Good Vibrations and Bad Vibes: Amateur criticism and social media
I recently read a Facebook post that appeared to be by Belfast record shop owner and label starter Terri Hooley. The post drew attention to a mini-review of the film of his life, Good Vibrations. The review was on a site called “Letterboxd” (a social networking/microblogging site for film fans) and only said:
The ultimate proof (if any more was needed after he put Saving Mr. Banks on his year-end top 10 list) that Mark Kermode has become an old, whiny, out-of-touch, middlebrow and sentimental fart.
Mark Kermode had named Good Vibrations, which is a lovely low budget film based on Terri’s own anecdotes about the liberating effect of punk on himself and the teenagers living through the worst of the Troubles in Northern Ireland, as one of the best of last year. In the Facebook post, Terri was angry about Mark suffering the “backlash” that he had expected from the film but hadn’t yet experienced.
Good Vibrations is not flawless as films go, not least because of its limited budget, but most people will find themselves swept along in its humour and amiability and appreciate Terri’s fundamental rightness in supporting music’s redemptive effect in a situation sorely lacking in redemption; a Northern Irish Twenty Four Hour Party People with less knowing playfulness but higher stakes.
But there will be exceptions and, in 2014, some of those people will decide to tell the internet when they didn’t like it. When they decide to do so, they will tend not to consider the possibility that someone who invested more in the end product than the cost of an online rental might read it. Like Terri, for example, for whom it is essentially the end product of his entire life, along with introducing John Peel to the Undertones (and selling me a Frank Zappa bootleg 14 years ago).
The reason that I’m writing this on a near-defunct beer blog is that it reminds me of the situation regarding beer. The craft beer industry is full of people who have a really close connection to their product, take pride in their work, will be genuinely hurt by online criticism and consequently annoyed by it, especially when that criticism comes from people who appear not to know what they’re talking about. Except it is also the case that the people who are criticising them aren’t usually claiming to express an expert opinion, but are merely venting the feeling that they didn’t get value for money from the beer they bought, which might have been an actual problem of quality, a misunderstanding about what the brewer was trying to achieve or possibly even an utter failure of palate.
I am in no position to criticise a brewer for what they are trying to do when occasionally they fail to achieve it, and consequently don’t have a lot to say these days. I would be more willing to criticise a larger brewery for trying to piggy-back on the shoulders of many smaller brewers and launching “craft beers” that merely devalue that already-amorphous term, if the whole situation didn’t fill me with inertia.
But, I suppose, if there is a moral to be taken for brewers it is to listen to individual criticisms, be open to their validity, but also be prepared to dismiss them graciously and/or silently if they obviously have no merit. The product will, over time, probably speak for itself. The risk of the alternative is to be Ricky Gervais, railing against “critics” and turning everyone else against you in the process.
Finally, I would recommend that you watch Good Vibrations. It’s a craft film if ever there was one.