Ethics of self-media literary and art criticism

By Zheng Wanling, Chai Dongdong / 02-20-2024 / Chinese Social Sciences Today

A man is live-streaming. Photo: TUCHONG

Since the beginning the 21st century, there has been a surge of literature and art powered by new media, such as internet literature, digital cinema, computer animation, short video, and AI-generated content. This has given rise to a new wave of media literary and art criticism, in which self-media criticism is an emerging force. This form of criticism is typically found on online platforms such WeChat, Weibo, Baidu Tieba, Bilibili, and TikTok.

Characteristics of self-media criticism

The main characteristics of self-media literary and art criticism are integration, interactivity, evaluation, and cultural nature.

First, self-media enables the integration of both elite and popular criticism. Multimedia criticism is formed through the integration of different media such as text, image, and sound. Second, self-media criticism involves dialogues between the audience and the author, between authors, and among the audience. Third, the systematic and theoretical nature of traditional academic criticism is absent in self-media criticism. The latter is marked by subjective discourse, superficiality, and fragmentation due to the segmentation of critics, the popularization of criticism and its tendency to entertain. Fourth, self-media criticism is no longer limited to academic reflection.

Traditional literary and art criticism aims to arrive at a collective, public, and unified interpretation of literature and art. In contrast, self-media criticism diversifies literary and artistic interpretation through heterogeneous subjects and the integration of criticism, consumption, entertainment, capital, and other elements. It may cause ethical anomie when harmful values interfere in criticism.

Ethics of self-media criticism

The ethical issues involved in literary and art criticism include the ethical context in which critics are situated, their notions of ethics, ethical interpretation by recipients, and the interaction between the texts being evaluated and social ethics. The ethical attributes of literary and art criticism dictate that self-media criticism should follow specific norms, principles, and guidelines in the production process.

The ethics of self-media criticism consists of aesthetic, cultural, political, media, and production levels, among others. Aesthetic, cultural, and political ethics apply respectively to self-media criticism as aesthetic, cultural, and discursive production. Media ethics applies to the process of information dissemination, since self-media criticism can serve to disseminate information through new media. Production ethics applies to self-media criticism as a form of artistic production.

Given the complex composition of the subjects of self-media literary and art criticism, it is necessary to adopt a dynamic way of thinking that stresses connectivity and negotiation when considering the relationship between different subjects. The views of multiple parties should be accommodated to achieve harmonious dialogues. It is equally important to develop strategies for addressing ethical anomie in literary and art criticism by critically refer to the development mechanism of the internet, media ethics, cultural ethics, aesthetic ethics, and codes of professional conduct.

Self-media literary and art criticism must adhere to certain standards and boundaries. First, criticism should be responsible, recognizing the significance of “good” for criticism and the impact of criticism on works, authors, and society, while resisting profit-seeking and malicious criticism. Second, criticism should emphasize taste, recognizing the value of auditory, visual, and linguistic beauty for conveying critical discourse, illuminating works, and consoling people. Third, criticism should be facts-based, recognizing the significance of “truth” for reasonable, objective, and fair criticism, while resisting false and fawning criticism.

In addition to critics, the field of criticism, recipients, and the texts being evaluated should also be subject to a certain level of regulation in order to ensure healthy self-media criticism. Firstly, we need to establish self-media ethical supervision and feedback mechanisms, while enhancing ethical self-discipline of self-media content producers, communicators, and consumers through technological and institutional means. Secondly, we should encourage the public to take part in the development of internet morality, making public scrutiny a regular approach to reconstructing the ethical order of self-media culture. Thirdly, education on self-media security and ethics should be promoted. Lastly, we need to build a distinctive Chinese system of ethical concepts, norms, and evaluation for self-media literary and art criticism by selectively learning from both Chinese and Western ethical theories and considering the reality of China’s media culture.

Zheng Wanling is a lecturer in the School of Humanities at Huzhou University. Chai Dongdong is an associate professor in the School of Cultural Creativity and Media at Hangzhou Normal University.