Top 7 Rhetorical Fallacies Levied at Criticism–and why they’re all invalid

Angry naysayers in action

As digital technology enables countless voices to add their share to the din of culture, it seems necessary to remind my dear readers what passes for a valid objection or a foolish remark that ought to be dismissed outright. This is not to say the original opinion which provoked the retort is correct or valid, but to say that the following rhetoric simply does not (and never will) hold any validity. Thus do I present, in no particular order, the top seven erroneous and frankly idiotic statements intended to silence dissent and the expression of opinion:

  • OMG WHO THE HELL CARES?

Sarcastic, hyperbolic, hasty generalization. Anyone who cares enough to type out a response admonishing someone for caring enough about something to type out an equally withering reproach about a film is evidently guilty of the same crime and wholly ignorant of irony.

  • Let’s see your movie/book/video game/piece of trash, oh, that’s right, you don’t have one.

A false appeal to accomplishment and ridiculous tu quoque argument. The function of the critic is not to appeal to authority so as to win an argument from the pretense of experience. Moreover, the corollary does not hold true: having directed a film does not arbitrarily make one adept or even qualified to criticize a film. The tools of the critic are of an entirely different set than that of the filmmaker, though often they will borrow from one another. Essentially then, this argument is a non-sequitur, it makes no difference whatsoever whether the critic has made a film or not. Though yes, in future, all critics should, before ever uttering a word of criticism, make it a point to assemble the cast, crew and finances necessary to produce a feature length film, and then to have that film distributed in a timely fashion to any respondents who might be inclined to ask “where’s your movie?”

  • Seriously, it’s just a movie/book/video game/tweet

A half-hearted attempt at an argument ad absurdum. In some instances this declaration may be valid, but as always, it depends on the context. It would be foolhardy and nonsensical to criticize a movie starring Kellan Lutz for not having a more intelligent or intricate story, since one is antithetical to the other, but arguably valid to impeach a veteran like Ridley Scott for any number of his films over the past decade. This is not to say that a criticism noted above shouldn’t be made, but anyone who rails at the Legend of Hercules for being derivative hackwork is tackling a broader problem in cinema than just an instantly forgettable film and ought to be aware before undertaking the ill-advised task.

  • That movie/book/video game/tweet is so old, who cares?

Much like the fallacy above, this argument ad nauseum attempts to silence the opinion by declaring it not worth having. The criticism is not a time-sensitive matter. If the film no longer occupies a prominent position in the cultural zeitgeist all that entails is the reduction of the criticisms , and not its validity. It is precisely this presentist attitude amongst certain filmmakers, who pride themselves on never looking back, never reading criticism on anything, on not knowing Eisenstein from Kuleshov that necessitates the continued presence of the critic. These offenders are the very same who take great pleasure in treating the art of making films as an extension of high school, separated as it is by cliques, and who scorn intelligence, and fear what they can’t be bothered to understand, and who see film only as a means to make money, and demean anyone who dares to imagine its higher potential. It’s just a movie, they say. These are the same people who think literature programs and the arts are in general just a waste of time, and that the function of everything is to serve their direct benefit. There the attack also foolishly mis-underestimates the importance of cultural products in the matrix of culture. For these people culture is always and only ever the immanent here and now, defined in version updates and model numbers. For them life will only ever be the few scraps of insight they ever manage to grasp fluttering by, unaware of the vast field of knowledge that lays all around them. These people are not to be acknowledged, they are to be pitied and rehabilitated if possible, shunned if not.

  • Ya, that’s why the movie made X number of dollars, because it’s got flaws.

Argument ad populum. Just because a work is popular does not mean it is without flaws, or indeed, beyond criticism. Given the unprecedented success of the Twilight franchise I’m still consistently surprised whenever this argument gets thrown down.

  • It’s just a movie, get a life!

Borderline ad hominem. I think at this point in our culture anyone who offers the unsolicited opinion that movies are to be considered with the same enthusiasm as a used condom, and to be similarly disposed of as such, is the one who’s out of touch with what most people would describe as a life. That, or with one cliched insult the commenter has undone the entire field of cinema studies (and internet message boards).

  • Opinions are like [name your suggestive body part], everybody’s got one.

Thought-terminating cliché intended to pass as wisdom, when in fact the false equivocation is rhetorically null. If opinions are as common as body parts, then they are unavoidable. Moreover, if they are so common, they must then be unspectacular. However, the very fact that the respondent chose to utter this remark about this specific opinion designates a unique quality about this opinion which compelled the response. In the same way that we don’t respond or even register every body part of every person, we do notice and indeed even sometimes venture an opinion on remarkable features (whether desirable or undesirable). So, by calling that particular statement worthless, the attacker has ironically designated it as an opinion worthy of remarking. However, the remark is so vague as to lack all causal referents, i.e. the statement does not respond to the opinion in question, except to acknowledge that opinions are common and unavoidable. Thus the greater irony of the statement is that it contains in embryo its own refutation.

If you or anyone you know encounters any of the above fallacies in your daily routine, please report the offender to this particular page immediately for re-education.

These are just the ones I’ve encountered enough to feel it necessary to debunk, please post your own frustrating rebukes and I may just undertake another installment.

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