What We Mean When We Critique

There’s a certain show that recently showed up on an OTT platform—but it’s best to not talk about it here since there’s been much talk about it already, and then much talk about the much talk about it, so we’ll steer clear of the show for now—but the conversations the show caused bring to mind several questions that it might be a good idea to address here, chief amongst which is what it is that we mean when we critique.

It has been said of critiques that they are too harsh and that nothing anyone does will ever be good enough. It is perhaps important noting here that this is quite possibly true, and still not a good reason to not critique.

A critique of something doesn’t imply that the thing in question is complete garbage (although it sometimes is), but that there are things the piece does wrong that it could do better, which it won’t do better unless one points it out and holds it to a higher standard.

It has also been said of critiques and the people who make them that they are hypocrites who embody the very things that they claim to critique. Again, yes, quite possibly true. However, embodying a problematic behaviour/idea/position doesn’t render the critique of such a thing any less valid. It’s not an excuse to let something problematic continue to exist unchecked but a sign that we need to look more deeply into how embedded systemic oppressions are and the implicit/explicit ways in which we contribute to these.

It has been said in response to critiques that “this is just how things are, so why are you complaining?” and this is perhaps the easiest to refute, so I’ve left it for the very end.

In some cases, this response is simply untrue/factually inaccurate, such as when it’s used in defence of instances where dangerous stereotypes are used to replace actual complex reality. In other cases, this distinction is essential to remember: a critique doesn’t imply that the thing in question does not happen but that the way in which it is represented is causing further damage in an already oppressive society.

The contention of the critique in such (most) cases is with the representation (and inherent lens) and what impact that has on reality, and not so much the denial of this reality—something that’s often clear enough if one is actually reading the critique.

A holistic picture of how one engages with a work will always be a culmination of several competing and interacting factors that make it possible for the work to exist and be accessed: one’s own social position (how equipped are we to comment on the experiences/narratives the piece in question tackles?), the position of the individuals involved in the making of the product (some of which being: whose narratives are being told and do the makers have a right to/an understanding of these narratives?), the effect the product has on the society in which it is introduced, among others, but critiques are how we learn and do better as a society. It is how we are able to appreciate what’s done well and what needs to be done better. It is how we take stock and how we hold people accountable.

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Anushka Jadhav, cofounder of No Country for Women, is an Educator and Artist who does workshops on Gender, Sex and Sexuality in school and colleges around the country for various stakeholders. She does the programming for the Zine Bazaar and helps design, curate and organize Gaysi Family's on-ground workshops and talks.
Anushka Jadhav

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