Ed Driscoll

The Chickenhawk Argument Spreads To Film Criticism

Libertas is an often interesting Weblog devoted to a conservative take on film criticism. (If only they’d do something about the white type on a black background–not easy on the eyes, and causes college-era flashbacks to viewing microfilms in the library!) But its proprietor, Jason Apuzzo, veers wildly off course when he writes:

People are obviously free to like or dislike [George Lucas’] films, as they please. But it strains credulity when conservative pundits – who, so far as I know, have never picked-up a camera, focused a lens, mixed a soundtrack, or coached an actor – proclaim that, actually, they know better about the public’s taste, and what makes for good popular entertainment.

This is the chickenhawk argument (which was already specious when it was used in an attempt to shut down the voices of pro-war proponents prior to the election in November) tarted up to apply to film criticism.

As Jonah Goldberg reminds us, he has picked up cameras and focused lenses–and produced documentaries for PBS. I’d venture that lots of conservative/libertarian pundits and critics have some sort of media background, and that’s only going to increase as the cost of video equipment continues to drop. James Lileks has worked behind the camera as a newscaster, in addition to creating and editing his own videos. Glenn Reynolds has produced music, and his wife is a documentarian filmmaker.

But it doesn’t make Apuzzo’s argument any less specious if they hadn’t. (Me? I copped a certificate in filmmaking many years ago from NYU, and was mixing audio this past weekend.) The role of the critic isn’t to make movies (though lots have–Peter Bogdanovich started off life as a critic before becoming a director, and conversely, Roger Ebert wrote exploitation films for Russ Meyer before becoming the inspiration for Jay Sherman), it’s to be a voice for his readers. If Goldberg, Lileks or Jonathan Last likes a film, chances are I will too, because I trust their judgment. I could care less what their background in media production is–because when I watch a movie, I’m not watching it to see which lens the DP chose–I’m watching it to be entertained.

Similarly, there are plenty of music critics who wouldn’t know a Les Paul from a Slingerland snare drum if you put one in their hands, but that doesn’t make their criticism any less valid–they’re responding emotionally to a finished recording or a concert. And if it’s somebody whose judgment as a listener I trust, I don’t care what his background–or lack thereof–in music is.