Should Podcasts Be Reviewed?

“You shouldn’t review podcasts because no one gets paid for them.”

So say the embittered subjects of an Onion AV Club Podmass review, employing an argument that gets credit for novelty, if nothing else. The logic of this is that critics function as a kind of consumer watchdog, preventing people from wasting their money on substandard work. Since there’s no potential for wasted money, there’s no need for the watchdog.

All that is fine if the transaction between audience member and artist is considered in strictly financial terms, but that’s hardly the limit of our outlay when it comes to works of art. The crucial commodities we sacrifice to entertainment are our time and our attention. At this moment, I can listen to music, read a book, watch television, take in a play, read a blog or web page, go to the movies, watch a movie at home, listen to the radio, watch Youtube videos, or listen to a podcast. Each of those options comes with a cost. Read the book, skip the videos; listen to a podcast, forget the movie tonight. And since life is distressingly finite, we know there’s only so much of this material we’ll be able to get to in a lifetime, however well we maintain ourselves. It’s frustrating to think about how much we’re inevitably going to miss, really. Podcasts aren’t free. A minute of a podcast and a minute of The Godfather cost exactly the same: one minute.

And because the gatekeepers are vanishing from the production end of the arts (or seeing their power reduced, anyway), critics perform a valuable service, steering us toward worthwhile experiences and away from those that’ll make us regret, in our final moments, the time we spent on that. That’s why, and I’m saying this only partly because my own work is about to become available to print and online reviewers, I offer my cheers to the critics who wade through all the art, whether free or dear, to find the good stuff.

P.S. The author of the opening quote has no reason to feel so gloomy. Though he claims the negative review “seriously harmed” his career, I’m not sure it needed to. I’d never heard of him before this, and had he not taken to whining (never an attractive response), I might have checked out the show just to see if I agreed with the harsh assessment. Maybe I’d have disagreed and taken to the web to write a defense of the man’s work. Sometimes the best work is, after all, the work that starts a fight. In the end, his work was reviewed in an often read feature, a fate which, given the volume of material that passes unremarked in the world, makes him luckier than he thinks.

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