To Professional Theatre and Arts Critics It’s Just a Job, But Bloggers Have The Pleasure …
I can no more ignore a taunt from a professional theatre and arts critic than a dog can ignore a lamppost …
So then, Nick Ahad doesn’t care much for bloggers. In Friday’s Yorkshire Post he nailed his colours to the mast, threw down a gauntlet, and fired a shot across the bows of uppity “internet pretenders”. (Fair enough, only one of those cliches is Nick’s, I’m just trying to get into the spirit here.)
It would be easy to return the compliment and write something full of abuse with scant logic and a complete disregard for evidence. But let’s leave that tactic to the professionals and look at the argument.
The occasion for Nick’s outburst was a fellow critic stepping back and handing over the reins to a colleague. I totally agree with Nick when he says that experience, knowledge and depth of understanding are rare and your average professional critic is far superior to even the best blogger. Not one blogger I know would disagree. Most bloggers in fact are the keenest readers and biggest fans of the professional critic (where do you think we get all our ideas?)
I also agree with Nick that professional critics are “becoming ever rarer creatures by the day.” I genuinely think this is an appalling state of affairs. Not one blogger I know likes this or celebrates the fact. But most bloggers do seem to understand better what’s happening than the professionals.
Nick uses a musical analogy. Professional critics are the clear, true, pure voices vying to be heard above the “cacophony” “racket” and “clamour” coming from the bloggersphere.
There’s a couple of things wrong with this. First is, nobody forces anyone to read any blog. You don’t have to switch the computer on, and professional criticism is only a mouse click away. It really isn’t like you have to “listen more carefully” to make out the still, small voice of quality, you simply have to refrain from searching for the bad stuff. It’s that simple. I don’t read many blogs, I read books. Because I have a choice. I don’t go trawling the internet looking for badly written reviews.
The bigger thing wrong with the analogy though is that it covers over the real causes behind the atrophying of professional criticism and misattributes blame. The real cause is economic. The temporary alliance of advertising money with printed newspaper industry is fast unravelling, leaving journalism as a trade extremely precarious. The quantity and quality of blogging is entirely irrelevant to that question. And it’s a pointless argument. Most bloggers I know buy newspapers and are for independent journalism – they certainly aren’t trying to replace those things – but they are concerned enough to want a clear, calm debate how that can happen in the future given the present indications.
Nick reserves his greatest ire for what he calls “self-appointed commentators” who “write only on the internet, for who knows what audience.” Whenever Nick mentions “the internet” and the sorts of creature who dwell there I’m afraid I get an image of a medieval monk with a quill pen and parchment fulminating about the new-fangled printing press and the sort of low life that this terrible copy technology allows to thrive. Joking aside, these are exactly the same arguments, and the exact sentiments – that knowledge is limited and should remain in the hands of the cloistered few – that must have bored William Caxton as he cranked out the first edition of The Canterbury Tales.
What the heck is wrong with the rabble expressing an opinion anyhow? It’s been going on ever since Aristophanes took the piss out of Socrates in a bit of Athenian am-dram and started all Greece gossiping. Crikey, if “self-appointed commentators” are the problem that about writes off most of the human bloody race, doesn’t it?
In case we weren’t entirely clear about his disdain for the self-indulgent amateur reviewer Nick kindly Tweeted a link to the Urban Dictionary definition of Circle Jerk.
If only blogging events were half that much fun. I wouldn’t have to try so hard to get people to bloggers events at the ballet …
There is some truth in Nick’s accusation. But at least we do try to get new people into the circle – professional critics seem to spend a lot of time socialising, drinking, and doing who knows what else with the folk they are meant to be “dispassionately” criticizing, so to extend Nick’s image, if blogging is a circle jerk, reviewing professionally appears more like an incestuous relationship.
Nick’s final and devastating swipe is calling bloggers hobbyists. I’ll have to quote this because I find the implications genuinely puzzling.
If a screenwriter started reviewing theatre, or even films, then it would be a self-indulgence that would stretch my patience. Mark Kermode is and Philip French and Roger Ebert* were my go-to men for film reviews.
Experts. Journalists. Not people who wrote reviews for a hobby.
It’s a case of Rich man in his castle, poor man at his gate, He made them high or lowly, and ordered their estate – talents, roles, rewards are fixed and firm – all deviations from God’s Iron Law is self indulgence. Hobby’s are things even the poor man can do, in his spare time, for the love of it, without payment, but woe betide him if he should inflict his efforts on the judging world.
Unless, of course, you are Nick Ahad. Nick Ahad is allowed his hobby. Nick Ahad can indulge himself all he likes. As he explains in this interview
My day job is the arts correspondent of the Yorkshire Post. I also write and direct plays, make short films and I’ve developed a TV script with the BBC. I’m also acting… but my art doesn’t really pay me anything.
Quite so, and good for him (he’s also a blogger too!) And I’m sure if at first someone had said, Nick, you’re just a hobbyist, this is pure self-indulgence, what you are doing is simply not worthwhile, leave it to the professional playwrights, I’m sure the answer would be “fuck you!” And that would have been the right answer.
So, if there’s room in the world for hobbyist theatre makers to learn and to fail and to grow and eventually to get good, why should the supply of potential theatre critics be restricted? I can’t see the sense, the justice, or even the need.
I’ll leave the last word to Nick, the last sentence of his piece. I agree with it wholeheartedly.
Arts criticism is not rocket science, but it is a craft and deserves respect.
My only quibble (apart from the lazy cliche) is that I don’t believe the craft should be a closed shop – just like with theatre-making I’d rather we spent time helping people improve and develop rather than throwing cold water over their first delicate sparks of enthusiasm.
* Roger Ebert did in fact make a film, and here’s Mike Royko’s verdict.
Interestingly, Royko was no film reviewer, and he wasn’t even a trained journalist (he lied to get his first job). But he was the best damned journalist of his times and I doubt he’d be on Nick’s side in this one.