Sasha Frere-Jones & the Problem of Criticism

The music critic for “The New Yorker” – one of my favorite magazines – hates, with a disdainful and fiery passion, the Foo Fighters.  Who are not one of my favorite bands, but my all-time favorite band.  It’s rather obnoxious, not only to put up with Sasha Frere-Jones’s occasional “witty” condescensions regarding the Davey Grohlton Band – but to endure his complete lack of justification.


As I discussed in this post about “Les Mis,” critics are no more immune to their own personal biases and blind spots than anyone else, particularly when they are not called upon to explain those prejudices.  Distaste for musicals, it seems, needs no pretext; likewise, for Frere-Jones, the crapitude of Foo Fighters is so self-evident that it need not be explained.


But it’s a shame, because Sasha Frere-Jones – who can detail the workings of a hip-hop song in exquisite precision, detailing the mechanisms by which it might be musically successful or not – knows about music, and it would be really interesting for me – a devout Foo Fighters fan – to know why he finds them so repellant.  Is it a musical issue?  Is it about image?  Does he hold a secret torch for Courtney Love, and therefore stand against all things Grohl?  What’s the deal?


There are plenty of musically educated people who are also big Foo Fighters fans, so I don’t labor under the impression that my liking them is some kind of aesthetic mistake.  But I’m curious, and every time a critic dismisses something without bothering to say why, I feel like an opportunity for discussion and exchange has been been foreclosed – and all because a critic has sneered at it.  If knowledge and taste are a critic’s weapons, why not use that arsenal for the sake of honest, engaged critique, rather than dismissal?


To that end, I very much enjoyed these collected confessions from critics, discussing why they dislike things.  If critics only bother to examine the things we like – without looking hard at the reasons why we reject things – then they limit their own critical faculties, inscribing their preferences in place of considered reflection.

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