Culture / People

In the age of the armchair critic, are we all just searching for the hottest take?

armchair critic

Back in January, TikTok exploded with an onslaught of videos from beauty influencers who were all partaking in a luxury brand trip, courtesy of Tarte Cosmetics, to Dubai. They flew business class with their plus ones, stayed at the Ritz Carlton with their rooms decked out in makeup and clothing, and attended countless events and dinners hosted by the brand. The content was endless for those who are on the beauty side of TikTok, some of the apps biggest creators were posting multiple videos a day, detailing every aspect of the trip.

For those who grew up with YouTube, Tarte's famed brand trips are not a new concept. In the mid 2010s, it felt as though Patrick Starrr and Desi Perkins were in Turks and Caicos with the brand every other month, posting 30-minute-long vlogs to chronicle the lavish holidays. Back then, we lapped it up. It was exciting to see our favourite YouTubers all together, no thoughts, just entertainment to witness. The brand trips fizzled out during the lockdown years, as did many of the YouTubers who had TikTok's new, bite-sized format to adjust to. Now, the year is 2023, and imagine Tarte's surprise (one only could) when they finally revived the not-so-humble brand trip, only this time with TikTokkers, whose videos were met with droves of online commenters calling the entire activation tone deaf and out of touch.

Some of the commentary was valid, like the apparent lack of diversity in who they chose to attend, despite inviting an unspecified group of Middle East–based influencers, who reportedly handpicked charities that support women and young girls for Tarte to donate to (although they never did actually specify the charities picked). Other points were wild, like feedback that questioned how Tarte even got the money to send everyone on a luxury trip in the first place, and how they didn't want their hard-earned consumer dollars going towards influencer trips, as though they were being forced to buy Shape Tape like having to pay their taxes. It was – whether intentional or not – a media circus for a moment, which was when the armchair analysts entered the chat.

In came the stitches, of people who worked in PR and marketing or people who had been on brand trips themselves, rationalising the brand's decisions. They explained that Tarte probably partnered with Dubai's tourism board, or Sephora in the Middle East, to secure many free activities, potentially even flights, and media rates with the Ritz. They also pointed out that given the collective reach of these beauty influencers, a free trip where the talent feels indebted to posting about the all-expenses-paid holiday they're being taken on, is probably more cost effective than just engaging them all separately for a single spon-con video. This isn't Tarte's first rodeo after all.

@itsaudrinabitchJust my 2 cents lol♬ original sound - audrina not audrey


In our chronically online, highly digitised world, we've reached a place where opinions are formed off the back of 30-second videos and source-less, 150 character-long Tweets. The above example of the armchair analyst is a positive one, using basic deductive reasoning and industry knowledge to debunk a truly wild goose chase of criticism, but what happens when the age of the armchair critic gets out of hand?

It is more possible than ever to publish our opinions online, in whatever format we choose. And the result, when those opinions are of the half-baked iteration based on top-line information with no real-world experience in the topic, is a lot of noise that isn't necessarily enriching for the culture we live in today. The pile-on effect of internet discourse in our current lexicon is hardly a new phenomenon, but recently it feels as though it's reaching a fever-pitch, and videos and tweets by armchair critics don't seem to be helping.

To be clear, everyone is entitled to their own opinions. It's what democracy is built upon, and without diverse discourse, our society would be largely homogenous in ways that are not fun to think on. The freedom and access we now have to post anything and everything online is a polarising one and can be digested in many ways, especially when a digital footprint is considered. But what seems to be trending at the present, is a new guard of self-proclaimed "critics" who are becoming popular on TikTok on the basis of their negative critiques of topics that they may not possess a comprehensive understanding of. The concept spans industries far and wide, but naturally, in our orbit, it feels as though the armchair fashion and beauty critics are speaking the loudest of late.

Recently, Margot Robbie's stylistic choices have been making the rounds online, with countless fans rejoicing that she's been "freed" from her Chanel contract, but despairing over the fact that Kate Young, a celebrity stylist who is responsible for the wardrobes of some of Hollywood's most beautiful women, is still working with her. Plenty of armchair critics have gone ahead and hailed her as nothing more than a bad stylist who is intent on "torturing" her clients – a rather heavy call when you put the context of a celebrity stylist's job into perspective. What people tend to forget about jobs like Young's, is that they are not only dealing with celebrities – who, by the way, have their own autonomous thoughts and are actually allowed to like things that you may not –but they're also dealing with publicists and management companies who all weigh in on the direction of looks, especially if they are promoting a recent project. As an aside, Versace has been adding contrasting lace to this silhouette since 1996, leaving us doubtful that it was a choice Young even made herself.

@kylazingaround Can anyone defend this outfit? #kateyoung #hollywoodstylist #stylist #fashionstylist #celebritystylist #celebstylist #fashionstylistlife #margotrobbie #margotrobbieedit #margotrobbieedits #margotrobbiestyle #vintageversace #versace #versacedress #vintagedress #babylon #babylonmovie #celebritystyling #fashionstyling #fashionstylingtips #Celebritygossip #celebritynews #celebritytea #deuxmoi #popculturenews #popcultured #entertainmentforyou #celebgossip #hollywoodgossip #hollywoodtea #hollywoodlife #hollywoodstar #hollywoodstars #hollywoodnews #celebrity #celebrities #celeb #celebs #popculture #celebtea #greenscreen ♬ Blade Runner 2049 - Synthwave Goose


The same thing happens when the shows are on, too. Suddenly Schiaparelli's faux animal sculptures, the Leopard, the Lion and the She-Wolf referenced from Dante's The Divine Comedy are cause to call PETA with an animal cruelty crisis, and Dior's Spring Summer Haute Couture 23 show is dubbed a "flop" because apparently the context of tributes, music, and setting matter not if the first exit isn't going viral.

All this to say, would it be possible at some point, to return to letting the experts weigh-in on the topics they actually have real-world understanding of, instead of letting a troop of 20-somethings on TikTok who got their source material from a singular Tweet tell us what's decidedly good and bad? Does a world still exist where opinions are balanced and quantified by expertise instead of those just yelling the loudest? Are we all just searching for the hottest take even if it ends up being the most batshit and ill-informed?

Stay inspired, follow us.