By concentrating on Kael’s fortuitous career path and her slangy wordplay, reviewers ignore her critical philosophy. “The new tendency is to write appreciatively at the highest possible pitch, as if the reviewer had no scale of values but only a hearsay knowledge of the peaks,” she wrote. “And everything he likes becomes a new peak.” Unafraid of the status quo, Kael called out the prevailing dangers: “[Film] executives don’t understand what criticism is; they want it to be an extension of their advertising departments. They want moviegoers to be uninformed and without memory, so they can be happy consumers.”
More than 40 years later, those words still define where we as journalists stand, what we should be wary of, and the principles that make a “contrarian” journalist a heroine.