What happened to Armond White

Stephen Kearse has written a great profile on film critic Armond White over at Hazlitt:

What tarnishes White’s appeal is how calcified his expertise has become. No longer even nominally engaged with larger discourses, he writes with an embittered detachment, scoffing at an anonymous conglomerate of lesser writers and thinkers. White was always adversarial, but in his old columns, his rivals were named: Stanley Crouch, Greg Tate, Robert Christgau, Ann Powers—virtually anyone who ever wrote for the Village Voice. His tone was just as sardonic as it is now, but there was an air of community to all these callouts, a sense that he, and all critics, were participating in a grand commitment to art that necessitated disagreement and dialogue. White’s current reviews have no sense of any conversations beyond the ones in his own head. “Hollywood movies have become television at just the point when media shills are spreading the fake news that we’re experiencing a ‘new golden age’ of TV,” he writes emptily in his review of Baywatch, the shills, the movies, and the television shows unnamed. “Kong: Skull Island and Contemporary Color coexist because Millennial culture is at odds with itself,” he writes of those two movies, citing a mysterious conflict within a demographic group that no one can accurately define. Critics are expected to make loaded comparisons and to use their own inclinations as a wellspring for new perspectives, but since his expulsion from the NYFCC, White’s oppositional writing style has struggled. He brings the gusto of his past work, but he writes against criticism that doesn’t actually appear to exist, the silliest resistance. […]

Ultimately, the world doesn’t need Armond White, but it’s a shame that he’s slipped away. He wasn’t initially a contrarian or a hack or a troll; he was a gay black man with the audacity to demand that movies not be condescending and escapist and patronizing to the people that loved them, that needed them. He believed in black art and art in general and fought, sometimes pettily, sometimes harshly, for it to be appreciated seriously. He sneered at goofy shit like consensus and Tomatometers and Stanley Crouch because they had nothing to do with criticism. Criticism was arguments, confrontation, politics, enlightenment, resistance. But that’s who he was, back when he had colleagues, back when he listened, back when the NYFCC was accountable to him, and he to it, back when he was a journalist and not a blowhard. Now he’s just a joke. And even worse, he’s the most unfunny kind: the kind that used to rock you to your core, but now just confounds you, broken synapses firing into the void.

This profile links to an interview I conducted with White after the NYFCC controversy. I was honored to have the opportunity to have White on the Slashfilm podcast multiple times, including our review of Inception (and its After Dark), our review of 12 Years a Slave, and our review of Real Steel.

We always got lots of flak for every one of these appearances. Here’s one example of such criticism, emailed in by one of our listeners after the 12 Years a Slave episode:

Armond White is a troll and I really did not enjoy listening to him on the latest episode of the podcast. Not only is he a troll, but a classic troll. When confronted with any of your arguments against his points, he almost always deflected the question and either changed the subject or nit picked at your question/choice of words.

Another tactic that grew wearisome was his referencing older films that he can assume you have not seen and therefore remain unable to engaged him in a conversation about. And calling Steve McQueen’s film an “art thing?” It’s just juvenile.

Also, by his definition, any film that shows characters to struggle or to face tough odds would be considered “tourture porn.” I wonder if he would consider All is Lost to be “tourture porn?”

When I was younger, folks like Armond used to infuriate me. “Who dares besmirch the perfect RottenTomatoes score of Toy Story 3! Clearly not someone who had any good taste!” my logic went.

But as I grew older, I started appreciating folks like Armond White more and more. In a sea of “yes,” he dared to be a “no.” What drove him? Was it just the desire to be a troll or did he legitimately buy what he was selling?

Ultimately the reason I invited White on the podcast was because I wanted to see if there was any “there” there. And for awhile, I believed in the purity of Armond White’s motives. When he insisted that he could break down a Michael Bay film and a Christopher Nolan film frame by frame and prove that Bay had better visual storytelling acumen than Nolan, I didn’t necessarily believe it but I believed that he believed it.

In a piece after the NYFCC controversy, Owen Glieberman explained his thoughts on Armond White in a way that matched how mine evolved:

Does Armond White simply have his own idiosyncratic opinions? Or is he a contrarian, a bomb thrower who’s deliberately out to rile people up? I would say that both are true, but for most people the contrarian label sums him up, and you often can’t tell where the fearless free-thinker leaves off and the bullying, didactic iconoclast begins. And that’s the problem with Armond’s criticism. He writes like he’s the last honest man in America, but contrarianism, by definition, isn’t completely honest. It’s self-hype, designed to provoke a reaction. I truly do believe that Armond White comes to the vast majority of his opinions honestly. He’s a gay African-American fundamentalist-Christian aesthete, and if that doesn’t make him an individual, I don’t know what would. But it seems to me that Armond, over the years, has become so invested in the idea of how different his gaze is from everyone else’s that he has turned individuality into a species of megalomania. The subtext of too many of Armond’s reviews is: Only I see the truth! And it’s that need to be the only truth-teller in the room that, too often, seems to be driving him. A lot of great critics have anger — it was there in Kael, and in Lester Bangs — but Armond’s blistering attacks reflect not just anger but rage. That’s a dangerous place to write from.

In other words, from the outside, White seemed as though he believed in his own hype. And that’s a shame because it clouded a lot of his legitimately interesting and provocative opinions.

All that said, when I look back on my conversations with White, I feel nothing but gratitude. Here was a man whose opinions were admired by some, hated by thousands of internet fanboys, but who nonetheless kept fighting for a truth he believed in. And even though White seems to despise internet fan blogs like Slashfilm.com, he generously spent time sharing his opinions with me and with our audience.

I’ll never know why he agreed to appear on the show. When I asked him about why he was willing to return to the podcast, he just seemed to cherish the spirit of our show’s open conversation. I don’t know if I’ll ever have the chance to chat with White again but for now, that’s how I’ll choose to remember him.

A different way to approach a controversial podcast episode

Nicholas Quah’s latest entry in his “Hot Pod” newsletter addresses Radiolab’s recent decision to pull a controversial episode:

[The episode’s lack of context] was an unambiguously explosive mistake for Radiolab to make, but I’m further perturbed by the team’s decision to take down the segment completely as a response to the pushback. In an environment where taking back something is every bit as political — and politically charged — as putting something out in the first place, this may well be a case where Radiolab’s effort to limit its contribution to a damaging situation is one that fuels it even further.

There may be some value to following in the footsteps of This American Life, when that team faced a retraction in 2012 with “Mr. Daisey and the Apple Factory,” which turned out to be the work of fabrication. You can still easily find the original radio story online, most prominently in the Internet Archive, and This American Life keeps the original episode’s transcript hosted on its website. There, the move was to re-report and re-contextualize, and to produce an entirely new episode around the correction. That move remains, to my mind, the gold standard to fixing an error in judgment in any form for two reasons: it does not shirk from ownership over the mistake, and it repurposes the breakdown into an even more valuable opportunity to more aggressively contain the damage while delivering a sense of justice where it can. That said, there are some potentially meaningful differences: most notably, where This American Life’s retraction was spurred by errors of fact, Radiolab’s segment removal was spurred by errors of framing. That’s a big difference that might not change very much about the proposed solution, but it’s a difference to consider nonetheless.

A great, nuanced take on this topic. The only thing I’d add is that perhaps one reason Radiolab didn’t take the This American Life approach is that errors in tone are much more challenging to explain than errors in fact. Certainly I’d imagine they are more difficult to fashion an entirely new episode out of.

[Full disclosure: I am name-checked in the article as a “prolific podcaster.” I’ll take it as a compliment!]

Vulture names “A Cast of Kings” as one of the top 5 Game of Thrones podcasts

I’m honored that Vulture recently chose “A Cast of Kings” as one of the top 5 Game of Thrones podcasts:

Dave Chen is a prolific publisher of podcasts about film and TV going back years, perhaps most prominently as the co-host of the Slashfilmcast. Here, he partners with frequent collaborator Joanna Robinson, with whom he’s also done recap pods for Westworld and Twin Peaks. Chen is an interesting recapper, more technically driven in his approach than others, which pairs nicely with Joanna Robinson, who is one of the more prominent, engaging, and prolific Thrones recappers on the internet.

You can listen to our recaps of this season here.

What’s it like to podcast for a living?

I was honored to be asked by the folks at Bald Move to interview them as part of their Empire Business show. For those who don’t know, Bald Move are a couple of podcasters, A. Ron and Jim, who create some of the most frequently-downloaded TV recap podcasts in the country right now.

Over the course of one hour, we discussed how they got into podcasting, when/how they decided to give it a go full-time, what they gave up while doing so, and what advice they’d have for new podcasters.

It was a fun conversation and I’d recommend you check it out here on Periscope.

How SoundCloud lost its way

Dani Deahl and Casey Newton, writing for The Verge:

SoundCloud experimented with a variety of business models, including content-related ads and charging the creators for premium accounts that host more audio. But much of the audio uploaded to its servers contained derivative copyrighted material: DJ sets, mashups, and unofficial remixes using songs the SoundCloud artists didn’t have rights to. As those tracks racked up millions of views, record labels pressured the company to crack down. While the company worked to develop its paid platform, the service began to fray around the edges. SoundCloud’s increasingly confusing system of paid tiers caused contention for creators and their teams: unwarranted song takedowns ruined PR for new releases, labels pulled music off SoundCloud against artists’ will, and those who had helped make SoundCloud a force from the beginning now found it had simply stopped paying attention to their needs.

What’s happening to SoundCloud is sad. What was once a great platform for discovery and creativity is a confusing mess to use and is in danger of shutting down. For my part, I am freaked and will be attempting to move my SoundCloud podcasts off the platform as soon as possible.

The Ghosts of Westeros Panel at Con of Thrones

I recently experienced one of the greatest joys of my life as a pop culture commentator: moderating the “Ghosts of Westeros” panel at Con of Thrones with my Cast of Kings co-host Joanna Robinson. It was a blast to spend time with these amazing actors, who been invaluable to building a show that has become such a huge success over the past 7 years.

As the event was about to begin and we walking onto the stage, looking upon thousands of fans in the audience, I acutely felt what an immense honor it has been to be part of people’s lives during the course of this show.

You can listen to the panel below. Subscribe to A Cast of Kings on Apple Podcasts here.

Here are a few write-ups of the Con worth checking out:

Meeting Joanna

A post shared by David Chen (@davechensky) on


I’ve been podcasting with Joanna Robinson for about six years. This past weekend, we met in person for the very first time.

It was about six years ago that Joanna first pitched me the idea of doing a recap podcast about Game of Thrones. I was unsure whether this would be a good idea — I didn’t know that much about the world of the show and I’d never done a TV podcast before. But I trusted in Joanna to guide the way.

So we decided to give it a shot, and we launched A Cast Of Kings. We entered a crowded field that already had DOZENS of other Game of Thrones podcasts.

Fast forward to present day. A Cast of Kings is the most successful podcast I’ve ever had a part in, generating over 5 million downloads, with hundreds of thousands of fans from all around the world. Moreover, Joanna’s star has risen dramatically in the intervening years, as she’s become one of the most respected and widely read Game of Thrones writers on the internet. It’s been an honor to work with her during
this ascension.

Despite this, Joanna and I had never met in person before. But yesterday, at a Podcaster Meet And Greet at #ConOfThrones, surrounded by many fans of the show we created together, we finally had the chance. This photo commemorates the occasion (thanks to Jim from Bald Move for taking it).

The internet can be magic, if you will it to be. All it takes is the willingness to take chances with people and a passion for what you do.

And persistence. A lot of persistence.

Season finale

After a multi-year absence, Stephen Tobolowsky and I re-united to put out another 12-episode season of The Tobolowsky Files over the course of the past few months. While we will have more projects together, they will be somewhat infrequent until the next season of the show, likely not coming until 2018.

After publishing the last episode this year, Stephen emailed me and said, “We did it, David. Congrats. It was tough with the book tour and the travel and no internet and no time…but we did something good.”

As I’ve started refocusing on what is important in my life, I’ve realized that this has been my only goal with The Tobolowsky Files: to make something good. It is of paramount importance, beyond ad dollars or listenership numbers. It’s rare to be able to be involved with something whose quality you can believe in. This season of stories, which in my opinion represents some of Stephen’s best work, fits that bill for me.

Here’s a link to the season finale. If you like that episode, you can also subscribe to the show in Apple Podcasts or via RSS.