Mass Versus Elite Criticism

On the internet, we are all critics.  Want to know which restaurant to go to?  Yelp it.  Which beer?  BeerAdvocate can tell you.  We have developed a culture of reward, where preference isn't even binary--you can "like" something, but not dislike it.  We may infer opprobrium, but we can't express it.  Worse, we have subtly shifted what it means to offer critiques of something.  In crowdsourcing our criticism, we submit to a subtle form of mass appeal: the top-rated imperial stout on BeerAdvocate gets a 4.61 rating; the top helles just 4.11.  If you rely on raters of the site, you will be steered away from the unpopular styles, like the popular kids speaking ill of the unpopular. 

In the New Yorker, Daniel Mendelsohn thinks deeply about artistic criticism.
For all criticism is based on that equation: KNOWLEDGE + TASTE = MEANINGFUL JUDGMENT. The key word here is meaningful. People who have strong reactions to a work—and most of us do—but don’t possess the wider erudition that can give an opinion heft, are not critics. (This is why a great deal of online reviewing by readers isn’t criticism proper.) Nor are those who have tremendous erudition but lack the taste or temperament that could give their judgment authority in the eyes of other people, people who are not experts. (This is why so many academic scholars are no good at reviewing for mainstream audiences.) Like any other kind of writing, criticism is a genre that one has to have a knack for, and the people who have a knack for it are those whose knowledge intersects interestingly and persuasively with their taste. In the end, the critic is someone who, when his knowledge, operated on by his taste in the presence of some new example of the genre he’s interested in—a new TV series, a movie, an opera or ballet or book—hungers to make sense of that new thing, to analyze it, interpret it, make it mean something.
I think this is right.  Sites like Yelp and BeerAdvocate have real utility.  As someone who relies on Yelp in unfamiliar cities, I've managed to nearly eliminate wandering into bad restaurants.  But this isn't the same as criticism.  When I first started investigating beer seriously, I picked up a book by Michael Jackson, the first and still most eloquent writer on the subject of beer.   Mendelsohn, in talking about the role of the critic, captures it nicely, and explains why I loved Jackson:
By dramatizing their own thinking on the page, by revealing the basis of their judgments and letting you glimpse the mechanisms by which they exercised their (individual, personal, quirky) taste, all these critics were, necessarily, implying that you could arrive at your own, quite different judgments—that a given work could operate on your own sensibility in a different way.
As readers, we agree to at least entertain the opinion of critics, which has at least the flavor of submission.  But a good critic will give her readers the tools to disagree.  This is one of the central virtues of the sole critic--the elite critic--over mass criticism found online.  A critic may give a bad review, but by showing her work, the reader can make a secondary judgment.  With an aggregate score, you're left with the gnawing worry: but what if it's really good, just not popular.  After all, they canceled Firefly after just one season and Two and a Half Men is still on the air.