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Marshall Fine Headshot

Cody's Critical Generation Gap

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Who gets to be a critic?

These days, just about anybody with a working computer, it seems. Or, in the case of Cody Gifford, anyone whose mom has her own TV show.

Legitimate, working critics are struggling to hold their places at publications around the country -- while the print journalism world continues in freefall, unable to figure out how to survive in the new century. The Internet has provided a haven for many -- and an outlet for many others who never were able to find an actual paying job at a print publication writing about film.

And then there's cute little Cody Gifford, who is a film student in college and says that being young and ignorant is what qualifies him to be a critic: "As you get older, you get a little out of touch with contemporary films," he says. "It's not your generation anymore."

Sorry, Cody, but just because you're part of the generation at which dross like the Transformer films or Grown Ups is aimed -- or that, unlike us old fogeys, you think those movies rock - well, that doesn't qualify you to be a critic. I'm not of the generation for which Citizen Kane was intended, either, but I think I can offer an intelligent assessment of it as well.

Everybody, of course, is a critic. And now anybody can be a critic online, with the right software, a little computer savvy and an understanding of search-engine optimization.

And certainly, when I was Cody's age, I was already writing reviews for newspapers, assailing the opinions of my elders, secure in the knowledge that I was infinitely hipper and wiser than some old coot in a newspaper office in New York (or, in my case, Minneapolis). I believed that they should give one of those jobs to me -- and, eventually, worked my way into exactly that job.

The big difference between Cody and me -- and I say this based on virtually no knowledge of Cody beyond his unfortunate parentage and his published remarks -- is that he is a film studies major and I was a journalism major. I loved movies -- but I also loved to write (still do, for that matter). Writing about movies was a bonus. Cody strikes me as being of the Ben Lyons school of film criticism: "Hey, I think movies are cool and getting to talk about them on TV is even cooler. Context? What's that?"

I recognize now that I was probably in my 40s before I really hit my stride as a critic. But that didn't mean that I wasn't a-brim with opinions and confidence when I was in my 20s and 30s. I knew what I knew; I just didn't know how much I didn't know. The older I got, the more I wanted to delve into film's past. And, the older I got, the more I recognized the continuum nature of films - that the films I saw as a kid and a teen and even as a young adult informed the films I saw in the present day and that they were all part of an ongoing history.

But when you're as young as Cody Gifford, you believe that movies started when you started paying attention to them.

You can find the rest of this commentary on my website.