After Ebert – The need for multimedia/interactive/networked entertainment crictism

I’ll miss the shit out Roger Ebert. I remember growing up in upstate New York, waking up early Saturday morning to see “Siskel and Ebert”. Although I rarely went to see the movies they reviewed (mostly because of age), I still immensely enjoyed their banter and analysis of films of that time. Later on, when I was old enough and had my after-school job to fuel my fledgling movie going hobby, the film reviews of Roger Ebert became less of an adolescent curiosity and more of a serious research task. Ebert was my “go to guy” when knowing whether or not I should go see a flick. Not to say I followed his advice religiously. I went to see “Street Fighter” (not the good Anime, but the horrible live action film with Raul Julia and Jean-Claude Van Damme) despite his warnings, a decision I regret still. Of course there were films he hated that I liked, but still he was always there as this litmus test that I could rely on.

To say that Roger Ebert was the 20th century’s greatest film critic would not be a crazy premise. The man eared a Pulitzer prize in criticism for Pete’s sake.   But now that he is not with us, and without being disrespectful of the man’s legacy, I wonder if now is the time to start a conversation about the nature of criticism in the 21st century media landscape.

Ebert was always a geek. He embraced laser discs and VHS before everyone. And when DVD started to come to popularity, he was a big proponent of the format, citing the extra features and commentary that were included into various movie DVD releases. Even in the age of social networking, he was a prolific twitter user even before his health deteriorated, and after he loss the ability to speak he used twitter and became a  regular figure in our feeds.

But despite this, I still believe they Ebert was a member of the old guard, albeit a very innovative member. Although with some exceptions (“Avatar” and “Coraline“), Ebert generally hated contemporary 3D in films. He called it’s at best an unnecessary distraction and at it’s worse a money grabbing scheme by Hollywood. Now his arguments against 3D are vary valid (especially when your forking over $15 for a 3D movie when you can see the 2D version of the same title for four dollars less), but if 3D is just another tool for filmmakers to use, and can be argue that this is still (“the bronze age”) of modern 3D filmmaking, I wonder if Ebert was too quick to rub off a visual technique that is still maturing.

One piece of entertainment that Ebert completely didn’t get was video games. Although he seem to be “evolving” his opinion later on in his life, he vehemently placed film, as an art and literary form, far above even modern interactive games. Any gamer will scoff at this assertion, considering the depth and richness and many of the most popular games that have come out in the past several years.  The fact that Ebert ignored an form of entertainment that has dwarfed Hollywood in both money made and engagement is perhaps the strongest reason to say that Ebert was a bit old fashion. Ebert never played “Grand Theft Auto 3” or “Mass Effect”.

But I can’t blame the man for this, I’m sure when (or rather if), I’m in my late 50’s and some newfangled form of entertainment came out that is all the rage with the kids, I doubt I’ll get it too. But with that said, perhaps now is the time  to take inspiration in Ebert’s intelligence and passion for good cinema, and apply it to the new forms of entertainment, which I’ll called multimedia/networked/interactive (or M/I/N entertainment).

What is M/I/N entertainment? It’s just a generic term for our current entertainment media landscape  It includes films both 2D and 3D, but it also includes video games. It includes viral videos and twitter commentary for reality TV shows, this whole vibrant stew of  both experience AND participatory engagement primarily via the Internet.

We are faced with an unprecedented amount of entertainment choices in a variety of intersecting and merging forms. But for this bounty, there are few people and places where a consumer can go to and get a rational analysis of not just whether something is “good” or not, but delving deeper into it’s social-literary context. To be sure there are some pioneers that are starting to tackle this (Tom Bissell, Ian Bogost, and Jane McGonigal come to mind), but still there is a deficit of such thought in both academia and in mainstream media. The bright spot in all this is the large amount of commentary and discussions that are going on with consumers themselves via social networks, which should not be ignored as a valid source of criticism, although peppered with an ample amount of flaming and trolling that one may need to be conscious of.

So, Mr. Ebert, sir, you will be missed. But with your passing, I urge all of use to turn a page on a chapter, and begin a new chapter of media thought and conversation that is forged in Ebert’s image, but modified and hacked to take on the torrent of  M/I/N entertainment that will be a part of our media lives for years to come.



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