I Take Umbrage at You Doing Your Job, Cont.

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A reader offers the following on fans crying "lack of respect" for their favorite sports team:


I think the highest form of this mentality is "I bet you've never played a down of fottball in your life" and various versions of the same. It's especially bad in discussions of MMA. 

Fan 1: Brock Lesnar rulez 

Fan 2: I think Lesnar is a great athlete, but he is unproven. 

Fan 1: I bet you never fought in your life you have no clue what you're talking about 

And so on. It's a conversation-stopper of the same form as the often-legitimate "you're not [race/gender/class/ethnicity], you can't understand," except that it is almost always used by people who have also never coached in the NFL, fought Brock Lesnar, or tried to stop Alexander Ovechkin. 

It's also the same argument as "you can't criticize the war, my brother is a Marine." Of course, the rule that one cannot have a worthwhile view of something they have not done personally is almost never used in a political argument, unless it involves soldiers or cops.

I'd say it's a different strain of the "respect" argument, and extends from the idea that those who can't do, critique. There is some truth to this. I think fully half of the talking heads in the politics biz are people who should be running losing campaigns, not reporting on them. But in fact, "criticism" and "doing" are two different skills, and the ability to do one says almost nothing about one's ability to do the other.

Just as there is bad art, there's bad criticism. And great criticism is an art unto itself. This line from Anthony Lane always sticks with me:

We have, it is clear, reached the lively dead end of a process that was initiated by a fretful Martin Scorsese and inflamed, with less embarrassed glee, by Tarantino: the process of knowing everything about violence and nothing about suffering.

I thought that line reflected so much, not just about film, but about the world. Criticism is an art, and reporting is a trade. (The difference may well be mere semantics.) Some people are good at it. Other people suck. But, in most cases, they don't suck because they've never plied the trade their critiquing. (Matt Millen played football, but sucked at evaluating talent.) They suck because they're bad critics.
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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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