In the last few weeks, I’ve sensed a new trend in literary and arts criticism, which is to not read, look at or attend the entity being reviewed. Those who practice this latest trend aren’t even subtle about it.
Time was, if a critic didn’t get out of the bar long enough to attend a concert, he gave some kid 20 bucks and had him attend for him. One Oregonian critic in past years didn’t even bestir himself that much, and filed stories for events he never even sniffed, let alone heard. For this he was eventually fired, but he was pretty clever at it and no one knows how his editors figured it out, unless by chance a theater burned down in mid-performance.
These days, however, critics openly admit they found the performance, book or gallery show to be not worth their time, and boldly proclaim that they were justified in not actually doing their job.
This tells us a great deal more about the critic than it does about the critiqued. The critic may feel his or her heightened sensitivities should not be offended by things they find not to their taste. The critic is perhaps just too busy with things outside the job to actually do the job. The critic may not be prepared in terms of experience, education or intellect to make comments on the work of other people, and is keenly aware of this lack.
Whatever the critic’s excuse, however, the work they refused to review seems to look better and the critic seems to look worse.
One example stands out: a critic was obviously handed a press release for a certain ethnic event. Perhaps this critic was chosen because he or she had expressed familiarity with the ethnic group, if not actual membership in it.
The preview barely touched upon the event itself, but continued for several arduous column inches about how the critic felt about his or her own lost opportunities, in comparison to the achievements of the performers. The result was agonizing, an insult to the performers and to the publication, and a clue that the critic knew that others knew he or she was living a lie. I learned nothing about the upcoming performance, but I learned to not read that critic’s work ever again if I wanted to hold down my lunch.
Here’s another: one critic attended part of a performance, then decided to do something else instead and took off before the final act. He or she justified this by saying the performance was boring and he or she didn’t understand it anyway.
This is a remarkably honest admission, but somehow honesty doesn’t make up for that fact that the critic simply didn’t do the job for which he or she was hired. The fact that the review appeared in print, albeit after all the performances were over, indicates the editor was desperate to fill in that last bit of space with absolutely anything.
If we take this idea one step further and apply it to college work, we’d find a lot lower stress level amongst students, unless their reduced chances of ever graduating with a decent GPA causes them concern.
Perhaps students could substitute something more to their liking. For example, students would be able to pass on doing the required reading if they found it difficult or boring, and perhaps turn in a series of club reviews instead. We wish those who advocate this idea the best of luck in convincing university authorities to make this change.
The rest of us, in the meantime, are stuck with bucking this latest trend and doing what we’re supposed to do, like grownups.