CRITIC WATCH: In Praise of Hyperbole & Blather

22/06/2011 at 12:04 pm Leave a comment

I have been a little bit hard-hearted, it seems; when I first began this column I was filled with irritation towards a culture of reviewing which skimmed the shallows of a critical conversation around theatre and performance. Short, descriptive nuggets offer nothing in terms of context or feelings, and what little analysis I read was usually reduced to nit-picking or snide peanut chucking from the gallery. We could do better. I could do better . But there’s no value in moaning about the poor quality of something if one is not willing or able to try it themselves – a philosophy I maintain towards all creative pursuits. So there it was, a reason to get out and see more theatre (not that I needed one) and write about theatre, and meet more theatre-makers, all rolled into one measly complaint. What could possibly go wrong?

Similar voices of dissatisfaction with review culture have been raised in the past year or so, not least of which at the Wheeler Centre forum “Critical Failure” – covering everything from the influence of the publicity industry over who or what gets reviewed and when to the general dumbing down of the mainstream media – in a series of forums with established writers such as Gideon Haigh, Alison Croggon and Adrian Martin discussed their respective fields of Literature, Theatre and Film and the lacklustre sheen of the cultural conversation surrounding them. An excellent set of talks which establish my gripes and go further in far more eloquent ways than a mere hobbyist as myself ever could. It turned out that despite appearances I wasn’t just some raving crank – we needed a better set of standards for public conversations about art; and the fourth estate is dragging the chain.

And then it happened. I chalked up a dud review; warm with praise, but lacking depth, insight and worst of all: reeking of pretension. In my desire to say something noteworthy I referenced Nietzsche, prattled on about ensemble work and effectively said nothing at all about what I had seen, how it made me feel, what it meant to me. Which is a shame, because the production was one that stayed with me for a long time. A month after writing and publishing this insipid piece I was still reliving little moments and thinking about how the play related to me, in my struggles, in my life. The best productions take time for the dust to settle, and that’s why I shouldn’t be too harsh on critics in the current fast-turnaround-limited-wordspace world of journalism. It’s the editors and advertisers who really should go up against the wall, when you think about it… weeks of work and they expect us to care about 400 words scrambled up overnight in response? Not Bloody Likely.

So a change of pace for Critic Watch this year; I have been monitoring trends and have decided to inaugurate the BI-ANNUAL MUDSKIPPER AWARDS. A more lighthearted take on critical blunders and generally poor writing to be found in the wide web and beyond. For example:

The award for “Most Inane Descriptive Sound Bite Stated Without Irony” goes to Channel Nine’s Denholm Hitchcock for his sparkling praise of Colin Firth’s performance in The King’s Speech as (I kid you not) “very believable”. Thanks Denholm. You’re an inspiration to us all.

Nominations are still open until the end of the month as I prepare the shortlist. Any or all suggestions are welcome! Let me know who you reckon helped no-one understand anything about the work with their unmotivational droning… mediocrity deserves a reward!

other categories open for nomination are as follows.
Most Convoluted Plot Summary
Most Obscure Pop-Culture Reference
Most Unabashedly Hateful Review

and a special category invented just for anyone who reviewed The Social Network and like everybody else, was full of nothing but praise:
Grandest Public Delusion

Alternatively just make up your own.. It’s fun!

Entry filed under: CRITIC WATCH, Criticism FAIL, Marketing. Tags: , , , , , , .

i wandered off for a while there… “ATTACKED FROM EVERY SIDE”

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