By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood August 14, 2009 at 5:46AM
The latest film critics pile-on this week started with the suggestion from The New York Observer's Christopher Rosen that the NYT's A.O. Scott and the Chicago Sun-Times' Roger Ebert were attacking movie audiences for being so dumb. Then Drew McWeeny at Hitfix responded that older critics were losing their touch with younger audiences. And Glenn Kenny jumped into the fray on the young vs. old critics' divide.
Scott was attacking the studios for dumbing down the audience. That's not attacking the audience for being dumb. While The New Yorker and the NYT can be guilty of turning up their noses at populist moviemaking, Ebert is an open and welcoming critic. In fact, he's a great example of a modern-day online communicator. He knows how to reach and grow his fan base of all ages. In this day of waning critical influence, the widely syndicated Ebert still wields considerable clout--even without his TV show At the Movies. His recent rant The Gathering Dark Age--in which he did express dismay at a badly educated younger movie demo-- generated over 800 comments, many of them quite literate. Ebert has over 2000 Facebook fans, and doesn't bother to Twitter. Thank God, At the Movies' two Bens didn't make it with the younger crowd Disney/ABC wanted them to attract. Now the older-skewing Scott and Michael Phillips are back on board.
One note to Ebert: I don't know any young people who read newspapers--it's just not their medium, no matter how smart or educated they are. And Nora and her friends seem to intuit online what has been well-reviewed---by their peers as well as critics. Or they skip the written word and check out trailers.
It isn't news to highbrow critics that there's a disconnect between them and audiences flocking to badly reviewed popcorn movies like Transformers. But truth is, critical influence on the web is growing, not waning. Critics like Kenny are growing devoted fan bases on their blogs, Facebook and Twitter. In the Internet age, critics are going viral, helping to counteract massive ad spends. The studios know that bad buzz is spreading earlier and faster and can dampen an opening week--let's see how G.I. Joe fares in its second go-round.