Why wine criticism isn’t as important as film criticism
If I had written about wine bloggers the way Armond White wrote about film critics, there would be armed militias of bloggers marching on my house, carrying pitchforks, packing lead, and hoisting “Wanted!” posters showing my face in the crosshairs. (And thanks to commenter Tom Merle, who brought this to my attention.)
White, a film critic who is chairman of the New York Film Critics Circle, delivered an absolutely scathing jeremiad against today’s film critics, whom he accuses of allowing “the dignity and significance of film criticism” to “decline.” White alleges that “film journalism has—perhaps unconsciously—been considered a part of the film industry and expected to be a partner in Hollywood’s commercial system.” Critics nowadays are not exemplars of “the profession of film criticism,” they are “adjuncts to advertising.”
White doesn’t stop there. The Internet, and blogs in particular, receive direct blows. He accuses the Internet of fostering “Babel-like chaos,” and, “in the current war between print and electronic media…the Internet’s free-for-all” has led to a “deluge of fans’ notes, angry sniping, half-baked impressions, and clubhouse amateurism.”
White’s fusillade was a big deal. When he gave his remarks, in the audience were Meryl Streep, George Clooney, Jeff Bridges, Mo’Nique, Kathryn Bigelow and others, with enough Oscars between them (past and to come) to fill a truck.
Now, if you wanted, you could substitute the word “wine” for the word “film” in White’s speech, and what you’d get would be an older wine writer’s blast at a younger generation of wine bloggers whom he deemed totally incompetent. Try it yourself. Here are some sample phrases in which I made the substitution:
-The Internet has helped derange the concept of wine criticism.
- Younger wine critics are hostile to the idea of learning, reflection, and personal (rather than herd-mentality) expression.
- Disrespect for expertise and personal response in wine criticism comes down to a vulgar, if not simply craven, attack on intelligence, taste, and individual preference.
Bloggers! I am not saying these things! So put down your pitchforks and, please, don’t be stalking me here in Oakland (which is not a city you want to come to anyway if you have hate in your heart). I’m just saying that, even if I thought these things, I’d be scared to say them. Y’all are a pretty ornery bunch, and I’m not gonna shove a stick into that hornet’s nest. But the essence of White’s screed is for self-awareness. Every wine writer nowadays, whether blogger or newspaper columnist, should ask herself: Am I an unwitting publicist for the winery, or am I an intrepid journalist?
But back to the title of this blog. Underlying the force of White’s argument is his assumption, which I think is correct, that because film is such an important part of America’s cultural self-identity, therefore film criticism is fundamentally important in itself. That’s what enables White to speak in such apocalyptic political, moral and historical terms as he does.
Wine criticism, on the other hand, is just, well, wine writing. It can never be as important as film criticism, because wine will never be as important as film in our self-consciousness of who we are. Wouldn’t it be cool if a new release of a wine had everybody talking? But that won’t happen. Even “New Coke” had more conversation than any wine ever will. No bottle of wine will ever be a “Citizen Kane,” with people talking about it 60 years later. Still, entre nous, our conversations about wine empower and inspire us.