Like all noble arts, reviewing is at its heart a craft, one in which a uniquely personal impulse is worked over and given shape within the boundaries of formal constraints. Those constraints vary by the critic, of course, but the chief responsibility is a clear constant: to justify his or her subjective response to a work through the artful presentation of objective evidence.
That's not a controversial opinion. Few critics mistake their subjective opinion for universal truth, and the ones that do are either John Simon or the amateur armies over at Amazon, for whom every media product is either a five-star masterpiece or a one-star disaster.
And then there's Zoe Williams, who reviews TV for the (British) Guardian. Last week she took on the daft and dopey BBC Dickens spoof The Bleak Old House of Stuff with all the gusto of Gallagher taking on a watermelon. Her piece is a thorough demolishing - and an honest one distinguished by her wit and a painful rundown of the show's worst jokes. (She excluded the jokes that worked, like the business of a wife promising her husband that she's wearing virtually nothing beneath her skirts, her underskirts, her sub-underpants, and on and on, but that's a point of taste.)
Some commenters on the site cheered her on, and Williams jumped into the comment thread, where she displayed every bit of the hubris and myopia that makes people hate critics. She actually wrote:
"Yeah. I'm with you. i don't think humour is subjective. I think some things are funny and some things aren't, and this wasn't, and people who think it was are misguided."
You hear that, world? If you laugh at things that Zoe Williams doesn't laugh at, or if you enjoy a salad dressing that she disdains, or if you hug a Corgi when she's a cat person, you are misguided.
I'm not convinced that she's even a real critic at all. Instead, she seems to be a critic character dreamed up by some not especially talented novelist or playwright who has suffered some stinging reviews.
Thanks, Zoe Williams, for at the last minute clinching the award for dumbest statement by a critic said in 2011, which is impressive in a year that included Shawn Edwards praising the chipmunks as they call him a "jungle monster."
And, Christ, of course humor is subjective. If it wasn't, kids would find Artistophanes as hilarious as they do Adult Swim. At least in America we spell it the right way.
ALSO: Here's John Simon denouncing the mentality of people who enjoyed the original Star Wars movies:
(He recommends taking kids to see Tender Mercies.)