by Matthew Lewallen
It should go without saying that most people have opinions about popular media—from comic books to movies, and television to video games, just about everyone has a response to give, falling anywhere between extremely positive and negative. In recent times, the sheer scope and accessibility of the internet has dramatically increased the opportunities we have to connect with others who share overlapping likes and/or dislikes in countless forms of entertainment. The internet’s communal, and near-instantaneous, properties allow for a much larger (not to mention faster) degree of transmission than most prior forms of mass communication, with anyone’s opinions and criticisms being virtually guaranteed to be seen by an untold number of viewers.
More importantly, the internet allows just about anyone with the proper appeal and charisma to achieve varying levels of recognition—and even fame—for providing reviews and commentary on pop-cultural artifacts. The individuals who can, and do, gain notoriety by asserting their opinions on the internet sometimes take less direct approaches to straightforward “I like it, I hate it” criticisms one might see in print and/or television. So-called “internet critics” will often take the most prominent (or most vocal) opinions within various fan communities, and use them to approach and outline critical discussions of a given topic, while also developing exaggerated “characters” that they can adopt to emphasize their reviews with elements of satirical comedy.
Internet critics have established a significant, and quite popular, presence in online culture, and have some interesting similarities and differences in how they present themselves: what follows is a look into who these critics are, and their methods of reflecting and embodying our opinions.
Who Are the Internet Critics?
To put it simply, “internet critics” are individuals or groups who produce reviews and editorials in the form of internet videos; some focus on specific fields like music or toys, while others will cover more diverse material (but might still have preferences for given topics). For example, internet critic Lewis “Linkara” Lovhaug is predominantly recognized for his “Atop the Fourth Wall” video series that focuses on reviewing (often terrible) comic books. However, Canadian uploader Phelan “Phelous” Porteous has varied interests in film, television, animation, video games, and bootleg toys featured throughout his personal section of Phelous.com (which shares content from the likes of Allison “Obscurus Lupa” Pregler and the Team Panshy collaboration).
Another popular internet critic is James Rolfe, who’s best known for creating (and starring in) the long-running “Angry Video Game Nerd” series featured on Cinemassacre Productions, in which he specializes in mocking typically older (and, again, often terrible) video games. But Rolfe is also well-versed in film history—particularly in regards to the horror and sci-fi genres—and has produced an extensive line of videos discussing movies. A similarly long-running video series, “Monster Madness,” is annually recorded by Rolfe for the Halloween season, and uploaded daily for 31 days straight through October. Here, Rolfe gives brief, but incredibly detailed, overviews of obscure (and not-so-obscure) horror-themed movie releases.
A final, but extremely significant, example is the online community known as Channel Awesome—Channel Awesome is a collective of many different internet critics, some of which already have established presences and/or are part of separate review groups. Among the various programs featured on Channel Awesome, the site’s headlining attraction is “The Nostalgia Critic,” hosted by Doug Walker as the titular “Nostalgia Critic.” Much like James Rolfe, Walker focuses on older popular media (in Walker’s case, usually movies and television shows) to alternatively nitpick and defend certain aspects of a subject that are vocally loved or hated by their audiences, be it issues with the narrative, characters, or the general quality of its production.
Even though these examples’ interests might differ more than they overlap in some regards, all of them share a common goal: to establish rhetorical connections with viewers through a mixture of critical analysis, satirical humor, and caricatures to simultaneously entertain and inform them.
What Does an Internet Critic Do?
As summarized in this article from the Purdue Online Writing Lab, the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle established three major components of persuasive discourse:
Logos is frequently translated as some variation of “logic or reasoning,” but it originally referred to the actual content of a speech and how it was organized. Today, many people may discuss the logos qualities of a text to refer to how strong the logic or reasoning of the text is. But logos more closely refers to the structure and content of the text itself.
Ethos is frequently translated as some variation of “credibility or trustworthiness,” but it originally referred to the elements of a speech that reflected on the particular character of the speaker or the speech’s author. Today, many people may discuss ethos qualities of a text to refer to how well authors portray themselves. But ethos more closely refers to an author’s perspective more generally.
Pathos is frequently translated as some variation of “emotional appeal,” but it originally referred to the elements of a speech that appealed to any of an audience’s sensibilities. Today, many people may discuss the pathos qualities of a text to refer to how well an author appeals to an audience’s emotions. Pathos as “emotion” is often contrasted with logos as “reason.” But this is a limited understanding of both pathos and logos; pathos more closely refers to an audience’s perspective more generally.
These three components form the guiding principles of our spoken and written rhetoric, which are respectively used by a speaker and/or writer to make appeals to their audiences through displays of logic, ethics, and emotions. Ideally, internet critics establish logos by making arguments based on knowledge and experience, ethos by making arguments based on values and beliefs, and pathos by making arguments based on storytelling and passion—in turn, these arguments are heavily shaped by many critics’ uses of a “persona” to present their viewpoints.
In an academic analysis written by Daniel Scarpati, the author describes Doug Walker’s “Nostalgia Critic” character as embodying a disillusioned person looking back at media that wasn’t scrutinized as heavily as it was in the past—as Scarpati states:
…the NC was looking at the content from the perspective of someone from the future, someone who had already lived at least 10 years past the content. Determining if it held up a decade after it was produced was a true testament to its quality, plus it helped to determine what worked and what didn’t work. It’s been said that a person can’t judge a presidency until at least two terms pass, and the NC proves that in some cases the same logic applies to media.
Likewise, Scarpati points out that the Critic’s frequent use of hyperbole, non sequiturs, and “comical verbal and physical aggressiveness” reinforces a persona that both encapsulates and satirizes the frustrations of the stereotypical “angry fanboy.” In this sense, the Nostalgia Critic induces pathos in viewers by embellishing the collective anger and disappointment people have in popular culture while giving those feelings a central voice—yet, the Critic also hosts editorials that make clearer logical and ethical analyses:
Brad Jones, who produces reviews as “The Cinema Snob” for the titular website, also utilizes a caustic persona, albeit a notably less hysterical (but definitely snarkier) one compared to Walker’s Nostalgia Critic character. As stated in this interview conducted by George Pacheco, Jones explains that the Snob persona was largely inspired as a satire of overbearing critics such as the late Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert:
They would pick it apart or see things which just weren’t there, such as the Roger Ebert review of Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter. It’s very soapbox-y, saying that a movie teaches you nothing, that you’re just gonna grow up and get killed; all this stuff which really isn’t there: it’s just a slasher movie. But they were picking it apart as if it were a Terrence Malick film, and it’s funny! It’s humorous, and that’s kind of what I wanted to do with The Cinema Snob character.
Whereas the Nostalgia Critic establishes pathos through his mockery/personification of angry fan communities, the Cinema Snob’s behavior appeals to audiences who feel that some critics can be infuriatingly didactic (and utterly clueless) about what they’re reviewing—take note of his review for Mommie Dearest, especially how he actually breaks character to speak sincerely:
(click image for video link)
Walker and Jones primarily use their exaggerated personas for comedic effect, both lampooning trivial aspects of praise and criticism on the internet, but often intermix their own thoughts, feelings, and beliefs (as well as observations and research) into their diatribes to add substance.
Compare and Contrast: The Critic and the Snob
To take a more detailed look at the similarities and differences between the Nostalgia Critic and the Cinema Snob, let’s compare and contrast their reviews for Exorcist II: The Heretic, starting with the Critic’s video from 2011:
(click image for video link)
For the most part, Walker uses running commentary to point out the story’s logical inconsistencies and perceivably failed attempts at horror and surrealism, while also using audio-visual editing and cutaways to openly mock footage of the movie itself. Keeping true with his established “Critic” persona, Walker alternates between responding to the movie with sarcasm, nitpicking, and exaggerated anger and misery. Yet, Walker also alludes to some factual tidbits regarding the movie’s production, and even admits that the plot had unrealized potential.
Now, let’s watch the Cinema Snob’s review of Exorcist II: The Heretic, produced earlier this year:
Like in the Critic’s review, the Snob also touches on the circumstances of the film’s creation (including the anecdote that the director actually hated the original movie), and makes similar jabs at its confusing narrative elements. Jones also uses the Snob character to make vacuous assumptions and conclusions during the review while maintaining a comedic air of authoritative confidence and self-importance, with his statement at 28:09 regarding Pauline Kael’s opinion of Exorcist II as indisputable fact reiterating his satire of pretentious, misinformed film criticism.
In general, Doug Walker’s Nostalgia Critic emphasizes reviews with overreaction and theatrics, while Brad Jones’ Cinema Snob emphasizes reviews with underreaction and sardonicism—both, of course, to delivery their own senses of humor. However, both usually try giving audiences some background information on what they’re reviewing, and will even take time to share what they found positive (if not interesting) in otherwise negative productions. Likewise, Walker and Jones’ comedic/analytic treatments of their subjects let them put forth their views in ways that are both entertaining and approachable if viewers understand the nature of their personas: in a sense, Walker and Jones gain credibility with audiences by parodying our overuses of opinions.
In turn, countless other internet critics use varyingly similar and different tactics to frame their review methods and/or host caricatures. Everything I’ve discussed here is the proverbial “tip of the iceberg” in the backdrop of the internet, and there are so many others that could be analyzed.
Internet critics aren’t entirely original in their purpose and methodology—the late comedian Andy Kaufman used the character Tony Clifton to satirize vitriolic entertainers, though at the expense of further confusing his audiences. Another, more recent, example is the television show The Colbert Report (2005-2014), in which comedian Stephen Colbert presented himself as a political commentator with an exaggerated conservative mindset. Kaufman and Colbert used these characters as antithetical misdirections of their own personalities, with Kaufman’s Tony Clifton being a far more extreme case when compared to Colbert’s Report persona (in fact, other people have, and still do, perform as Clifton to maintain the narrative that he’s a “real” person).
While the individuals mentioned throughout this article don’t have nearly the same mainstream recognition as Kaufman and Colbert do, they’re still quite popular and influential within the realm of online entertainment, and regularly appear at various fan conventions. Because of their online presences, internet critics also tend to have closer, and more frequent, input from their viewers, making them feel more accessible and amiable to be interacted with. Internet critics succeed or fail by how well they accumulate viewerships and endorsements, but also by how well they connect to their audiences’ interests and opinions of popular culture: as with all media figures, internet critics come and go, with some enjoying longer or shorter exposure than others.
Whatever the case, internet critics will probably continue to keep us laughing (and thinking) into the foreseeable future.
Channel Awesome – Just Awesome. Channel Awesome, Inc. Web 19 Oct. 2015. <http://channelawesome.com/>.
Cinemassacre. Cinemassacre Productions. Web 20 Oct. 2015. <http://cinemassacre.com/>.
Jones, Brad (Cinema Snob). “The Cinema Snob: EXORCIST II: THE HERETIC.” YouTube. YouTube LLC. 5 Aug. 2015. Web 23 Oct. 2015. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0GuiBIIbCTQ>.
Jones, Brad (Cinema Snob). “The Cinema Snob: MIAMI CONNECTION.” YouTube. YouTube LLC. 3 Aug. 2015. Web 22 Oct. 2015. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ao-atLBCHxw>.
Know Your Meme: Internet Meme Database. Cheezburger, Inc. Web 18 Oct. 2015. <http://knowyourmeme.com/>.
Pacheco, George. “Exploitation Life: Brad Jones’ The Cinema Snob redefines internet film criticism.” Welcome to Examiner.com. AXS Digital Group LLC. 23 Sep. 2014. Web 21 Oct. 2015. <http://www.examiner.com/article/exploitation-life-brad-jones-the-cinema-snob-redefines-internet-film-criticism>.
Purdue OWL. The Writing Lab & The OWL at Purdue. Web 21 Oct. 2015. <https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/>.
Scarpati, Daniel. “Stingingly Successful Satire on the World Wide Web – An Analysis of the Nostalgia Critic’s Satire.” The Utopia of Daniel. Macaulay ePortfolios. 9 Aug. 2014. Web 21 Oct. 2015. <http://macaulay.cuny.edu/eportfolios/utopiaofdaniel/2014/08/stingingly-successful-satire-on-the-world-wide-web-an-analysis-of-the-nostalgia-critics-satire/>.
The Cinema Snob – Home. The Cinema Snob. Web 21 Oct. 2015. <http://www.thecinemasnob.com/>.
TV Tropes. Creative Commons. Web 22 Oct. 2015. <http://tvtropes.org/>.
Walker, Doug (Nostalgia Critic). “Nostalgia Critic: When Does a Joke Go Too Far?” YouTube. YouTube LLC. 9 Sep. 2015. Web 20 Oct. 2015. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CNyHlSHbK4s>.
Walker, Doug (Nostalgia Critic) and Rob Walker. “Nostalgia Critic: Star Wars Christmas.” YouTube. YouTube LLC. 5 Jul. 2015. Web 23 Oct. 2015. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t4uYLgDG_ow>.
Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation. Web 18 Oct. 2015. <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Main_Page>.