Anything having to do with popular culture is like crack to me. When I say I’m watching the news, I mean I’m watching Jason Kennedy and Giuliana Rancic on E!. When I receive a newspaper, I completely ignore the front page stories and go right for the Arts Section. I may not be able to name all the Presidents of the United States, but I can name almost all of the Best Actor and Actress winners for the Academy Awards. To say I’m a fan of popular culture is putting it mildly. With such enthusiasm for the subject matter, I came into Arts Journalism hoping I could transition from fan to critic. I feared that, much like anything else, overanalyzing something I loved might ruin it for me but just the opposite occurred. I came out of this course not only with a deeper appreciation for the art forms themselves, but the professionals who write about them.
Entertainment Weekly is my gospel and so I’ve read a countless number of film, television, book, and theater reviews which provided me with a solid grounding for my own attempts at critique. While some may have struggled with unfamiliarity with the various subjects and mediums we reviewed, the difficulty I faced had more to do with putting distance between myself and the work. These reviews were supposed to be our opinions, but I was unsure how to balance visceral responses with objective evaluations, especially if I was already intimately acquainted with the work, such as The Hobbit (I have an unhealthy Tolkien obsession) or the Oscars (which I watch religiously each year). So I began approaching my reviews with opposite, but not necessarily opposing, frames of thought.
I simultaneously tried to look at things from the perspective of a fan and the perspective of someone who was an “outsider” to the artist, form, or franchise. Because what a book, movie, television program or live performance has to offer can vary from person to person based on their background and previous knowledge. Once I began considering the different facets of audience reaction, I was better able to write reviews that examined the work as its own entity as well as my own relationship with it.
The most difficult review for me to write was for “The Submission.” As an English major, I love to read and have been trained to critically analyze texts. But reviewing required me to exercise a different portion of that same muscle. Critical analyses for English classes are meant to zero in on a focused aspect of the text and can go on for pages. But in this case, I had to attempt to encapsulate this book and its various components in 400 words. I felt like I was trying to squeeze myself into a pair of jeans three sizes too small. Writing that review really taught me how to select the most important and necessary details—how to “trim the fat,” so to speak.
Arts Journalism was my favorite class this quarter. I never thought I’d be able to find an outlet for my crazy entertainment obsession outside of online forums or fan fiction (yikes!). This class gave me the opportunity to explore unfamiliar territory (journalism) within a familiar space (popular culture). Before I was just a fan, but now I’m working towards being a critic: a fan with something worth saying.