I’ve never much liked critics. Corman and I were talking about them yesterday and he quoted some brilliant author who described (I’m paraphrasing) them as people who come onto a battlefield after the fighting has ended and shoot all the dead people. They’re mean little cusses, and what they do amounts to very little.
So I heard about this study (and then went and looked it up and found it) where they had some people (not connoisseurs, but people who like red wine) try five “different” wines and rate their taste. Additionally, they used functional magnetic resonance imaging to measure brain activity and measure “experienced pleasantness” as they tasted each wine. Overwhelmingly, the subjects rated the most “expensive” wines as the best-tasting. Additionally, the fMRI data showed that the most expensive wines also registered higher experienced pleasantness. In other words, opinions matched brain stimulus.
Here’s the kicker, though… There were only three different wines. One was a $5 bottle that got labeled twice, both as a $5 wine and a fictitious $45 wine; one was a $90 wine that got labeled twice, both as a $90 wine a fictitious $10 wine; the last was a control wine that was correctly labeled with its $35 price.
The study suggests that more than just pretending to have better taste, wine snobs might actually be enjoying more expensive wine better than the cheap stuff; not because it’s inherently better, but because they think it is and unintentionally (but genuinely) enjoy it more.
Is the human brain influenced not only by inherent value of an experience, but also the expectations, perceptions, and marketing surrounding that experience? Whether we like it or not, it seems so.
I've read reviews where Coldplay takes flak for almost everything they do, partially because of Chris Martin's songwriting, but also partially (I think) because of the great level of popularity they have achieved (their new album, for instance, sold 300,000 copies in its first 3 days in the UK alone). Indie critic sites like Pitchfork* pretty much bemoan everything Coldplay does, often referencing a disconnect between the band's huge popularity and its "gag-inducing" songwriting/influences/production. I'm sure that most of the Indie-critics out there would say that popularity really has no weight over the greatness or quality of a piece of music; and yet so many of them use that factor as grounds for an even more intense lambasting of something that has widespread notoriety. The same song that might have been labeled "mediocre" as a no-name's debut single now becomes an absolute "atrocity" simply because the artist has achieved great popular (if not critical) fame.
So I’ve come to a brilliant conclusion: critics are snobs. Big whoop. But I would actually like to defend critics a bit. The above study does help confirm some of the snobbery we have suspected for a long time, but it also tells us that we all are subject to marketing, media attention, and our own personal expectations. Because I love Coldplay, I will probably enjoy their new album more than if it had been released in identical form by some other band. Conversely, those Pitchfork critics hate it simply because it’s Coldplay, but it’s not completely their fault… it’s also the evil record company’s.
So those are my groundbreaking thoughts: critics are lame and record companies suck.
I’ll be doing my own post-battle shooting later this week with a review of Coldplay’s new album which I’m listening to right now.
* Pitchforkmedia.com is a website that reviews music. They are the quintessential Indie-snob critic site. See TheOnion's hilarious parody where Pitchfork gives music as a whole a 6.8 out of 10.