Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Be more critical of the content you consume

Being your own media critic saves your identity as a consumer
Lynus Erickson/ Daily Collegian (2019)

With overwhelming quantities of entertainment available, I’m worried we aren’t taking care to process any of it. According to statistics, 70 percent of Netflix users partake in binge-watching, with the service amassing 140 million hours of video streamed each day. TikTok, with its primary audience ranging from 19 to 29-year-olds, has users averaging around 68 minutes of usage per day in the United States.

Ninety percent of its users occasionally binge-watch this cyclone of content, with perfectly catered videos delivered to each individual. I am certainly not the arbiter of media consumption — I enjoy YouTube Shorts and awful Christmas romantic comedies a little too much — but I hope people still care about what they’re watching and who’s benefiting from their behavior. I don’t want our identity as consumers defined by our passive intake of content. Instead, I believe we must act as critics to shape our habits and the content that companies cater to us.

Why be a critic? To act snobby? To judge those who watch “inferior” entertainment? Not quite. There is no inherent superiority bound to critical thinking or evaluation, especially if one engages in an internal evaluation — a criticism read to oneself. According to Merriam-Webster, criticism is “the art of evaluating or analyzing works of art or literature.” A TikTok or YouTube Short deserves as much consideration as a work of “art or literature.” Regardless of how vapid the message is, the content is still saying something. I am not encouraging people to write essays each time they finish a movie or rate a TikTok with Roger Ebert-esque scrutiny. Still, I believe two questions should arise after finishing a piece of content: What did this say? And how do I feel?

My earlier focus on entertainment binges is vital because there is not enough time between each episode or TikTok to ask these two questions. After all, one does not pause when the hope of better content lies on the horizon. It is challenging to break the entertainment habits that are now so ingrained in us, and I’m not encouraging you to stop binging content. Rather, I hope these questions will change our approach to entertainment, focusing on our beliefs and happiness instead of the passive “washing over” of unengaging movies or banal TikTok’s.

After finishing a movie, ask yourself how you feel. Turning to your friend after finishing a movie and saying, “Well, that was good!” is not enough. Ask what kind of ideas it promoted. Think about the writing, the set design and the acting. Think. Have an engaged conversation about it with yourself or with others. Consult YouTube, watch a review, write a review, read a review (maybe from the Massachusetts Daily Collegian!) and be a critic.

After finishing a thirty-second TikTok, you don’t need to ponder like a philosopher, but try to ask what kind of ideas were just thrown at you and if you truly support them. And in the middle of an hour-long binge with sore eyes and cramped muscles, ask yourself, “How do I really feel?”

The idea of simply letting a piece of entertainment come and go like a disposable napkin hurts me. Without input from the consumers, content will not only get worse, but it will lull us into a paralysis where we have seemingly no choice but to take, watch, read or absorb garbage from companies that do not care about us or our input. Being a critic is our last stand against such uncaring content and is a distinctly human expression.

As algorithms get better and companies press their idea of what the future will look like, our humanity — as battered as it could be — must express itself. Some may argue that criticizing entertainment is a fruitless endeavor, a waste of time and grossly pedantic. It certainly may be to them, but I hope it isn’t to you. Engaging with our entertainment is an internal and societal benefit that questions not just what we do with our time but how we will shape our consumer identities as the content cyclone surges on.

Elliot Hajjaj can be reached at [email protected].

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