Ben Lyons




The decline of the mainstream media—a very good thing—is the real story behind an interesting L. A. Times article about Ben Lyons, a film critic on the syndicated TV show At the Movies. Critics and movie buffs alike both have nothing but contempt for the 27-year-old Lyons, son of former host and newspaper film critic Jeffrey Lyons.

Jeffrey Lyons was never any great thinker, or even a good one, but Ben Lyons makes him look like Samuel Johnson by comparison. The younger Lyons strikes the viewer as an ignoramus and a jackass, and the producers of At the Movies clearly made a horrendous mistake in hiring him.

Apparently they hoped to get frat boys and other Sports Center fans to watch the show, which only further confirms major stupidity on the producers of At the Movies.


The hiring of Lyons thus exemplifies the cluelessness of the mainstream media and their failure to connect with their audiences. Both of these are outcomes of decades of arrogance brought on by a lack of serious competition among the oligopolists who own the mainstream media outlets.

Instead of realizing this, however, the L. A. Times writer sees the Lyons hire as part of a huge, general "dumbing down" of society caused by the loss of brilliant gatekeepers such as Lyons’s father:

[All of this] would be of hardly any consequence were it not for the drastic transformation of film criticism. Long gone are the times when a vaunted single critic such as the New Yorker’s Pauline Kael could inject a film into the national consciousness with a single positive review. These days, moviegoers are just as apt to check a movie’s rating at Rotten Tomatoes, the popular movie-review aggregating website, as to read an actual review from a major news organization.

Worse, with readership plummeting, newspapers and magazines have had to drastically thin their ranks of critics. In recent months, the Chicago Tribune, New York Daily News, Newsweek, Newsday, the Village Voice and The Times, among other outlets, have let critics go. Meanwhile, movie marketing has never been more pervasive, and many studio summer blockbusters are now described as "critic proof," meaning that negative reviews do nothing to affect the box office.

In this light, Lyons’ ascension to the "throne" of televised film criticism has come to represent something more than just the changing of the guard—many view it as yet another example of the dumbing down of media and of celebrity triumphing over substance.

Personally, I’m delighted that the odious Ms. Kael and her demon spawn are no longer able to dominate the discussion of movies and other important subjects. Their hold over the American culture was uniformly deleterious.

If the alternative is that Ben Lyons will be hired to run At the Movies the rest of the way off of television while people make their choices from a wider variety of sources such as The American Culture, then I endorse that alternative enthusiastically.

—S. T. Karnick