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TRAIN OF THOUGHT

By Bob Eckstein Everyone’s a Critic

WHAT’S MORE FUN than being judgmental? As a species, we relish this activity so much that we’ve created an entire society based around large groups of opinionated people offering their input on just about everything. Take dating, for instance. If you’ve gone out lately, your date was likely chosen through an elaborate screening process on a dating site, perhaps Cupids for Cartoonists or Compromise, Already. Instead of sizing up just one person, you first judge hundreds in what amounts to a colossal beauty pageant for the unattached. Swiping left, swiping right, you scrutinize their attempts to look worldly, with their selfies at the foot of the Eiffel Tower or Machu Picchu. After you hold your own private Project Runway in front of your mirror, critically assessing your own appearance, you use an Uber to get to your date because you don’t have a car (please, don’t judge). During your ride you critique the driver’s small talk and driving skills. You make a mental note of every quick, jolting stop or missed turn, and at the end of the ride you give the trip a rating of one to five stars. Woe is the poor next passenger—after you leave only one star for the scary driving and strange smell in the car—who will have to deal with a very cranky driver. Before you can get to any of that, you need to select a movie for the evening. Oh, wait—first, you’ll need to choose the theater before you can even discuss the movie. TripAdvisor allows anyone with the slightest ax to grind to be a critic on anything, even movie theaters. “The floor was sticky. No stars.” Now we can consider the movie. Thanks to Rotten Tomatoes, you have scores of reviews to sift through and process. It will have to be a cinematic experience on par with Citizen Kane or you (and your date) will be tweeting throughout the movie how bad it is. Finding a late-night place for dinner should not be difficult. You spent four hours

that afternoon on Yelp, and you’ve narrowed it down to twelve choices. Being happy at any of them is a different story. You conduct yourself in the chosen establishment as if it is you who hands out Michelin stars. Years of watching reality shows like Top Chef have distorted your dining reality, and basically, you are now impossible to feed. The other day a waiter came over to my in-laws and asked, “Is ANYthing alright?” That’s to say nothing of the dinner conversation, as you compare your date’s every witty comment to seasoned comics on their third or fourth Netflix comedy special. Everyone’s a critic now. Can you imagine if our ancestors used TripAdvisor instead of just hopping on a ship over here? “Do we really want to try that place? It’s filled with our tired, our hungry, and our noisy.” Our founding fathers had no time for reviews. The Times didn’t pan the Donner Party (“Two thumbs down!”), telling pioneers there was nothing worth the price of admission out West.

Paul Revere didn’t ride the countryside announcing: “The risotto is runny! The risotto is runny!” Our country is overrun with critics, us. Why do we bitch and moan our whole life? Where does it get us? All the great critics, like Siskel and Ebert, Judith Crist, Joel Siegel, the two old men on the Muppets have gone to the great balcony in the sky, the tables finally reversed on them on Judgement Day. The ultimate thumbs up, thumbs down. But I guess that means even God is a bit judgy. * --- Cartoon by Danny Shanahan from Everyone’s a Critic © 2019 Bob Eckstein, published by Princeton Architectural Press. Reprinted with permission from the publisher. Bob Eckstein is a New York Times bestseller, New Yorker cartoonist and teaches at NYU. His new book is Everyone’s A Critic: The Ultimate Cartoon Book by the World’s Greatest Cartoonists.

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