The Amateur’s Advantage

Noah Berlatsky laments the way arguments and debate are often shut down by appeals to narrowly-defined expertise:

The problem with demanding a certain kind of knowledge or a certain kind of expertise in criticism … is that it can end up presupposing, or insisting upon, a certain kind of conversation. And often that seems like the point: expertise is used as an excuse to silence critics — and especially negative critics. Gamergate’s response to Anita Sarkeesian is the most obvious example, but you can see it in virtually any fandom. Folks who adore, say, Game of Thrones, are way more likely to have read all the books and seen all the episodes of Game of Thrones. People who dislike Game of Thrones are less likely to put in the time. How can you watch one episode of Game of Thrones and dismiss it? How can you read half of Maus and think that it’s boring and pompous? What gives you the right? Expertise becomes a quick, efficient way to shut down naysayers. Those who love video games, or Game of Thrones, or Wonder Woman are the only ones who can truly understand; the haters are, almost by definition, stupid.

And sometimes haters are in fact stupid, just as fans are sometimes stupid. But other times skeptical folks who don’t identify as fans can have interesting things to say despite, or maybe even because of, the fact that they’re outsiders.