Posts filed under ‘CRITIC WATCH’
Quickly, before I drift into mental anguish. There is a kerfuffle down at Circular Quay because as part of the Vivid Festival of Light & Sound, one of the exhibits on photojournalism has been accused of censorship. Oh dear. Notable journalists-turned-art-critics such as Asher Wolf and Stilgherrian have been tweeting grumpily about the pain of it all, suggesting Vivid Sydney was more about “decoration” than art, and so on and so forth.
To re-cap, Vivid have curated the exhibition, which was to be shown as one of several photography related events over the course of the Festival. A number of corporate partners (such as Fuji, SMH & Destination NSW) are associated with the exhibitions. A full list of sponsors and stakeholders can be found at the Vivid website. The story broke last night when, to some of the photographers’ chagrin, the folks at Destination NSW (who oversee much of the logistical implementation of the Vivid Light Walk along Circular Quay) deemed it appropriate that some of the more confronting images of this exhibit not be screened outdoors at what is ostensibly a largely family oriented parade of colour and music.
CENSORSHIP! or, not quite, since the offending images were on display at other venues at the behest of these same agencies. In other words, they would not be on display anywhere in Sydney if it were not for Destination NSW arranging it. This is not Censorship. This is understanding your audience context. This is recognising, rightly that images of war and disease are not appropriate ‘general’ family viewing.
Asher Wolf has even acknowledged this upon tweeting to the convenient gallery of images provided by Vivid and Reportage Festival Media Partners (SMH) that the gallery was “NSFW” (not-safe-for-work). Much as we respect her work as a journalist it isn’t difficult to spot the flaw here. One can’t condemn an organisation for choosing not to display certain images in a public park while at the same time providing a warning that these same images may offend some viewers. Presumably that is why these images were restricted in the first place to an appropriate, indoor venue where audiences could approach them with warning. We do the same thing with movies, television and theatre. We offer trigger warnings for articles featuring graphic descriptions of violence, but somehow displaying caution such that a wandering family might not turn a corner and be confronted with images of war has become “censorship”?
We think not. As for the artists who have reportedly withdrawn these photos altogether in protest? That’s called a dummy spit. And the winners here are of course the Fairfax publishing group, who as media partners, have garnered a whole lot of linkbait and social content by daring to publish such controversy.
Minimising Censorship. Oh well played. Just try and find some justification in their copy for throwing Destination NSW and Vivid under the bus…
presented by Company B, April 2012.
… we don’t know what kind of a fool, having seen a plague of Benedict Andrews’ productions on Sydney stages in recent years; would go and see one that is actually written by him as well, and then read it as a conventional piece of narrative. Are you all mad or just obtuse?
JUST VICTIMS OF THE IN HOUSE DRIVE BY
In case you missed it, the big news this week was the dismantling of Art Nation by the ABC, along with staff redundancies marking the end of internally produced arts programs for the forseeable future on our national broadcaster. ABC management rhetoric is that there will still be arts coverage on Sunday afternoons, only now it will be outsourced from production houses.
In the industry, this is technically known as A Really Fucking Bad Idea. And not just because it involves people losing their jobs for no good reason. The arts in Australia is currently in a cycle of massive expansion; and audiences are literally starved for places to turn to find out what’s happening. To match that expansion, we need to equally draw out our public discussions around the arts, emphasising the diversity and significance on the national and global stage.
Given the breadth and multiplicity of the Australian art scenes; there aren’t many organisations with both the means and incentive to do this properly. And the ABC decides to let the marketplace sort it out? I fail to see the logic. Assuming that hour for hour the amount of coverage does not decrease; what kind of arts content can we expect from the commercial sector?
The short answer is: nobody knows. There isn’t exactly a thriving litany of examples of independent production houses making arts related television. There are some arts documentaries released through the festival circuit; but this is very niche compared to the broad magazine format of Art Nation. I reckon most would struggle to match the scope of what’s happening nationally without succumbing to the perils of the publicity machine. That’s the real benefit of the ABC, it is big enough to operate as a true independent and not become trapped by commercial interests. At what point do these outsourced companies draw the line between covering Art for Art’s sake, or covering Art because there’s some canny cross-promotion in the works? Or because it’s popular? Whether the new shows are better or worse, one thing is for sure: they won’t be independent.
THEY SAY JUMP YOU SAY HOW HIGH
Make no mistake, commercial production houses are strictly in the business of keeping their heads above water. It’s a highly competitive market and the shift to this sector will mark a decidedly populist shift in arts coverage on the ABC. For better or for worse, we can’t predict, but only a fool would suggest that the decision hasn’t been made with this in mind. It’s RATINGS, baby. HARDCORE. Now, I’m in favour of creating a wider conversation about the arts, so if more people end up engaging with the ABC arts programs as a result of this move, in of itself that is not a bad thing. The problem is the attitude that a more populist conversation must happen at the expense of what we already have.
As I said before – the arts is in a phase of major expansion, along with the public conversation surrounding it. The ABC can afford to grow that conversation along multiple lines, not just in a way that’s ratings driven. Making a shift from one to the other is a major ideological statement, with or without an official explanation. And by the way, we’re still waiting for that which was promised, Mr Dalton…
I think my worst fear is that the outsourced company will be Zapruder’s Other Films ( I mean, who else is there? ) and we’ll end up with a panel-style show that thrives on dumbing down its subject and peppering the broader conversation with lowbrow smut a-la Wil Anderson on The Gruen Transfer (perhaps that’s a subject for another day) or worse, idiotic and uninformed banter in the vein of the abominable Can Of Worms. After all, this is what independent production houses do, isn’t it? Stick with a formula?
Actually if I had my druthers I’d propose an Insiders style panel which actually offers lively analysis and news, interviews and debate around what’s happening in the arts. Skip the sniggering comedy and go with something that actually appeals to the wider ABC audiences who do watch the arts content. We could call it ‘Outsiders’.
Anyone interested in pitching this?
WHY STAND ON A SILENT PLATFORM?
What’s most disappointing about this is the disregard that ABC Corporate have for cultivating a national conversation about the arts. The lack of respect is evident by the tokenistic corporate-board speak coming from ABC Management; along the lines of ‘funding redistribution’ – euphemistically referring to the jobs lost. At a time when ABC TV is expanding onto multiple channels and there is obvious scope (and broadcast space) for wider, more thorough arts coverage, to take this step is tantamount to a slap in the face of the arts community. Can you imagine the uproar if this had happened in their sports coverage? And yet the evidence suggests that Australians are as much into the arts as they are sport – just that the national conversation has been stifled for so long you wouldn’t know it.
On top of this there has been no official statement from the ABC as yet, despite the promises. One can only imagine the PR team in overdrive as the backlash sets in, trying to sell us this turd of a decision, answer the questions coming from all angles (the arts community, the unions, even the Communications Minister Stephen Conroy has put his two cents in). Red faces all around as what seemed like a good idea at the time comes back and bites the powers-that-be right on the arse.
Save yourself the hassle, Mr Dalton. The decision can be undone. Otherwise when it’s time for your tenure to end, you might not have the legacy you first imagined upon taking the reins.
Just a thought…
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!
Sometimes, however, there is a piece of criticism so trite, so weak and blurry, so bland that in order to find clarity again I must pour droplets of soy into my eyes, to fend off the seeping mediocrity attacking my brain.
First of all, as any true nerd can tell you; it’s TARDIS, not Tardis. As the uninformed hordes of pop-culture critics swarm around the new episodes of Doctor Who, determining wot whether this new bloke is as good as the wonderful David Tennant. (WHO CARES – you’re living in the past!) He’s different, not better or worse…
The original post is now hidden – but the reply is a delicious insight into the privileged echelon of Sydney’s critical community, one that’s been itching at the back of my mind ever since. It’s time to scratch.