(Originally published October 5, 2007 on Criticide, as Popcorn Peter)
I have nothing against Roger Ebert.
He's a terrific writer and has a genuine affection for the cinema, but the fact that he was one of the countless suckers hoodwinked by the profoundly overstated/overhyped/overbearing auto-fellatio of Crash/Babel is reason enough to generally give his (and everyone else's) reviews the grain-of-salt treatment. That he almost uniformly adores anything that might be considered a "popcorn movie" while hate-hate-hating the justifiably creamed-upon Blue Velvet, seals the deal for this Criticassin.
Let's get one thing straight: I begrudge no man his opinion. Love or hate what you will; it's hardly my problem. Until, of course, it is.
A couple of weeks ago, Forbes Magazine announced that, due to his 70% (!) penetration into the hearts and minds of my fellow countrymen, Roger Ebert was found to be the most influential pundit in America. In other words, of all the know-it-all blowhards peddling their self-proclaimed expertise in the ubiquitous back alleys of the American media, he's the know-it-all-iest.
On the one hand, he really is an expert whose opinions are almost always thoughtfully (though by no means flawlessly) constructed. And when considered alongside his runners-up, he is certainly the least likely to debase or divide. On the other hand, it's a puzzle that someone so uncontroversial would be anointed in the Temple That Wally Built.
My concern isn't that he earned such a distinction, it's that such a distinction even exists. Beyond feeding our inner rubbernecker, punditry has no value (and remember, you read that on Criticide). Even at its most entertaining, it is a primarily humorless amusement. It is an intellectual vacuum disguised as debate, intent on shoving any remotely gray area so far up your ass as to never be seen again.
And yet, its pervasiveness in this country that I consequently recognize less and less each day has inspired a seemingly never-ending orgy of equal and opposite reactions, and a commonly held belief that we each must have not only an opinion about everything, but an extreme and provocative one at that. And not the good kind of opinion - the one born of personal experience and observation - but the kind recycled from some persuasive, and usually venomous, prattle on a cable show. We are constantly expected to pick a side in each of an ever-propogating list of grievances so that the Land Of The Free looks increasingly like a generations-long director's cut of West Side Story (minus the ballet basketball and promise of Puerto Rican tail).
The fact that this year's pontiff of pundits is someone dedicated, not to demonizing Mexicans or polarizing political parties , but to advancing an art form is somewhat heartening. So while slapping someone on the back for regularly sharing his opinions makes about as much sense as buying flowers for a hooker, at least in this case the hooker was Roger Ebert. The pundit with the heart of gold.