In his editorial in the current issue of Sight & Sound, Nick James considers recent developments in the world of film criticism. He explains that many newspapers have closed down their arts departments. Uncertainty surrounds the perceived influence of the internet. And several stalwarts of the UK critical establishment have, for various reasons, penned their final words in the last few months, with the result that there's a great deal of new blood around. In relation to this particular point, James writes
... if critics have become less important it is partly because of the climate of fear the lack of jobs creates. [Alexander] Walker [formerly of the Evening Standard], for instance, was often outrageous and unforgettable in his views. Hardly anyone risks their reputation that way now. And at the same time the civilised, educated, deep-textured world [recently retired Observer critic Philip] French represents seems to be drifting off towards some distant horizon.
Needless to say, these observations chimed with my own feelings about the world of perfume. I have no doubt we're still years away from a time when impartial fragrance reviews are a regular feature of mainstream media; I think most of us are resigned to that sad fact. But I'm aware that many of us net-based scentusiasts had hoped the internet would be the site where honest, independent voices could flourish and gain legitimacy. I'm now beginning to wonder if these hopes were unfounded. Yes, there's still plenty of excellent fragrance writing on the blogosphere, the audience for which appears to be growing. But the "climate of fear" alluded to by James seems to have affected the output of several online writers, to the extent that quite a few are unwilling to write about a scent in negative or extreme terms... presumably because they're worried about being struck off a brand's press list and not receiving freebies any more.
Of course, no-one is obliged to follow any rules on the net: the way things stand at the moment, everyone is within their rights to publish any text they see fit, even if this means acting as an extension of a brand's or a retailer's PR machine. Near-absolute freedom has always been both the internet's primary advantage and its main drawback. But the blogging landscape does appear to be shifting, so readers would be well advised to check out the credentials of any sites which claim they're 100% independent. It's now become more important than ever to surf the blogosphere with eyes wide open.