to get respect rather than audiences. The Road was probably the last film released that looked at societies collapse but audiences found it hard to watch, too bleak and too small scale. Given the bloated and butchered World War Z it seems that there is appetite for a horror film that tackles these themes but the execution has thus far been lacking. Blindness could be a chance for a filmmaker to experiment with translating literary language into cinematic language and making something new, fresh and scary – it may have been done once already but it didn’t quite hit the heights it could have and it ended up being rather predictable and slightly staid. So, given to an auteur filmmaker it could be exceptional rather than just another mediocre thriller.

Potential Directors: John Hillcoat would be the best bet. After all, he’s already documented the end of the world once – maybe he’d be up for doing it again?

Note to would be director. NOT THIS

Note to would be director. NOT THIS

 

So, what do you think? Do you have a favorite book you’d love to see on the big or small screen? Join in!

Thanks

ThePageBoy

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Never Scene It – Volume 1

Oh look., we're both too old for these roles.

Oh look., we’re both too old for these roles.

Right,

There is an inevitable side effect of being a movie geek, which is after a certain amount of time you acquire a reputation for being ‘that guy.’ You know ‘that guy’ – the one who’s seen all the right films and owns the right DVDs. Well, I thought for a while I was going to be ‘that guy’ but I’ve started to realise that there are some serious gaps in my movie knowledge. I’m not just talking about films that you’re supposed to have seen, (we’ve all got a few of those after all) but rather films so popular that when I crestfallenly admit I haven’t seen whatever classic slice of cinema is in question that the response is usually something along the lines of, ‘BUT HOW CAN YOU HAVE MISSED THAT!’

The implication, of course, being that maybe I was raised by wolves, or inside a small steel lined box which no culture could penetrate because anyone who hasn’t seen whatever classic is in question CANNOT EXIST, right? So to spare the pitying glances of some I’ve decided to cure myself – to mend the gaps I my cinematic knowledge and actually sit down and watch some of these films.

First up, Grease.

(But HOW can you never have seen Grease!?)

See that ^ don’t do that again…

So, here we go. Grease is a 1978 musical film based on the 1971 stage musical of the stage name. It’s also just an awful, awful piece of work and doesn’t deserve anything approaching the veneration and plaudits it seems to have garnered. Allow me to explain, the plot, (such as it is) follows Danny and Sandy who meet one summer and then have to navigate the path of adolescent ‘true love.’ After a frankly bizarre series of sub-Python credits we see a couple frolicking on a beach, both of whom are clearly completely unaware that frolicking hasn’t been non-ironically committed to celluloid ever. And frolicking isn’t a thing.

But enough nit-picking.

So, who are these people? What are their names? Wither is their motivation and why should we care? These are all reasonable questions and questions that the film has no interest in answering. Through dull, exposition heavy dialogue we learn their names are Danny and Sandy and that, far from breaking up, this is ‘only the beginning.’ Placed at the beginning of the film it is hard to see how anyone could have figured that out for themselves and it is truly considerate that the amount of cognitive energy the audience has to extend is kept to the absolute minimum.

Danny, it turns out, is a greaser, which is apparently 1950s style slang for preening ass that wears leather and constantly cracks misogynistic jokes. He hangs around with a bunch of guys who wear the same thing and do the same thing. At the same time as he goes back to school with his awfully unlikable friends, guess who turns up at the same school? Why, it’s the girl he met over the summer. And talked to. And both of them, in the time it took for them to fall in love, never communicated the tiny insignificant fact that they both attended the same school, they managed to establish she might be going back to Australia but never got round to asking where they both lived!. Look at the way the coincidences are just PILING up in violation of any rules of good story telling. Well, you better get used to that because if you don’t like contrivance and poor story-telling, then you are watching the wrong film my friend!

On working out who they two of them are and the fact they both like each other Stockard Channing (by far the best person in this) arranges for the two to cross paths again. So, they can catch up and we can finish things here, right? Ready…

BBBUUT WHAT’S THIS!?!?

Danny acts like a complete douche because he can’t let his group of friends see that he might have *gasp* FEELINGS and Sandy runs off confused and humiliated. Here’s a thing though – he didn’t have to do that. At all. I mean come on; he couldn’t let his friends see that there was a girl he liked? They all just finished a song talking about the hot girl he met over the summer (including the first of many lyrics that include horrible rape jokes – y’know, for kids!) I know things were different back in the dark ages of 1959 but what would have happened if Danny had admitted he knew who Sandy was? The film would have ended. Instead he acts like a total jerk, which doesn’t make him a compelling protagonist – it makes him an irritating tool. And stupid. And a tool.

Everything about this screams punchable.

Everything about this screams punchable.

So, there you have it folks, that’s the set up and the rest of the plot is a contrived attempt to get the two back together. Yes, there are a few sub-plots thrown in, including one where Frankie Avalon turns up to sing about staying in school, but the main story line is whether Olivia Newton John (30 years old, playing a high schooler) will get back with John Travolta.

Seeing as this film is about that, let’s pause for a second and talk about the sexual politics here. I’m not going to say that this aspect of the film is bad, but that is only because it regularly plummets down to horrible levels. The lyrics are amongst the worst aspects (*did she put a fight?* ewwww) with the guys being universally portrayed as sexual predators and girls are mocked if they aren’t giving in. This film gets angry when a woman turns down a man’s sexual advances – the guys get furious when “chicks” don’t “put-out” like they should. The best example of the rape culture of the film is the drive-in scene, where if this film hadn’t been so insanely happy-go-lucky and upbeat, where if it had been any other film, that scene would be the one where Olivia Newton John fights off a guy who is trying to sexually assault her.

Finally the two DO get together though but only after Sandy has transformed herself from the kind hearted non-smoker who Travolta professed his love for at the beginning to a Greaser girl in skin tight leather. Thus the film ends with the moral that yes, you can find love if and ONLY if you change everything about your appearance to keep the man happy, if you start smoking and look skinny.

Oh, and then the two of them fly off in a car.

Because screw you physics. Screw you

Because screw you physics. Screw you

That was the thing that got me, and it’s here people tell me to stop over-thinking things. ‘It’s a musical Jon! Suspend your disbelief!’ No. No, sorry but you can’t pull that out of the bag at the last second. “Look, they’re together ohandbythewaycarscanflyinthisuniverse ROLL CREDITS.” Is it a magic car? A car that is in any way explained to be special? No, it’s a car that we’ve seen do a street race. And now it can fly.

Sexist. Contrived. Poorly written. And cars fly.

Screw you Grease.

Thanks

ThePageBoy

PageBoyPolitics – Online Abuse Is The Refuge Of A Coward

I wrote this originally for the great web site http://www.scotspolitics.com but the range of applications this has never fails to blow my mind. I wrote something similar for funk’s house of geekery too and I’m going to keep talking about this from now on. Some things are just wrong.

One of the down sides of being a vociferous fan of free speech is that you often end up defending things that are not really very good – overly-violent horror movies, poorly written music, badly done art – but all of that is more than worth the good stuff that freedom of expression grants. I’d go as far as to say that the internet has made things infinitely better and more complicated all at the same time.

Firstly, the good. The internet has been the greatest democratising force possible in terms of engaging people. An artist? A musician? Or even if you’re just someone who wants to comment on things, the internet has given everyone a voice, and for those of us lucky enough to experience it in all of its freedom, free speech has never been freer.

Sadly though, free speech online has a dark side, just as it does in traditional, non-internet culture. As the internet becomes more and more the miasma that hangs over everything written, read and thought, the dark side of free speech has become a weird, twisted funhouse mirror of what we all may have been familiar with. For example, the situation with Mary Beard illustrates the vicious poison that can be spewed all over the internet when internet anonymity meets general misogyny.

For those who don’t know, Mary Beard is one of the foremost classicists in the country – a lecturer at Cambridge and blogger for the Times Literary Supplement. Her books and TV appearances make her probably one of the best known academics in the country. She was invited recently to appear on Question Time; asked about the impact of immigration she, (as per usual for an academic) cited a report that showed the benefits of immigration outweighed the potential problems. Innocuous enough, you might think and so it may have been in a previous generation.

However, the now defunct web site Don’t Start Me Off decided that she would be their latest target. Rather than take issue with her ideas and point of view, the sites members directed a torrent of vitriol at her and her appearance. The abuse was foul, crude and sexual and completely unrepeatable here. Beard refused to let it fly and instead wrote about it on her own hugely popular blog and as a result of the attention it received the website was shut down.

Sadly, this is just the latest episode in a long list of women who have been subject to horrendous abuse and vile threats for the heinous crime of being a woman. Being female and having an opinion was enough to generate thousands of words of abuse. As Beard accurately and succinctly noted, the issue was that “a woman, 58 and looking it, saying what she thinks, against the grain, is explosive’ to some people, and through the freedom of the internet this punitive rage found its horrible outlet.

I said that what happened to Mary Beard was just the latest in a long list of depressingly repetitive episodes of women with an opinion being told to sit down and shut up. Not for saying anything wrong, but just because they were women. They can be subject to rape ‘jokes,’ online harassment, belittlement – and myriad other small and mean tricks to try to bring them down and shut them up. For those subject to it, it must be like death by a thousand cuts for your self-esteem.

Enough is enough.

I can’t begin to express my admiration for women who have used their public platform to call out these cowards who hide on message boards and fake names, but it shouldn’t just be down to them.

As a man and a feminist there is something so profoundly depressing to see these men (and it is predominately men) vent their anger and feelings of inadequacy on women in the public sphere. The sheer engrained misogyny has to be called out by the vast majority of men who are NOT terrified and infuriated every time a woman articulates an opinion about anything.

There will be some, no doubt, who think of it as their right to free speech to threaten murder and fantasise about raping whatever hate figure du jour they have fixated upon this week. Some have even claimed that the ‘block’ button on Twitter infringes their right to be heard, as if someone ignoring them is somehow equivalent to censorship. These cowards shouldn’t be censored; they should just be drowned out by other voices. Drowned out, not just by women who refuse to be cowed but by men too. Men who have realised what these trolls and rage filled people haven’t – that women are not men’s property, but equal, deserving of the same respect given to them and not belittled simply because they’re walking around with ladyparts.

I talked a few weeks ago about the internet as a new cultural frontier – a place where the rules of how and where and when we interact with one another haven’t quite been settled yet. It’s this fact that makes the internet such an exciting place to be, but it is also what has given rise to cowards and misogynists hiding behind avatars rather than learn how to deal with someone of a different gender. There will be a time when this kind of abuse, this hatred just won’t be acceptable anymore and the people who still do it will be thought of as we think of fanatics with megaphones in public spaces. However, if the latest incident has proven anything it is that collectively we need to move towards that day even sooner.

PageBoyPolitics – The New Frontier

ReligionPolitics

Right,

Since starting this blog I have tried to keep the focus fairly specific – to help me become a better writer and to make sure that people who are interested in one thing don’t have to wade through a vast morass of things not really relevant to their interests. As time has worn on though, I have let a few extra things come into this space. One of the things that has come up, but I haven’t really spoken about is the fact that I do quite a bit of writing in other little digital spots that I tend not to mention here and after giving it some thought I’ve decided I want to bring things into closer integration.  To that  end, I’m going to be adding a few posts, as and when they get written, on topics that I think are interesting. Obviously, a lot of what I write for other sites has a specific audience so I won’t be posting that here but ever so often there is an issue that has a wider audience so when it’s appropriate I’ll share it here.

This is something I originally wrote for the amazing website at scotspolitics.com, about the tragic death of Aaron Swartz and the free flow of information across the web. I hope you like it!

The New Frontier

This article comes with a Trigger Warning for discussion of suicide, rape and sexual assault.

Aaron Swartz was by all accounts a spectacularly gifted young man. He came to public knowledge as one of a small group of internet activists and developers who were part of the first generation to romp around in the digital playground of the early internet. Like many who find their fame online he was preternaturally talented at a young age, discovering new ways of keeping internet users connected to content. One of his most famous pieces of work was the incredibly widely used RSS 1.0 protocol which he authored when he was just 14 years old.  After revolutionising one part of the web, he went on to be one of the co-founders of reddit, which became one of the most successful websites of all time. When reddit was bought out Aaron sold his share making him incredibly wealthy at a very, very young age. He started dedicating his time to the free flow of information, building links with famous free culture figures such as Lawrence Lessig – and when the US government threatened to pass the Stop Online Piracy Act it was Aaron who was one of the architects of the movement that stopped the bill being enacted. Despite the successes, the corporations he founded, the causes he championed, on the 11th of January Aaron Swartz was found dead in his apartment in New York City, after publically documenting his long struggle with serious depression. He had hanged himself; his body was found by his girlfriend. He was only twenty-six years old.

There are many details of Aaron’s life worthy of discussion, and for those seeking a more personal reflection both Lawrence Lessig and Cory Doctorow have written beautiful obituaries to someone they admired and worked closely with. Even Tim Berners-Lee was moved to write a beautiful piece in which he noted “I’ve not known anybody else who is so ethical: who has thought, all the time, about what is right and what is wrong and what should be done and what should not be done.” There have been some who have tried to place a link between Aaron’s mental health and his personal circumstances, and whilst there should be no attempt at simplifying the complexities of anyone’s mental health when the details of what this man was facing come to light it certainly cannot have helped. As I’ve initially mentioned Swartz had dedicated a huge portion of his time and wealth to making information available for anyone who wanted it for free. As noble as this aim may sound, it was an aim that brought him into conflict with powerful authorities across the planet. His first legal fight came when this whiz-kid computer prodigy wrote a program that downloaded and released approximately 20% of the mammoth Public Access to Court Electronic Records (PACER) database. He’d done it because, even though the PACER documents are not covered by copyright, people wanting to access one of their documents had to pay 8 cents a time. The whole system was essentially a huge money making online scheme – with a profit of $150 million.

His activities got him investigated by the FBI before the case was dropped. The next time he came to the attention of the authorities the case attracted even more attention. In 2012 and early 2011 Swartz downloaded about 4 million academic articles from the online academic publisher JSTOR. Once he had downloaded them he uploaded them to the internet for free. Once again he was prosecuted and once again the case looked shaky at best. As a faculty member of Harvard University Swartz was perfectly entitled to access the material – the only thing that he could be said to have done wrong was breaking the terms of JSTOR’s service for downloading too many articles. Why Swartz had decided to do this was for reasons as his PACER exercise. To access JSTOR either one has to pay roughly $30 per article or be lucky enough to be a member of the right academic institution. To someone like Swartz, passionately committed to the idea of free information for all JSTOR’s fees were just not tolerable. To the court prosecutor and JSTOR’s attorneys this was violation of copyright and intellectual property theft. The chance to see how the court ruled, and whether either side could mount a strong case can now never be taken because as the case  was within weeks of trial, Swartz was found dead. It is extremely tempting to join the dots here, and blame Swartz’s tragic death on the pressure that the legal system had placed him under. To do so would be overly simplistic, reducing the complexities of mental illness to an unfortunate side effect of fighting for one’s principles. Swartz deserves better than that – he also deserved the opportunity to defend the right to free information in court, and the court’s verdict would have had wider repercussions than just the sad case of Aaron Swartz. What was going to be on trial was not just one man and his attempts to widen access for all – rather, this was perhaps the most high profile occasion when the rules of the internet have come into direct conflict with the old rules and the dynastical guardians of culture and information.

Before the rise of the internet all of the bastions of culture be they publishers, art, books, music and knowledge itself were tightly controlled and monetized for economic gain. In return for our money we were given access to what they had, and we trusted them to be accountable and honest, because we thought we controlled the purse strings. The internet, and people like Aaron Swartz, liberated vast swathes of information art and other culture from under the traditional controls – for better or worse. Instead of operating under the old model of giving us what we pay for, artists and creators have found new ways and systems for making a living and making culture widely accessible like never before. In news and information the revolution has been just as drastic; where once we needed to trust our institutions, politicians and leaders the free flow of information can hold people to account like never before, allowing electorates across the world to be more informed and democratic. One only need to see the difference that organisations like Wikileaks have made to understand that the internet has forever changed the rules of how information works, moves and is exchanged. Whether that is a good thing or not, still remains to be seen.

The story of Aaron is not the only tragedy involving access to information. A darker story has been breaking in recent weeks from Stubenville Ohio. It recently came to light that members of the famous ‘Big Red’ football program had been at a party. A 17 year old girl was there, and after drinking too much she passed out. The rest of the night she was carried around by members of the program who treated her as their own personal rape toy. She was raped multiple times and the attack was filmed. When the story broke, it garnered precious little attention and it looked very much like the case was going to be dropped, and yet another group of perpetrators allowed to get away with they did. They were high school athletes, feted in the community and inured from the consequences of their actions. However the story was picked up by a local blog and found its way online. It came to the attention of KightsSec, a sub-division of the hacking collective known as Anonymous. They threatened the accused with dire repercussions if they did not apologise before the 1st of January and when the deadline passed the hackers started leaking information. Firstly they released a video of a baseball player recounting what he saw at the party in between giggles.  Then came the report which among other things accused the sheriff of being close to the high school athletics coach and complicit in a cover up as well as more horrifying details about the victim and what happened to her.

What the hackers did, was internet vigilantism, and sadly, given how easy victims of sexual assault have been to ignore and neglect, it was probably necessary. If it hadn’t been for the local blogger the story would have been forgotten. If the internet hadn’t been outraged by what happened, who would have noticed something that so many people wanted to go away?

Information has changed permanently with the advent of the internet. It’s a place not unlike the old frontiers of the Wild West. The old rules can now longer apply because so many people are out THERE, in the spaces of the online world all trying to build something. As a cultural object the internet is really only adolescent and conflicts like these are to be expected as the internet becomes more and more integral to how this world works.

If these two cases have anything deep or profound to teach people it isn’t anything nearly as basic as the evils of copyright infringement, or the necessity of free information. Rather, all these stories highlight is the humanity of those avatars you see online. Aaron Swartz wasn’t just a campaigner, a tech wizard and an online hero he was also a 26 year old with depression. Those hackers who leaked the names of teenagers who had done perhaps the worst thing they could do in their young lives were not just people acting as heroes to the weak. They broke the law too. In short, until the rest of our culture catches up to the new frontier of online life, we would all do well to remember the reality of someone else, on the other side of that monitor.

I hope no more 26 year old men with so much to live for don’t kill themselves to escape from the blackness of depression. I hope no more 17 year old girls are raped by boys at parties and I hope that intuitions are accountable without needing the threat of hackers and the leaking of information. Until then we have to keep hoping that the internet can be a where people can do good, whatever that turns out looking like.

 

My Wish for 2013

Got some really nice feedback on this piece – my wish for 2013. Hope you like it!

Funk's House of Geekery

Right,

Seeing as we’re now in the bright shiny year of 2013 (only two years away from the future according to Back to the Future II!) it’s time to talk about something that we really need to get rid of. It’s true that 2012 was a great year for a million reasons with the Avengers, Sherlock and Doctor Who all being among my personal highlights. That said there was one thing about 2012 that we shouldn’t miss. Sadly, 2012 was the year that stories like this, this, this and this all broke into wider consciousness and generated a wide amount of anger and, more bafflingly, a backlash to the stories. It’s been a bit of an unspoken truth for a while now, so let me come out and just say it – we need to talk about how geek culture treats people who aren’t men. Or…

View original post 723 more words

Art Online and How We All Need to Talk About It More

Let me begin with a question:

How great is the internet?

Seriously, just think about it for a moment, go right ahead and bask in the sheer awesome concept that right now, you can be more connected and informed than anyone else in the entire span of human history. The feat of technology that delivers entertainment, culture, news and community at the push of a few buttons is one of the few genuine human achievements that have completely reshaped the world from what is was only a generation ago. Life without it is almost impossible to conceive of, and the very way that you know the internet has changed the life of billions? You don’t even think about it – the internet just happens.

One of the side effects of this normalisation of global connectivity is that art and more specifically our experience of art has become indelible democratised. For the first time in our cultural history artists and creators now share an incredibly intimate digital space. We comment on their blogs, fund their kickstarter ideas, re-tweet them and share their work on our facebook walls all because they have made their work, whether it be ideas, art, literature or music available to us, immediately and wherever we are. What’s curious about this, and maybe something we haven’t talked about enough, is how this affects criticism.

You see? I imagine a few of you made your assumptions about the word just from reading it. Criticism in the age of the internet has become something vicious and personal. Trolls have replaced commentators and ‘the critic’ has drifted away as more and more culture has drifted online. Several things are happening here – our understanding of the role of the critic has changed and more crucially, how criticism is practised has changed too. So let’s start there:

Firstly, critics. For all of the negative connotations the word carries, the truth is, on one level, really quite simple. The act of criticism is what happens when an individual comes into contact with something that provokes a reaction, usually in an encounter with culture but not exclusively.

That meal you really enjoyed? Food criticism.

The movie you posted about? Film criticism.

Your favourite book?

You see what I’m saying I hope – criticism is not quite the same thing as criticising. We exist in an age when culture is all around us and almost completely all-pervading and so we need to engage with it. This act of engagement, whether we admit it or not, whether we are aware of it or not, is a kind of criticism.

What’s crucial to say though is that whilst we all engage with culture in some form there is a difference between the cultural criticism that is done on a daily basis and the kind of thing done by those who identify as critics. I mean, not all of us have a column in a paper, not all of us get invites to premieres or critic’s screenings and not all of us have the same platform that CRITICS do, despite all of us taking part in the act of cultural criticism on a daily basis. So, what is it then that critics actually do?

Well, here’s where things get more complex in the age of the internet because that new found shared space of creators and consumers share has complicated the process of criticism a great deal. A lot of people tend to treat criticism from the people they read or like as gospel – either forming opinions from what the critic says or using the critic’s opinion to validate their own. For proof of this you only need look at the myriad of reviewers out there – on YouTube, across the blogosphere and even in more established digital media who have the temerity to dislike something popular. Sit and watch the comments roll in from people shocked that someone would have the gall to disagree with WHAT THEY THINK!

‘Well, you just don’t understand this…’

‘It’s clear you hate anything produced by….’

‘I don’t think you’ve reviewed this at all…’

‘All you’ve done is pick holes and emphasises the bits you didn’t like…’

And so on and so on and so on…

Two things are happening here – firstly, critics aren’t here to validate your opinions, or anyone else’s for that matter. The job of a good reviewer or critic is to accurately explain what their own experience of something was. Not to explain why you are right to think the way you do, but to explain why THEY think the way THEY do. This is my problem with scores actually – whilst I accept that scoring is useful, the problem is that scoring something with an arbitrary number perpetuates this idea that a critic can sum up a piece of work and how it made them feel in one easy to digest, black and white, right or wrong sound bite. This immediacy of the internet makes people want the easy answer but if anything can be summed up as good or bad then I wonder how good that thing really is…

I understand the reactions like the ones I gave before – this closeness that the internet engenders makes people really protective about the things they love, and that protectiveness means that criticism often meets with hostility. If you want proof, you only need to see the outrage when Anita Sarkeesian suggested that maybe women haven’t been represented that well in pop culture and we, collectively, could talk about it. If you want more proof, see the rage and the anger when the misogyny of fighting games was exposed, when Hitman Absolution happened and people called it out for the sexism and violence against women it perpetuated. People reacted so angrily and without being overly general, it tends to happen more online because this is where geek culture found its home. I get it, I do – a culture that is so young, and has been marginalised for so long, doesn’t take negative attention well. But there is a difference between being attacked and entering the conversation. You see, nobody will take the things you like away from you, nobody will suddenly declare that the one thing you really love is suddenly unacceptable. It isn’t going to happen, but part of being in the culture we live in, is talking about it – all the good, all the bad and what comes next. If there’s one thing that needs to happen more online, in forums, threads and feeds it’s that. Criticism and culture are for all, and here online there is the best chance EVER to bring them, and all the people who love them both, together.

Now, that’s great –right?

To Be Continued.