Sunday, August 23, 2009

Sunday Morning with Showbiz David: Critical Conflicts of Interest

How is a critic to function given conflicting personal and business associations? Ideally, a critic should have no previous or current associations with any of the artists he is setting out to review. Rather impossible, isn’t it. However, the farther away you can stay from all those individuals whose work you might eventually review, the better off you are to render fair verdicts. So many hidden agendas can color reviewing. New York drama critic Brooks Atkinson was known and respected for shunning social contact with theatre people. Need we even explore why?

Now, ask yourself, should a “critic” review the work of his spouse, close friend, brother, sister, uncle? I hope the answer is obvious to you. You should be a friend to your friends and family, not a critic. Why are circus fans so unable to render anything other than upbeat notices? Because they feel a genuine or hopeful friendship to the performers they are writing about, and to be critical would be to betray the spirit of a friendship. I can't blame them for how they feel, but at the same time I see little value in a review having been written by a virtual or quasi friend.

What about reviewing the work of a former or possible future boss or colleague? Now we are getting onto ice, thin or thick. You may hold a grudge against an ex-employer, which could slant your notice in the negative; you may be campaigning to land work with the very person you are now critiquing, which will slant your notice in the affirmative. Either path you take may reveal itself and backfire on you. Avoiding such a review altogether is the honorable thing to do.

Now, there is another possible conflict that arrives when you face new work from an artist/producer/director whom you have tended to champion or dismiss in the past. Can you approach new work of theirs with an open mind? If you, indeed, can teach yourself to concentrate on the work itself rather than on your personal feelings about the creators and performers, you are on the road to success.

All too numerous, I have to assume, are the incestuous relationships between critics of all ilk and the umbrella corporate entities who pay their salaries. The cozier the life, the bigger the pay check, the harder it is to maintain one's high minded principles.

The circus community (and its various schools and institutions), so small and insulated, employees a number of knowledgeable experts who are ideally situated to critique circuses; trouble is, for a staff member of circus A to go out and file a review of Circus B is like having an executive from the Shubert Organization in New York review a new show produced by the Nederlander Organization. Does that make any sense to you? I hope not.

The point is to separate those with whom you have ongoing relationships from those whom you do not know or know only casually through minimal professional association. It is up to YOU to make the critical separations, to recuse yourself from the critical task when you know you are going to be compromised. And you will know, whether you will ever admit it to anyone other than yourself and to possibly those who might be slipping you gratuities under the table. I would urge you to slip them right back. That is, if you are critically serious.

[photo by Boyi Yuan]


Anonymous said...

You forgot to mention that critics might have a place if anyone really cared what they thought, in order to make choices about shows they might attend.
Otherwise their critiques are just self-important bull.
So, do you feel that your critiques are of any importance in this regard, or do they fall into the second category?

Showbiz David said...

Okay, Anonymous, since your critical aim is at myself, I will publish it.

You can find a fairly full and concise answer to your question in my previous posting on the subject. Use these search words in the box above or just scroll down a ways -- "what makes a critic."

Now, if you wish to contribute further, give me your name or I will probably 86 you. I am getting tired of people unafraid to attach a name to their courageous thoughts. You would never make any kind of a critic, no matter how incisive your "self-important bull" might be.

Sunday Morning Cheers!

Casey McCoy Cainan said...

Anonymous, shooting an arrow like that, without a name tag. What a waste. It might have carried a little weight if you signed it.

Is it plagiarism to steal an anonymous comment for ones self? If not, delete Plato above me, and I will run the post under my name and take the credit. How is that for a sense of humor?,,,,,,HAHA

Showbiz David said...

Casey, how courageous you are, Tiger Tender, or were you the latest Anonymous to muddle about my midway restless for a free emotional charge?

Sean O’Cassey, the great Irish playwright (some critics might or might not agree with ”great”) once declared what has become a mantra of mine, “Life is an invitation to live.” So let me add this amendment, “Entertainment is an invitation to critique.”

I have sometimes seen myself as pretentious; However, it is so much fun. Blame the White Tops for having the momentary lapse in good judgment to publish a mouthy 14 year old. Thus, thank you CFA, my perilous protracted precociousness perseveres on apace (oh, what yummy fun was that awesome alliteration).

Merry Mudness to you and yours ...

Wade G. Burck said...

Show biz,
Wow!!! You are a psychic also.
Wade Burck

Showbiz David said...

psychic or psychotic?


Dion said...

Why is this blog becoming more about you than circus? By accident or your desire?

Showbiz David said...

Neither. let's see: scrolling down, I see, after my latest on the subject of reviewing, which does involve me to a degree, a review of RBBB, two three dotter columns about the goings on under big tops and a serious piece about the PETA video alleging animal abuse. All that about me? Sorry that you are obviously put off; I go with my own flow, refusing to be a slave to anything. My main goal is not to capture the most traffic, otherwise there are certain things I would do more constantly to manipulate greater interest, and to do that, somebody would have to pay me a LOT of money. I never exactly know what will comes next. It's fun. Your concern nonetheless is appreciate.

Showbiz David said...

p.s. make that last word "appreciated."

Wade G. Burck said...

What are you talking about?? This thread alone was about suckups who do a good review(and a disservice to ticket buying patrons), so they can be "with it and for it", and can be had for a snowcone and a back slap as they are lead to a box seat. Hell, I even promoted you a few thread back. How long did Carson and Barnes have a stage, in which to use a "stage name?" You want fantasy glitter and sequins, there are blogs/internet site's all over for that if you need a break from reality. With the exception of thinking elephants recall a lot from years back, and zoo's are worse then a touring life, Show Biz has been pretty much dead on.
Wade Burck
Wade Burck

Dion said...

Wade- Showbiz's blog does tell it like it is, and I applaude that. What I said was that his blog is getting too much about him.
If you bothered to read my book you would see I did not, and do not now, live in a 'fantasy' world.
I wrote about how it really was. Thus the title Wild Animal Circus, true tales from the Carson and Barnes Circus. Thank you.

Wade G. Burck said...

Where exactly did I say you lived in a fantasy world? Unless you misunderstood "if".