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Straw Critic

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"It stinks!"
Jay Sherman, The Critic

The Straw Critic is the bane of all living writers, performers, and other artists everywhere. He comes in two forms, both of which live to Accentuate the Negative:

  1. The caricature avant-garde lover who only likes True Art, which is, of course, angsty, foreign, incomprehensible, daring, political, and often repugnant or actively dangerous to the average audience member. He thinks less of you for liking whatever it is that you do like, and firmly believes that Viewers Are Morons. After all, if viewers weren't morons, they obviously wouldn't be watching Lowest Common Denominator crap!
  2. The caricature conservative who is incapable of understanding any True Art created by a living person, and judges it harshly based on its stubborn failure to be like the stuff he likes that was created over two hundred years ago.

Any character in fiction who is described as a well-known or influential critic, an editor, or as an English professor, is likely to be a Straw Critic as well as an insufferable snob.

A variant of the Straw Critic is the Straw Editor, who takes joy in rejecting perfectly good story submissions, demanding ridiculous changes, and otherwise has no purpose in life other than to make the writer's Author Avatar miserable.

Critics and editors often attract the ire of writers, because it's their job to tell people when stories suck. Needless to say, "Your story sucks" is not something most writers want to hear, which sometimes leads to a writer becoming a bit bitter and filling their stories with subtle and not-so-subtle jabs at the editors and critics who are too closed-minded to appreciate them properly. Frequently involved in a Take That, Critics! moment.

Can occasionally be a case of Truth in Television, since some critics have been known to make pronouncements about media which they haven't even seen firsthand. But this rarely happens so spectacularly as in fiction.

As with other tropes in The War on Straw, please refrain from adding Truth in Television examples, as there is a very thin line between an actual Straw Critic and a troper attempting to portray a critic they don't like as one.

Subtrope of Write Who You Hate. See also Reviewer Stock Phrases. Compare Bias Steamroller, Fan Dumb, Unpleasable Fanbase, Caustic Critic, and Fan Hater.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • Noboru Yamaguchi of Cromartie High School describes himself as an expert of comedy, despising vulgar, sophomoric jokes that are made and being critical to successful acts of comedy. The latter includes hiring a ventriloquist as a new right-hand man, finding out what makes the in-show Pootan so popular, and admiring his rival 'Honey Boy' (Takashi Kamiyama) for a sense of humor Yamaguchi has yet to surpass.
  • Bakuman。 has an arc with a new editor, Miura, who has a passion for gag manga that he tries to force onto the protagonists. After a lot of argument he and the protagonists find a compromise, getting into a style that the protagonists prefer, but with much more humour. His approach is partially influenced by his believing that gag manga generally do better and, being a new editor, needing to edit a successful series in order to keep his job.

    Comic Books 
  • The Sandman (1989): In the story "Calliope," one of the many story ideas Ric Madoc devises after he is cursed with "ideas in abundance" by the Sandman, in a case of Be Careful What You Wish For involves "the fraternity of critics": "In reality a dark brethren, linked by profane rites and blood vows. To destroy an author they sacrifice a child and perform a critical mass..."
  • Superman: J. Michael Straczynski's Superman: Grounded had an entire slew of straw critics in the form of reporters asking Superman a series of (perfectly reasonable) questions about why he randomly decided to walk across America. Not only does this attempt completely fail to recognize the in-universe hypocrisy (Clark Kent is a reporter) but it also foreshadowed that we'd get a series where basic logic is ignored (even though the story is supposed to take place in a more realistic depiction of America) in favor of Superman being a dick.
  • Viz: The strip "The Critics" is about a pair of stereotypical avant garde art critics who despise anything vaguely accessible to people outside the avant garde clique, love anything "shocking", and see themselves as politically revolutionary while being ludicrously intellectually-snobbish and class-prejudiced.

    Films — Animated 
  • Ratatouille features Anton Ego, an antagonistic restaurant critic who doesn't seem to care much about his journalistic ethics, as he publicly discloses his identity and tells restaurants ahead of time that he's giving them a bad review. In the end he proves to have Hidden Depths, but this is communicated via a monologue about how critics are inherently inferior to artists (though the monologue also makes a valid point that criticism is a craft to itself, and one reason for why a lot of it is negative is because it's entertaining to write and entertaining to read)

    Films — Live-Action 
  • One character in Lady in the Water is a movie critic whose primary traits are that he is very Genre Savvy and is extremely jaded. He sometimes gives advice to the other characters, but he eventually suffers from Death by Genre Savviness. It's worth mentioning that the director M. Night Shyamalan's most recent movie at the time, The Village (2004), had been his first film since he first got popular to not be generally well-received, and to receive a number of very negative reviews. This was something which did not go unnoticed or unremarked upon by many of the real-life critics who reviewed the movie. Roger Ebert found that, in fact, the Straw Critic got off easy.
  • History of the World Part I has The First Artist in the Prehistoric segment painstakingly paint an animal on the cave wall. He is followed by "the inevitable afterbirth, the First Critic," who pisses on the First Artist's painting.
  • In The Raven (2012), the killer's first victim is a literary critic who had bashed Edgar Allan Poe's work, and had been killed with a contraption from "The Pit and the Pendulum", which leads the Baltimore police to call on Poe himself to help solve the crime.
  • In Theatre of Blood, Vincent Price plays a Shakespearean actor who kills the critics who had panned him. While dueling with one (the only one who makes it to the end of the film), he delivers an Author Tract lashing out at critics.
  • Subverted in the Tony Hancock film The Rebel where George Sander's art critic Sir Charles Broward is portrayed as being the only one to recognise that Hancock's work is actually rubbish and that Paul Massie is the real genius.
  • In Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), Tabitha Dickenson is this. The New York Times' theater critic, she vows to Riggan Thomson that she will destroy his play, simply because he's a washed-up Hollywood actor who's going to fail to achieve "real art." He, in return, delivers a much-needed smackdown to her, chewing out her usage of labels without risking everything like he's doing.
    Riggan: There's nothing here about technique! There's nothing in here about structure! There's nothing in here about intentions! It's just a bunch of crappy opinions, backed up by even crappier comparisons. You write a couple of paragraphs and you know what? None of this cost you fuckin' anything! The fuck! You risk nothing! Nothing! Nothing! Nothing! Well I'm a fucking actor! This play cost me everything.
  • Just as The Cinema Snob was made to collectively mock snobby film critics through the titular character, The Cinema Snob Movie continues the trend by representing the various faces and ideals of the High-Brow, mainstream film critic community through the Film Club, almost to the point of being self-aware. The various film snobs give off an air of cultured superiority, enjoying fine wine and witty banter and valuing symbolism over entertainment value, while each acting out their own perversions in their off time. The collective Establishing Character Moment involves the group viewing ''Being John Malkovich', pausing it to discuss whenever something symbolic happens, only for John Doe to yell out "pause" before they even start the movie.
    • The Film Club's leader Dan Philips represents the Caustic Critic. He not only denies Craig and Neil funding for their film on its premise alone, but when he finds out that Vlad - one of his lead actors - agreed to be in their movie, he not only offered him a bigger role, but he also points out to them that he will deny them the proper permits to film in town out of spite.
    • John Doe represents those who are too generous in their criticism. Was once a mainstream film critic that gave 5 Stars to every movie he sees, thinking about how "generous" it was that they tried to entertain, only to get fired after approving of The Omega Code. Now, he is a member of the club.
  • Merlin's Shop of Mystical Wonders features a particularly obnoxious one in Jonathan Cooper (The Third), a suburban newspaper columnist with a ridiculously high opinion of himself; in one scene, he boasts about his ability to "chew places like this up and spit them into the toilet!" He threatens to close Merlin's magic shop if he can't prove his magical powers to Jonathan's satisfaction, resulting in Merlin gifting him a book of spells that quickly ruins his life...not that most viewers will sympathize with him.

  • Piers Anthony wrote a short story, "Nonent", which he included in a short story collection called "Alien Plot" that consisted of stories of his that he had tried and failed to publish elsewhere. In "Nonent", an alien comes up with a plan to destroy humanity. The alien is going to do this by shutting down printed fiction so that everyone will turn into TV-watching degenerate zombies and destroy themselves. Earth has too many publishing houses to destroy directly, but he finds a weakness - they accept and evaluate unsolicited submissions. He writes a short story that will cause anyone who reads the beginning it to be compelled to finish (unless they're already a degenerate zombie), and the last page contains a picture that will drive anyone who sees it insane. The story ends with the alien receiving a pile of rejection letters. The reason the plot failed is left unstated. Not one editor finished reading the story!
    • As anvilicious as that is, it may have some small basis in reality. In talking about his career, Anthony said that he used to do detailed, extensive write-ups for stories, all of which were rejected. When he started submitting small blurbs that basically communicated nothing more than the general idea of what he wanted to write, he got approved. Which doesn't make the story any less strawmannish, really, but hey, write what you know.
    • The opening chapter of Currant Events had an evil version of Clio, Muse of History parroting frequent complaints about the Xanth series. (The real Clio responds to this by basically saying "Yeah? So What?")
  • Even Voltaire gets into this in his novel Candide. In the later chapters there's Count Pococurante who owns an extensive library of great literature. But he's incapable of enjoying anything and ruthlessly critiques all of it. The character also counts as Self-Parody- all of his literary opinions are those of Voltaire himself, who also a pretty snarky guy- but the character takes it to insufferable levels.
  • Robert A. Heinlein's The Number of the Beast has a "Critics' Lounge" where literary critics are trapped. Lazarus Long is sure that it will get rid of his problem with critics because in order to escape, you must be able to read plain text without distorting or "interpreting" the meaning, which he implies that critics cannot do.
    • Although he does mention that the lounge is only intended for the worst critics — simple book reviewers and suchlike aren't even given an invitation to go in there. So this may avert the trope in that "critic" is being used as a referent for "reviewer with an agenda", as opposed to the more standard definition of "someone who comments on a creative work".
  • Mikhail Bulgakov's The Master and Margarita featured some of those, based on the real critics he had to put up with (as well as literary bureaucrats and so on). He then had a witch utterly trash the apartment of one of them.
  • The last page or so of Macdonald Hall Goes Hollywood describes a film critic who hasn't liked a single thing he's ever seen in his whole life... until he happens to watch the video tape made by one of the characters that happened to capture all of the crazy events that took place during the novel. Which the critic, of course, immediately declares to be brilliant.
  • Dean Koontz's Relentless has as its villain a hack of a literary critic who disdains works that aren't deconstructionist and postmodern, locking on to the main character because he writes stuff that's conventional. Not only that, but he's part of a murderous cabal that's literally out to restructure cultural standards through low-key terrorism.
  • In the third novel of the Babylon 5 Psi-Corps trilogy, a fugitive Bester makes a career of this as a literary critic who never gives a positive review (A typical review: The plot is revealed on a need-to-know basis. You don't need to know). He actually has a small crisis of professional ethics when he picks a book to review that he actually ends up enjoying.

    Live-Action TV 
  • A Bit of Fry and Laurie had a recurring set of critic characters, although they were more of the academic, literary-analysis type. One of them (the one that Hugh Laurie played) said that he had written a book of his wise sayings, but it had been critically lambasted. "But what do critics know of the work we do?" he wonders.
    • This is a very particular Author Tract — both Fry and Laurie have talked about why they can't stand real-life Caustic Critics, including the actual mannerisms they use in the sketches — affected "tiredness" is one of the things Fry has mentioned specifically, and it's taken to an extreme in the sketches, where the critic characters slump down further and further each time they appear and end up sprawled on the floor eating ice cream, so exhausted are they are by the sheer mediocrity of whatever it is they're criticizing.
  • Statler and Waldorf, on The Muppet Show, who appear in the "audience" and only exist to heckle Kermit and the rest of the Muppets. In a subversion, though, they are generally shown as being sharp-witted and incisive; usually they come off as the show being self-deprecating, rather than making a straw man out of their critics.
    • Sam the Eagle occasionally took on aspects of the True Art breed of straw critic. The laughs at his expense usually derived from his complete ignorance of the subject in question (he thought Shakespeare wrote Robin Hood) or by having a classically trained guest star (Rudolf Nureyev, Beverly Sills) cheerfully joining in on the show's usual silliness to Sam's chagrin.
    • In a more recent internet video Sam tries to sing American Woman (hazarding that it was written by, "I don't know...John Philip Sousa?"), only to discover that it is not, as he believed, a ballad in praise of Lady Liberty, at which point he starts getting into this on patriotic grounds. But what really gets his hackles up is that the Guess Who are Canadian.
  • The Monk episode "Mr. Monk and the Critic" featured a theater critic who reviewed a play Julie Teeger was in. He generally praised the play but singled out Julie's performance as "forgettable." It turned out that he hadn't even been there during that number, meaning that he wrote the scathing comment based on a wild guess. Oh, and he also killed the woman he was cheating on his fiancée with, and had only attended the play in the first place as an alibi.
  • The episode of Caroline in the City where Richard takes advantage of his death being accidentally reported featured one of these as the "antagonist". His money quote: "Struggling artists are struggling for a reason: they're bad!"
  • Averted in Extras. Andy's show, When the Whistle Blows, is unanimously and viciously panned by critics, and both we and Andy know they're right.
  • The Mary Tyler Moore Show episode "The Critic" featured a critic who was hired by WJM to provide commentary. The only work of art he professed liking was an obscure Ukrainian documentary called "Blood on a Dog's Face." He not only hated most movies, food and theater, but decided to use his airtime to bash Minneapolis and the newsroom staff. His eloquent comeuppance:a pie in the face from Ted.
  • Those Two Guys on The Sean Cullen Show, who were a pair of guys in the audience who overanalyzed everything and complained about continuity.
  • The Weird Al Show featured parodies of Siskel and Ebert, who in real life had given UHF a negative review. Somewhat averted as they aren't portrayed as exclusively stupid or negative people.
  • In the episode "Hollywood Babylon" of Supernatural, Brad Redding a network executive for a horror movie gives notes and critiques of the movie which could also be applied to Supernatural.
  • The Twilight Zone (1985): "Misfortune Cookie" features an unsually cruel food critic who gives a new Chinese restaurant in his city a savage (and racist) review despite not even having eaten there yet. The episode ends with him dead and condemned to an Ironic Hell version of the restaurant where he is cursed with a ravenous hunger that can't be sated no matter how much he eats.
  • The Murder, She Wrote episode "Deadpan" features one harsh-but-mostly-fair no-nonsense critic, and his rival, who uses pseudo-intellecutalism to trash everything, but completely misses Jessica's Moliere quote. He turns out to be the murderer, and his last line is complaining that the Engineered Public Confession is such a cliche.

  • This is the entire point of the Toby Keith song The Critic.

    Newspaper Comics 
  • Parodied/Exaggerated in a few Dilbert strips where Dogbert becomes a Straw Editor just so he can get paid to insult people and their stories.
    Dogbert: Hmm...remove the murder, and change the protagonist to a purple dinosaur.
    Writer: But it's a murder mystery!
    Dogbert: Oh yeah, that's original.

  • In Gian-Carlo Menotti's opera Maria Golovin is the character Dr. Zuckertanz, who scoffs at the sentimental duets that the mother keeps, insulting nineteenth-century Romantic music that Menotti himself was fond of emulating, asking "must music only be sweet?" Then he sings an Italian duet written in precisely that style.
  • The Stephen Sondheim musical Merrily We Roll Along features a Broadway producer who dismisses a certain song as not having "a tune you can hum," which Sondheim himself has heard once or twice during his career. The song, revised with a new lyric and accompaniment, becomes a chart-topping success; indeed, the same producer is caught humming along to it.
  • The bout of Volleying Insults in Waiting for Godot, which is won decisively with the ultimate epithet: "Crrritic!"
  • Richard Wagner's Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg has Beckmesser, a talentless Small Name, Big Ego who takes Walther's first song to task for all sorts of offenses against form. When he tries to do better, he fails epically and hilarity ensues. Loosely based on Eduard Hanslick, a fierce critic from Vienna, who hated Wagner.
  • A stylish (as if we expect any less) example from Oscar Wilde, The Importance of Being Earnest:
    Algernon: The truth is rarely pure and never simple. Modern life would be very tedious if it were either, and modern literature a complete impossibility.
    Jack: That wouldn't be at all a bad thing.
    Algernon: Literary criticism is not your forte, my dear fellow. Don't try it. You should leave that to people who haven't been at a University. They do it so well in the daily papers.
  • The Molière play The School for Wives Criticized is Exactly What It Says on the Tin; a short play about his previous play, The School for Wives, in which fans of the play enter into a discussion with people who didn't like it. The fans are of course intelligent, witty people, while the critics are pompous assholes who disliked the play because they were the targets of its satire or saw vulgarity everywhere.
  • The Real Inspector Hound features two critics, Moon & Birdboot. Moon is an incredibly anally retentive over-analytical type who insists on comparing the play they are watching (basically a sub-Christie type play) to the works of Sartre whilst Birdboot is a Dirty Old Man who gives high praise to any actress he fancies seducing.

    Video Games 
  • Psychonauts has Jasper Rolls, a critic boss character who was the absurd epitome of this trope; an ugly, obese, snobbish man who has many jokes at his expense and who literally hurls cliched derogatory adjectives like "tedious" and "monotonous" etc. whilst you battle him. This gets even more interesting when you remember that the battle takes place in the mindscape of demented former actress Gloria van Gouton, whose insanity is partially due to the harsh mockery of critics when her acts started to fall apart after she found out that her mother had committed suicide. Jasper is a manifestation of their criticism combined with Gloria's own insecurities and self-doubt. In a bit of a Fridge Brilliant subversion to this trope, Jasper doesn't die after you defeat him—he just shrinks from his previously huge size. Having an inner (or outer) critic isn't bad in and of itself (without it, we wouldn't feel the need to improve ourselves)- but if it grows too harsh or too negative (like in Gloria's case), it can become a problem.


    Web Original 
  • Jackie Harvey from The Onion is a massive inversion. It's hard to find a movie he doesn't absolutely love.

    Web Video 
  • The entire purpose of The Cinema Snob is to lampoon movie critics who hate any film that isn't meant to be a pure work of art. This is made even more brilliant when you know that the real Brad Jones actually likes most of the schlock and smut he reviews. Jones will sometimes even use the character to examine the line between "high" and "low" art- the review for the film Salo, points out that the movie does all the same shocking, tasteless things you'd expect to see in a low-budget exploitation film but frames it in such a way that it appears high class. As a result, the Cinema Snob character continuously praises the film, even though he can barely watch it and the content makes him physically sick.
  • Spoony joins in on the fun in the short lived MST'ish show, It Came From Beyond Midnight. At the end, the hosts would invite Leslie Striker, a insufferable critic that was let on the show due to a debt owed by the host. He will typically nag on the low quality of the show, point out the plot holes, and insult the intelligence of the hosts for good measure. The bit tends to end in him doing something related to the movie (like getting a death threat from ants) followed by the hosts questioning why they keep bringing him on the show. The character itself was a Take That! towards then-WWE color commentator Matt Striker.
  • Funny or Die: Alfred Molina as Arthur H. Cartwright, children's theater critic.
  • The Nostalgia Critic gives us the appropriately-named Douchy McNitpick: a basement-dwelling scraggly haired overly-obsessive "fan" who lives to point out every single little mundane mistake the Critic has ever made, still lives with his mother, and has an unhealthy interest in the Green M&M. He basically exists as both a framing device for the Critic's top 11 mistakes videos as well as to be a mostly tongue-in-cheek take-that.
  • Bob Chipman discussed this trope in episodes of In Bob We Trust and The Big Picture, specifically its more modern incarnation of online video critics who specialize in lengthy, pedantic, blisteringly angry hot takes on movies, games, and TV shows that they don't like. He feels that, while some of these folks are good (specifically citing The Angry Video Game Nerd, The Nostalgia Critic, and Zero Punctuation as Caustic Critic shows that he's a fan of), most of them are contributing to a coarsening of the discourse surrounding criticism as a whole, and fueling stereotypes of critics as people who can never be pleased, look for any excuse to bash a work, overly prioritize plot mechanics and structure at the expense of theme, aesthetic, and impact, and take their subjective opinions to be objective fact — stereotypes that many critics proceed to internalize themselves. He created a web series of his own called Really That Good to serve as a Spiritual Antithesis to this style, analyzing movies that, while popular, he thinks deserve recognition as legitimate classics as opposed to pieces of pop art that are kept alive because everybody just "knows" that they're good, and for the longest time he resisted doing a "Really That Bad" episode (until his sheer hatred of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice finally convinced him otherwise in order to get it out of his system) because he wanted to avoid what he saw as just joyless negativity that would contribute little. This was also why, for 2019, he opted not to make a list of the worst movies of the year like he had done in the past, instead simply making a "best of 2019" list and a list of what he felt were the defining films of the 2010s, as he felt that there was already too much angry ranting on the internet.

    Western Animation 
  • Jay Sherman, the main character of The Critic, is a film critic who hates almost everything he reviews. However, the movies he bashes really are horrible; the amount of sympathy the audience is expected to feel for him varies from episode to episode.
  • The conclusion of The Beatles cartoon "Tell Me Why" has a donkey eating one of the boys' guitars. George quips, "Eight million mules in Spain and we had to get one that's a music critic." (This was back in 1965, when they were seen by media critics in general as another band churning out disposable pop.)
  • The ironically named Zesty Gourmand of My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic was a food critic who somehow managed to get almost every restaurant in Canterlot to serve bland and stereotypically tiny food dishes even though no one else seemed to like eating them. While she is often compared to Anton Ego by the fanbase, her characterization is considerably weaker and she doesn't even try the restaurant's more unique food at the end of the episode, even going as so far as to complain that ponies were eating there when it didn't have her coveted "three hoof" rating.


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): Straw Editor


Modern Movie Cynics

As Andy puts it, Modern Movie Cynics Through Time And Space!! does less to analyze the faults in a movie or even riff them and is more of a "checklist for nitpickers."

How well does it match the trope?

4.67 (3 votes)

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