Criticism vs. Emotivism: Doing my job right

Tl;dr:  Emotions don’t make you a critic.

The issue came up about what makes a critic.  For me, that distinction is pretty simple.  The difference is between criticism and emotivism.  Emotivism means telling me about how you feel emotionally.  Telling me how you emotionally feel about a book/movie/video game doesn’t make you into a critic.  It’s telling me why something evokes an emotional response in you that does.

This point has been lost somewhat in the age of clickbait and dogpiling, where the first review out will be “movie has some problems” and the last review will be “everyone making this movie should rot in hell”, as each reviewer tries to outdo the others for clicks in who can write the most scathing review.

But the best critics are the ones who can tell you why you should or shouldn’t consume a piece of media, not just telling you how they emotionally feel about it.

For example, this is the Nostalgia Critic’s take on Adam Sandler’s movie Pixels.

He doesn’t just criticize how lazy the movie is, he criticizes Adam Sandler’s numerous lazy storytelling habits and even breaks it down into an app where you can create the next bad Adam Sandler movie.  It’s the fact that you can understand his app that makes his criticism insightful.

This blog was specifically designed to counteract what I see as a lot of emotivism in reviews, which are in the form of either venom and bile, “This author sucks and this book sucks” or over-inflated praise, “Such great book, OMG!”  Neither of those two sentences tell me anything useful about the book or why I would want to read it.

They only tell me about that person’s particular emotions, and emotions are inherently unstable, prone to shifting, and not something I trust from someone I don’t know.

So when I’m praising a book, I’m pointing out how it makes the quests feel natural and evolve naturally from the story.  When I’m criticizing a video game on this point, I’m stating that the quests do not flow naturally from the story.  When I criticize a book on this point, I’m pointing out that the side quests do not flow naturally from the story, they get artificially induced.

Even when I generally like a book, I still point out areas where it falls short.  This extends to all media I talk about: movies, games or books.

Anyone can agree or disagree with me on these points, because I’m not making them from as an emotional argument, I’m making them as a logical argument backed up by specific examples.

If you want to be a critic, you have to go deeper than emotivism.  You have to give specific examples, be able to propose solutions, discuss trade-offs with those decisions, and make people who are creators respect what you do.  Telling people about your feels isn’t going to accomplish that.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s