December 14, 2008

The Dark Knight: Superpowers enough to turn opinion into fact

Writing about web page http://www.cinemablend.com/new/Note-To-Awards-Givers-Ignore-The-Dark-Knight-At-Your-Own-Peril-11216.html

There are a number of startling statements and attitudes in this piece - a resurgence of the type of online discourse that surrounded The Dark Knight upon its original release this past Summer.  

Here Josh Tyler notes that, as yet, Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight has not featured as heavily in award nomination and critics best-of-2008 lists as he would like.  He goes beyond this observation to suggest that, if critics refuse (and know that Tyler does view this as a point blank, ideological refusal by critics) to include the film, then they are putting their critical legitimacy and their JOBS at stake.

For print critics, a vote against The Dark Knight is a vote for your own irrelevancy. It’s a vote for the unemployment line. It’s a conscious choice to ignore a cultural phenomenon in favor of pushing some undeserved indie-film agenda over a movie which people have already seen.

I would certainly argue that it is the function, and value, of professional critics to resist cultural phenomena in favour of their own tastes (which they are paid to hold) in situations such as this (Jim Emerson makes something like that argument in this piece - although he risks swinging too hard in the opposite direction and being equally as dogmatic as Tyler).  Of course, there is an argument to be made that critics can ignore or suppress their own tastes for fear of not appearing 'high-brow' enough - and I think it is a sense of this that motivates Tyler's piece, but he takes it into some serious extremes. 

I really find quite pungent the suggestion that if someone disagrees with a majority, then that person should regardless articulate a view that falls in line with the majority.  This logic suggests that, to qualify for the right to speak or write in public, one should agree to exclusively provide the public with what they already know.

Yet this is not quite the logic in which Tyler couches his article.  He doesn't quite suggest that critics should suppress their own opinions in order to give the public what they already know.  Instead, he suggests that - before writing in public - critics should wise up and realise that they do in fact think identically to the public (and the view of the public is represented by his own opinion).  This paragraph is astonishing; he writes:

Call me and the other 99% of moviegoers who love this movie biased if you want, but this is more than just our opinion. It’s also the opinion of many of the people leaving it out of their awards. Shortly before its debut in theaters, critics were hailing it as one of the best movies ever made, a life changing experience. It is, for a fact, one of the very best reviewed movies of the year. According to RottenTomatoes it has received a higher percentage of positive reviews than literally any of the other movies nominated in the Best Picture category by the half-mad Golden Globes… and it’s done that in spite of being much more widely reviewed. It’s more than just the year’s best movie, it’s also almost unquestionably going to be the year’s most influential. Like Star Wars before it, The Dark Knight is fast becoming the new mold from which all future movies will be poured. Its impact, its influence on cinema will be felt for decades to come. 

This paragraph is of course notable for the enormous historical importance wreathed around the neck of The Dark Knight and Star Wars (in the former case, I'm sorry but it's just too early to know what influence the film will have on film history).  What strikes me hardest though, like a hard punch in the stomach, is the implication that, if you don't like The Dark Knight, then you are just wrong.  It is apparently an empirical FACT that this is the best film of the year.  I've been noticing a lot recently that, because it gives each film a solid number and claims to represent EVERYBODY WHO WATCHES FILMS IN THE WORLD EVER, Rotten Tomatoes has been fulfilling the function of backing up such appeals to fact.

Personally, I really dislike this attitude.  If we discursively present an opinion as a fact, then we can preclude other people from forming their own opinions (this is a phenomenon that I've noticed amongst students, including myself, recently), deny the possibility that our opinion of a film could change over time, and completely shut off the productivity of debate.  After all, if a debate is taking place between two people - who hold different opinions, but are both of the opinion that their opinion is a fact - then we'll never reach a compromise or synthesis of opinion.   


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