Watch the Throne: Should Traditional Criticism Watch its Back?

By August 17, 2011New Media

Last week, Jay-Z and Kanye West dropped their highly anticipated joint album, Watch the Throne. Like any other pop culture event, the immense buildup to the release date meant that fans were quick to take to Twitter and other forms of social media to share their thoughts on the album, track-by-track. So what does that mean?

The Huffington Post decided to find out.

Using sentiment analysis, a procedure in which posts are aggregated and then sorted by whether they use positive or negative words in conjunction with the title of the work being analyzed, Huffington Post staffers were able to assign each individual track a score from 0-100. They then placed those scores on a graph, and voila! A quick and easy visual that tells us which tracks have proven most popular and which tracks…well, not so much.

This comes in the wake of yet another Facebook upgrade, in which friend updates about the same topic are all grouped together in your News Feed. While it isn’t quite the same idea as a site like Metacritic, which aggregates full-length reviews from press outlets, it is an easy way to see what those with interests similar to yours are saying about a particular movie, book, album, or event. It certainly indicates that Facebook is positioning itself as a more relevant force in the arena of cultural criticism. After all, why listen to a perfect stranger when you can hear it straight from your friends?

Which begs the question: will aggregation replace traditional criticism?

I, for one, hope not. There is a distinct pleasure in getting to know a critic through his or her work, especially when you find that you often agree with their opinion. For instance, I may not always agree with Roger Ebert (and his recent-ish assertion that The Graduate has lost much of its relevance over time kind of crushes my soul), but I seek out his reviews because, after years of reading his work, I understand and respect his point of view. In many cases, his endorsement of a film that I would never check out otherwise (Easy A, I’m lookin’ at you) has led me to my new favorite guilty pleasure. In others, Ebert’s criticism of a film that I love forces me to think about why I loved it in the first place.

This isn’t to say that friends’ opinions aren’t valid, or that they’re unimportant. I’ve seen and loved many a critically-panned gem at the behest of a trusted friend. It is,however, to say that the two can and should peacefully coexist.

What do you think, UCWbLers?

Join the discussion One Comment

  • Joe O. says:

    Super post… I think we’ll see more and more aggregate analysis utilizing sources like Twitter and Facebook, despite any misgivings we have for it. While I agree this kind of analysis doesn’t make one person’s opinion obsolete, I am fascinated by the technology that drives this analysis. I’m particularly amazed at how IBM’s Watson learned enough facts from the internet to defeat its human contestants in Jeopardy!