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MONDAY MANIFESTOS
11/12/2012
Monday Manifestos
Criticism, Expertise and the Value of Opinion

By Stephen Eliot

I awoke early this morning after having spent a full day of work pouring over a couple of hundred tasting notes on the new Cabernets that will be featured in our upcoming December issue, and, as clear thought only comes after several espressos, I checked in on a random selection of wine bloggers while waiting for my intellectual fog to pass. I check the blogs regularly though I am not entirely sure why since I usually wind up feeling a bit stupid for thinking that today’s collection of deep vinous insights will be any more useful than the day’s before. What was that saying? "Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results." You get the idea.

Well, this morning my quick scan of headlines came to a stop with an article that led with the question “What Entitles YOU to be a Critic!?!?” Good question, I thought, since I make my living as a critic. While it may sound a bit picky, I would argue that, as one the article’s follow-up commenters suggested, that “qualifies” is probably a much better word the “entitles”. I mean, everyone is entitled to an opinion, but one hopes and expects that a critic worth his or her salt can claim some sort of expertise by way of qualification.

Expertise, just as the word suggests, is born of experience. It is the ability, based on experience, to form and clearly express views and opinions that have genuine worth to others, and I occasionally wonder if real expertise may be threatened by the click-and-go informational populism of the day. Karen MacNeil, as I recall, said it first…”when everyone is an expert, there are no experts.”

In the end, I suppose, that which ultimately qualifies someone to be a critic is their audience. I have no illusions about what I do for a living. As a writer and reviewer for Connoisseurs’ Guide, I do not trade in right or wrong “answers”. I offer opinions, nothing more. But, professional opinion is a commodity like everything else, and its value is determined by the market. If what I write is reliable and consistently affords worth to our readers, we will survive as we have for over thirty-five years, and, if not, we will go out of business. It is just that simple.

I also suppose that I am a bit of an optimist, for I do not really believe that the internet and new social media are the engines of intellectual anarchy. They will not breed an intellectually lazy generation of unthinking dunces whose knowledge and appreciation of wine is destined to be ever more ephemeral and wildly subjective. The message will always be more important than the medium, and the voices of those who can best express message will always be heard.


 

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