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A Short List of People Subject to Criticism If They Don’t Do Their Jobs Well

As ever, the world of theater lovers and creators continues to rail against “criticism” and “critics.” Because Isherwood and Brantley — and their ilk — are just big old meanies who hate theater.

This week the criticism argument flared up again, writers and thinkers both for and against composing lengthy treatises about whether or not critics should be critical, which is often just shorthand for ‘mean.’ (Ever heard anyone complain about a positive review they received?)  Today, HowlRound is even moderating a Twitter conversation about “Critical Generosity and the Spectre of Niceness.” In fact, it’s happening on the hashtag #newplay right now.

In honor of this moment, and as our contribution to the conversation, we’ve thrown together a short list to remind you of some of the other people subject to criticism (often harsh) if they don’t do their jobs well. In no particular order we have:

    1. Creative Directors (like The Mick!)
    2. Publishing Directors (like Lucky!)
    3. Janitors
    4. Teachers
    5. Baseball Players
    6. Doctors
    7. Lawyers
    8. Journalists
    9. Presidents/Prime Ministers
    10. Elected Officials
    11. House Painters
    12. Copywriters
    13. Used Car Salesmen
    14. Pop Stars

So just like… out of curiosity. Why shouldn’t playwrights, directors, actors, lighting designers and composers (etc) be subject to the same thing?


{ 3 comments… add one }

  • adam807 January 16, 2014, 3:09 pm

    Is anyone saying they shouldn’t? I’m not following the whole hashtag but I haven’t seen any tweets in my feed suggesting that critics should go away. I think it’s a question of tone. There IS a difference between writing an intelligent, constructive (for the potential audience — it’s not the critic’s job to give feedback to the artists!) review and being mean for meanness’ sake. And as I’ve said in this space before, I think it serves your reader better if your review is “fair and balanced” (sorry) instead of dismissing something — or praising something! — out of hand. There’s a huge difference in “that show was not for me” or “that show was made for me” and “that show is garbage” or “that show is the bestest.” I think critics have a responsibility (to their READERS, not to the criticized) to not provide measured criticism. And long-time critics DO get burned out by seeing absolutely everything and having to have an intelligent opinion on it. The best ones recognize that and move on.

    Anyway, I THINK that’s how this conversation started, and I think it’s worth having on that level. All of that said, yeah, stop whining. People who make art and entertainment (and I say this as someone who used to be one) put their work in front of people. Those people will judge it. Sometimes they will boo you. That sucks but it’s the job. It comes with the applause. Accept that the world has changed and a lot more people can easily share their opinions now (they always had them, they just have platforms now). Don’t read reviews. Don’t search for your name on Twitter. Grow a pair. If getting criticized is going to hurt your feelings, just do plays for your friends in your living room.

    • the mick January 16, 2014, 3:39 pm

      In my experience, whether or not there should be criticism at all is a constant part of the conversation, though it was not always the loudest part of the hashtag today.

      But part of my point is… my boss isn’t nice to me all the time either. And he, and my clients, judge my work just as subjectively as a critic judges theater. Parents judge teachers harshly and subjectively, etc etc.

      I’ve had bosses scream at me and call me stupid because they believed I had distorted the aspect ratio of an image (I hadn’t). I’ve been yelled at for not making a design look “boardroom” enough, when the yell-er in question couldn’t give me a single other adjective to describe how their vision differed from mine. Was any of that fair? I didn’t think so. But it was reality. And everyone’s idea of what’s ‘fair’ is subjective and often, let’s be honest, at least partially self-serving.

      Brantley and Isherwood take a lot of heat — as well they should, they’re not immune from criticism either — and people have begun to claim that they are burnt out, but I honestly think that in many of these cases they’re just being used as stand-ins for the critical voice at large. Names and faces to put on an entire profession. And how does anyone know whether or not critics are just being mean for meanness sake? Can we read their minds?

      I hate hating a show. Because it means I lost hours of my precious time seeing something I didn’t enjoy instead of reading a good book, or sleeping, or writing a novel. And because I LOVE seeing good theater. I always go to the theater hoping to love the show. That isn’t negated just because I take pleasure in finding a smart, inventive, sharp way of expressing my feelings when it comes time to write about a show I didn’t like.

      I don’t know. I think the world has plenty of room for all kinds of voices. And that a world without criticism — the kind that is harsh and sometimes negative and very, very honest — is a world where the quality of art will suffer instead of flourish.

      • adam807 January 16, 2014, 3:48 pm

        Right, well, I’d argue that your boss shouldn’t be yelling at you like that either!!! I just don’t want to conflate “let’s be civil to each other” with “let’s not criticize each other.” What would I do if I couldn’t judge other people??? (Or, sometimes, be an asshole — I’m not immune.)

        I didn’t actually mean Brantley or Isherwood. I generally like them and at least their longevity has bred a familiarity that allows me to read between the lines in their reviews and know where our tastes do and don’t overlap. I meant people like Frank Rich, who I think quit at the top of his game, and real-life friends who stopped as soon as they didn’t like doing it anymore.

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