Washington Theater Review interviews Washington Post critic Peter Marks:
WTR: Do you feel like the popularity of movie reviewers such as Siskel & Ebert has made people view critics and criticism as more of a “thumbs up/thumbs down” concept?
PM: There’s a sea change in what the world expects, not only because of Siskel & Ebert, but because of the internet, the bloggers. There’s a thumbs up/thumbs down mentality in this country but it goes beyond criticism. We are that way about people’s careers, their lives. It’s who’s up and who’s down. We make lists about everything. Who’s hot this year; who’s not. You’re in, you’re out. And if you’re in now, you are going to be out. You can’t stay in. We are constantly metering everything that way. So the natural thing is it’s going to bleed over into the arts.
When critics have to thumbs up/thumbs down — and the marketing departments of movies, theaters, and art museums all use those measures as well — it certainly dampens down the amount of nuance and subtlety in criticism. People want to know yes or no.
Most of the time the answer isn’t yes or no, most of the time it’s ‘OK’ or ‘Well, I don’t know if I would spend the money,’ or ‘That was sort of interesting in the second act.’ Those issues are hard to balance with the demands an audience has for yes or no. By some measure, the audience does want nuance and subtlety. I try and fight against the thumbs up/thumbs down mentality as much as I can. With some critics you’ll read a review, and you can’t tell what a person thinks. That’s not good either. Even if it’s 60% in favor, you have to leave a person with an impression of whether or not this is worthwhile. I work at a newspaper. I’m not at the ‘Journal of Internal Technical Lighting Skills’ or something like that. I am at a newspaper, and I have to abide by that service aspect.