Defending the “rights” of the élite

Dan Gillmor points to a rather remarkable example of oxygen deprivation caused by living atop one’s own pedestal. The issue, really, is who has the “right” to be a critic (of films or books).

The story goes back to a New York Times article about bloggers and literary criticism. This led to a unbelievable piece of elitist bigotry this weekend by Time Magazine film critic Richard Schickel. Take a look:

Let me put this bluntly, in language even a busy blogger can understand: Criticism — and its humble cousin, reviewing — is not a democratic activity. It is, or should be, an élite enterprise, ideally undertaken by individuals who bring something to the party beyond their hasty, instinctive opinions of a book (or any other cultural object). It is work that requires disciplined taste, historical and theoretical knowledge and a fairly deep sense of the author’s (or filmmaker’s or painter’s) entire body of work, among other qualities.

This isn’t really about the art of criticism as much as it is a defensive and emotional response to the threat of J. D. Lasica’s “personal media revolution.” It’s the kind of pathetic and gut-wrenching wailing that must have echoed across the tar pits, as thousands of creatures were sucked into the vortex of change.

Like a great many so-called professionals (I say “so-called,” because there is no licensing body that grants status to journalists, darn it) who are watching their world crumble, Schickel makes the case that his elegant mind — and the great minds of others — is what gives his criticism legs, and then he makes the most egregious statement of all:

We do not — maybe I ought to make that “should not” — read to confirm our own prejudices and stupidity.

This, in Schickel’s mind, is what bloggers do, and in making this kind of statement, he proves that he’s really just reading into a mirror. Prejudice? Stupidity?

I can see the vast sea of unwashed masses racing to Schickel’s work to learn at the hand of such a master.

The problem is that those who live on an “élite” pedestal can only write down to those below. In this sense, the professional press has been separating itself from its audience for decades. You see, people like this aren’t really writing for a mass audience; they’re writing to impress each other.


  1. Nice post! I wrote on Schickel’s “élite” piece as well. Stop by and say hello!

    Here’s the link:

    Take it easy!

  2. thanks, terry, for bringing this to our attention.

    a case of life imitating art.


  1. […] Here’s a shocker. Bloggers are pissed that paid writers look down their noses at hobby writers. A posting titled “The élite just can’t get used to democratic media,” found on, that captures the outrage of Dan Gillmor, Terry Heaton and J.D. Lasica, and tosses a sneer at cyber-elitist Andrew Keen. The bloggers focused their ire on a piece titled “Not everybody’s a critic” that Time Magazine critic Richard Schickel wrote as an LA Times op-ed. Schickel says reviewers provides context in addition to a thumbs-up or down rating, and writes: […]

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