During my time writing with 71 Republic, I’ve been called many things by my peers at school, by family members, and by people familiar with my writing. I’ve been complimented on giving solid social commentary and giving decent positions on psychological issues, which is nice. There’s one title, though, that I’ve gotten, that I want to disavow vehemently, and I never want to be associated — I never want to hear anybody ever call me a “cultural critic” ever again. The term is utterly useless, pointless, and a breeding pool for incredibly toxic virtue signaling. Here’s how.
The term cultural critic is a wide-spanning term that fits a lot of people under its tent, but a generally accepted definition is somebody who specializes in critiquing societal and cultural theory, sometimes on a rather radical scale. The tent is quite large, too, encompassing popular television personalities like Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, Ann Coulter, and the like — talk show hosts who point out perceived cultural and societal flaws and discusses how to get rid of them or improve upon them. Also among this group are the political commentators and writers like Nate Silver, Nick Gillespie, Ariana Huffington and the like; journalists that have a rather large sphere of internet influence and that draw a large amount of support, quite like the aforementioned television personalities.
From an intellectual point of view, they’re often harmless enough; most of the so-called television cultural critics generally load their discussion with a fair bit of bias (which doesn’t render the facts they cite their arguments with invalid, just as a rule of thumb) to try and reaffirm their viewer base and belief systems, which is standard human behaviour at best and mildly harmful at worst. Cultural critics like these people are incredibly influential in modern society and can inspire monumental acts of collective activism; take John Oliver’s fascinating battle against net neutrality, for example. People such as this aren’t problematic in it of themselves, but no matter their views they all fall under the same groups; social critic, social commentator, cultural critic, et cetera. The term is incredibly wide used; so wide used, as a matter of fact, that the term has lost the little bit of meaning it once had.
This is a problem. Tomi Lahren, in all of her hyper partisanship, faulty logic, and truth-bending, is best known by populist conservative groups as a cultural critic. Milo Yiannopoulos, who’s most defining trait is having the audacity to be conservative and gay, is an incredibly influential cultural critic. John Oliver, who’s arguments can almost all be boiled down to “But it’s the current year!” is an incredibly influential cultural critic. Even Filthy Frank, a fictitious Internet character made with the sole and express intent to offer shock humour, has been genuinely brought up on Internet discussion boards as a cultural critic.. There is a serious problem when Jordan Peterson, a clinical psychologist and published author, can be put under the same blanket as the plethora of armchair social analysts that plague the Internet at any given point in time. If Peterson is a cultural critic, and Dave the extremely outspoken and somehow oft-viewed liberal blogger at your high school is also a cultural critic, does the term really mean anything?
Anybody can call themselves a cultural critic, because the term is meaningless. Literally anybody who is capable of giving somewhat of an informed opinion on modern events can call themselves a cultural critic, and they wouldn’t be entirely wrong. The very concept of cultural criticism is something that should be undertaken by a majority of people participating in the culture they’re critiquing; it should not be something unique to massive personalities, because then the culture won’t really accurately reflect the ideas of the people in it. Assigning the title of cultural critic means nothing because almost everybody is capable of critiquing culture.
You could make the argument that people like Jordan Peterson, Jonathan Haidt, and other modern intellectuals are academic cultural critics and can be called that correctly, but the expertise they have and the ideas they espouse are from the academic backgrounds of established branches of studies like psychology, sociology, social engineering and social analysis, and what have you. Their cultural criticism is secondary to their actual professions and fields of expertise. Their social commentary is secondary to their work in academia. People who are known solely for cultural criticism can’t claim that. At best, the contemporary cultural critic is an informed, extroverted individual with a platform on which to espouse their ideas. At worst, and what is becoming more and more common, the contemporary cultural critic is an egomaniac anti-intellectual who uses logical inconsistencies and fallacies to push their agendas onto other people. I’m not that. I’m a journalist, a writer, and a proud student of academia, but I am not a cultural critic, and neither are you.