In what’s been deemed a cost-cutting measure, three-decade veteran Todd McCarthy has been axed by Variety, the latest in a series of critic cappings that recall not so much an industry struggling to find its way in the era of New Media, but a mob movie montage of calculated extinguishings. The reaction from the critical community has been fairly harsh, if somewhat predictable, with Kim Voynar and others lashing out at the myopia of Variety‘s decision, not entirely without reason.
Still, can anyone legitimately claim this a surprise? It’s shocking merely in the way that the culmination of a grand, unsettling event is shocking — like a breakaway dunk in a big basketball upset. It’s an undisputed fact that arts journalism is a devalued brand, and criticism especially so. So Variety played the short money game, because previous cutbacks haven’t worked, and other bold strokes (executive bloodletting, a divestment of office space, and salary rollback) apparently weren’t on the table.
The harsh, bleed-like-me reality, though, is that McCarthy’s salary package was likely worth more than what nine out of 10 film critics make. And for those of a younger generation, film criticism seems to be trending toward a state of perpetual scramble, in which free agent-writers term-contract their services and trade on reputation and demi-celebrity, however dubious a distinction that is. It sucks, because it involves massive amounts of work that isn’t about the work. And yet someone sketch me a plausible macro-alternative.