On Rookie yesterday, Anaheed Alani interviewed New Yorker TV critic Emily Nussbaum as part of Rookie's series on how cool people got their cool jobs. It's worth a read, but there were a couple parts that seem worth highlighting. One is Nussbaum's defense of the whole idea of being a critic of television in the first place, and the difference between critiquing poetry and critiquing TV:
I was sort of surprised that I became a critic at all, because I think when I was younger, in my 20s, I thought that writing criticism was an intrinsically mean and parasitical act. Which it is—like, other people create a thing and you make an analysis of it. For a long time, I wrote book reviews and poetry reviews for The New York Times Book Review. I really like poetry, and I was in graduate school studying poetry, and I actually decided that it was unethical to write poetry reviews in The New York Times Book Review—not because anybody else shouldn’t, but because if you’re writing about any art form, you should be able to write negative and positive reviews. I personally felt that, since poetry is something that makes the people who are writing it zero money, it’s one person’s creation, and it goes out to a tiny audience, if you give even a mixed review on a huge platform like the New York Times, it’s like crushing a puppy. There is actually a quality of brutality to it that I felt emotionally uncomfortable with.
However, when I started getting interested in TV—and I can tell you specifically when I started getting interested in TV, because it was specifically about Buffy, it was completely Buffy-oriented—the difference was that TV is a mass art form made collaboratively for a mass audience, for tremendous amounts of money, that people look down on and grade on a curve. This is the way I justify writing criticism about it—negative things. It is a way of praising television, in a way. If you love television, expecting it to be good is a form of praise. While criticizing an individual television show might harm the creators of the show, hurt their feelings, upset them, bruise artists’ egos, and all that kind of thing, to me it actually is a way of engaging in television and saying that I love television to the point that I don’t expect it to be garbage—I actually expect it to be exciting and challenging and funny and original, to do new things with this form.
I'm not sure how I feel about that, but it's making me think. Also, she has a pretty great theory on who makes for the most interesting characters on TV:
When you talk [in interviews] about the shows that have been especially important to you, you always mention Buffy, My So-Called Life, and Freaks and Geeks. Do you think there’s anything to be said about the fact that these are all teen shows, or at least shows about teenagers?
Yes! I actually have this theory that I’ve never written up: that teenage girls and middle-aged men are the source of the best modern television. They’re both emotionally labile figures going through a period of identity formation. They’re angry and horny and they bridle at the dullness of social conformity. They’re unnerved by the way their bodies are changing. They feel like the world is ending.
She also covers how to respond to people who say "I don't even have a TV!" and offers a lot of helpful—and sometimes cynical—advice for young writers. Read the whole thing here.