Gene Shalit and the Generation Gap

Earlier this week, Gene Shalit (that man in desperate need of a shave) retired from The Today Show after forty years of being their film critic. And there was much rejoicing.

No, no, that is unfair. Shalit, for better or for worse,a part of that grand triumvirate of critics (which should also include Leonard Maltin and Roger Ebert), even if it is due to his sheer longevity. I have never really enjoyed Shalit’s style of critiquing. He depended far too much on lame puns and often just came off as a person talking about a memory rather than a true critic examining a work of art.

But there is one item that I like; Shalit helped bring about a new age for critics. I am not sure if many are aware, but critics practicing their trade on television was not always a welcome thing. Time Magazine once published a very derisive column (aimed at Siskel and Ebert at The Movies) stating that the medium was not proud

And here is Shalit, doing it a few years BEFORE Siskel and Ebert. He was setting the curve that all others would follow. Many would best him, sure, but that is a part of experimentation and creativity. Someone has to start it.

It is not surprising that he chose to retire now; he is eighty four and I am sure he has a few things that he wants to do. What is more surprising is that, as of now, there has been no speculation on his replacement. Nothing like what happened with At the Movies after Siskel’s passing, no experimentation, nothing. Also, apparently, the last time he even appeared on the show was back in May to review the latest Shrek film.

The fact is, there is another generational gap forming. The problem is is that no one is stepping up to take the old generation’s place. Think about it; the most significant younger critic out there is, probably, Harry Knowles. Which is a shame; he is even worse than Shalit. But never mind – he is at least trying to bridge the gap between two eras.

But why is he the only one?  Maybe it is because critics, by and large, are becoming undervalued.  There seems to be a disconnect between audiences and critics. I have had people threaten to block my twitter because, and I quote, “I was never positive enough.” To which I respond, “that is not up to me, that is up to the film” but never mind; the implication was clear. Critics, in the modern view, are supposed to reflect cultural tastes and should keep their own opinions to themselves.

I don’t know. Maybe this is because of the proliferation of places like IMDB and Rotten Tomatoes, where users can rate the films themselves. Critics be damned; if only 57% of them like Transformers, well…89% of the audiences like it. Who are they to go against the popular tide.

Yes, as with television, the internet still does have some room to grow. For every single ill informed person who gushes about the latest summer blockbuster (or, God forbid, Twilight film) there is a genuine lover of cinema who is bringing more insight into the field than exists in many other places. One day, one of these people will be able to take the field back.

So, right now, the internet is in Gene Shalit mode. Maybe, someday in the not too distant future, we will hopefully be at the Ebert level.

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