Our Critics Are Dull and Forgettable Because … They’ve Forgotten God

By Mark Judge Published on February 22, 2024

Writing recently in the online magazine Tablet, Jacob Savage made the argument that our movie critics have reached a new low. Because the majority of them are liberals, they will not criticize a film that goes against “the narrative” of progressivism. The Hollywood trade paper Variety even apologized when a critic had the guts to pan the feminist movie Promising Young Woman.

Savage is right, but there is also a larger issue at play. Critics have abandoned God. That’s why their analysis is so stale.

The Human Soul at Play

Now, I want to be clear here. I don’t think that every critic needs to be a Christian, and that every review needs to cite Scripture. I am saying that the arts, including film, are expressions of our most powerful dreams, fears and desires, and as such are best interpreted in terms of our relationship to the sacred and to God.

God is the creator of our lives, the love that drives it, and the Person to Whom we wish to return. There are movie critics out here who can name all the extras in a “Star Wars” movie and the precise number of viewers Netflix had at 8:35 last night, but are incapable of revealing the human soul at play up there on the screen. They are like the old joke about the specialist: someone who knows more and more about less and less until he knows everything about nothing.

Today’s critics are dry taxidermists. No passion, no soul, no fire.

Our critics, even our most secular ones, once appreciated the spiritual drama that propels so much of art. Today’s critics are dry taxidermists. No passion, no soul, no fire. Combine this with the fear of criticizing woke movies, and even superhero blockbusters, and you have uninspired writing.

An Appreciation for the Spiritual Drama

One of the major influences on me was H.L. Mencken, one of the most brilliant, hilarious, and fearless journalists of the 20th century. Mencken couldn’t stand FDR. He also was a blistering critic of Christianity. He loved beer and women and great books. His style was completely unique. His takedown of socialist writer Thorstein Veblen is the sharpest and funniest dismantling of leftist idiocy that I have ever read. Despite his secularism, Mencken’s writing is full of absolutes — things that are first-rate, noble, beautiful. Here he is on Beethoven:

The feelings that Beethoven put into his music were the feelings of a god. There was something Olympian in his snarls and rages, and there was a touch of hellfire in his mirth. It is almost a literal fact that there is not a trace of cheapness in the whole body of his music. He is never sweet and romantic; he never sheds conventional tears; he never strikes orthodox attitudes. In his lightest moods there is the immense and inescapable dignity of the ancient Hebrew prophets.

That is easily something you might read on The Stream. It appeared in The Baltimore Sun in the 1920s. In those days a journalist, even an unbeliever, could make references to God — even as just a literary allusion. Today no such reference to the prophets would get past a woke editor.

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As recently as 1979 critics could make stern moral judgments that challenged liberal orthodoxy and look toward a higher moral source. It was that year that the great rock critic Lester Bangs wrote his famous review of Van Morrison’s classic album Astral Weeks. Bangs, not exactly a monk, talked of Astral Weeks in explicitly religious terms. He notes that the album came out in 1968, “a time when a lot of things that a lot of people cared about passionately were beginning to disintegrate, and when the self-destructive undertow that always accompanied the great 60s party had an awful lot of ankles firmly in its maw and was pulling straight down.”

Bangs then attacks the “sex” scene at the time:

As I write this, you can read blurbs in the Village Voice of people opening heterosexual S&M clubs in Manhattan, saying things like, ‘S&M is just another equally valid form of love. Why people can’t accept that we’ll never know.’ Makes you want to jump out a fifth floor window rather than even read about it, but it’s hardly the end of the world; it’s not nearly as bad as the hurts that go on everywhere every day that are taken so casually by all of us as facts of life.

The Media is Dying

This kind of moral judgment just would not be allowed in the media today — which is why the media are dying and nobody wants to read them. Christianity teaches us that our lives are important, that the world created by God is a fascinating and dynamic place filled with His imagination, love, passion for us, and joy. Drilling down into how many streamers Netflix has or mindlessly cheering for Hollywood’s latest political propaganda just isn’t very inspiring.

 

Mark Judge is a writer and filmmaker in Washington, D.C. His new book is The Devil’s Triangle: Mark Judge vs the New American Stasi.

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