Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Wine Critics, Movie Critics, Surgeons and Airline Pilots

Terry Post:

There are different types of experts.

There are those experts to whom the failure of their expertise results in a serious problems. A surgeon or airline pilot are examples of experts whose body of knowledge is accumulated over time and for whom misapplication results in dire consequences. Think about surgery gone wrong or an airplane crash.

There are also those experts to whom failure of their expertise is irrelevant or not visible for a period of years. A college admissions officer, a wine critic or a movie critic are examples of experts for whom misapplications are nearly impossible to measure. How, for instance, does one measure the impact of someone not admitted to college, a wine poorly selected or a panned movie. No one has died, to my knowledge, from drinking white wine with a rare steak despite warning from wine critics.

This came to mind today as the Washington Post’s “Style” section is covered with six stories about the chasm between the critic’s opinion of the movie, “Transformers 2” and the opinions of the ticket buying public. In case you slept through last weekend, the movie grossed over $215 million dollars in it’s five day opening AND the movie was widely and deeply panned by the movie critics of the Post and the Times.

Movie critics are a lot like wine critics are in that they are fundamentally un-serious activities. I mean, magazines like the Wine Spectator work really, really hard to make wine complicated so as to make their insights valuable to the wine buying public. They are as self-reinforcing as are lawyers.

Wine critic’s insights are often broad and easily replicated: like recommending that dry red wine with that rare steak. But even that is like saying that a couple on their first date would prefer a romantic comedy over an ax-wielding thriller: for that you don’t need much expertise.

Is Transformers 2 a good movie? Well, it is if you liked it.

So too with wine. If you like it, it is a good wine.

~ Terry

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