Death of the Critic


Written by: Tom Blaich

As this site moves forward and we begin to introduce more complex topics it will become useful for us to give a primer in some of the themes and ideas that we are talking about. We've done a little bit of this already, but we will be digging in a little deeper into the topics in question. Death of the Critic is, at its heart, a critical website where we try to take a deeper look at different aspects of media. From movies to games to music and more, we aim to enhance the discussion around media in order to deepen our knowledge and understanding.

Let’s talk about schools of theory. When we critique, frequently we do so through a specific lens. Works can have a lot of meaning hidden deep within them, and if we aimed to fully analyze a book, movie, or game, we could easily fill an entire book. So we use these schools of theory as a way to focus in on one particular area of a work. This helps us hone in on a specific idea and expand upon it more fully than if we had tried to do a very broad reading. By centering on one aspect, the analysis becomes more clear and focused.

The next step in the line of theory is Structuralism, which draws very heavily from the ideas of the New Critics. New Critics said that form is equal to function, and they meant form in the most literal sense. The actual way a work looks on the page. Structuralists took this idea and slightly modified it, looking at form in a more abstract sense. They want to examine the
structure that forms a work. And you can think of this structure like the building blocks of a piece. Themes, stereotypes, characters, and more. Our examinations of the Christ Figure and The Hero’s Journey would be used in a structuralist reading of a work.

They looked at texts almost like the sum total of a formula where if you could recognize all of the building blocks, you could have a perfect understanding of a work. In some cases this can be true; By understanding a Christ figure or a tragic hero, you can decipher a work that much easier. But this interpretation is in some ways reductive because it takes complex ideas and stories and reduces them down to simple themes in an effort to compare them.
Star Wars and Seven Samurai might have a lot in common, but that does not make them the same work.

This highly structured and formulaic reading ignores the crucial
X-factor that comes from the combination of these separate pieces into a cohesive work. These different permutations completely change the meaning in a way that one might miss by simply pointing out all of the structures and explaining them.

This school of thought faded rather quickly but its ideas stuck around as an evolution of New Criticism. It is hard to find a piece of criticism today that doesn’t somehow incorporate the analysis of literary structures in some ways, but now the focus has shifted to recognizing these structures and seeing how their use interacts with other themes in a text. Stereotypes are a powerful device, and they play a huge role in much of our modern criticism, but we now recognize that there a piece is greater than the sum of its individual parts.

Suggested Readings

The Structural Study of Myth - Claude Levi-Strauss
Syntactic Structures - Noam Chomsky
Critical Essays - Roland Barthes


Tom has been writing about media since he was a senior in high school. He likes long walks on the beach, dark liquor, and when characters reload guns in action movies.

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