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May 15, 2006

Let us entertain you


Andras wrote:

"There will be a huge swarm of bloggers, but that won’t prevent the – watch out, another big word supposedly verboten in cyberspace is coming – discourse from concentrating around a limited number of voices. Those writers will be given better toys, broader distribution, and oh, money, so they’ll be able to keep going."


So the big question is, who will be the people on the top of the pile up?

My whole yarn about the old man and the see is this: Don't look back. Turning into a pillar of salt is the least of your worries.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, there's historical frameworks to be considered and threats of endless repetitions hanging over our heads, but that's not what I'm talking about.

I'm talking about pining for days of fewer distractions and longer word counts and the comfort of a weathered leather club chair in a private office after a three-martini lunch.

Gone, gone, gone.

And thank God.

The artists have finally gotten their revenge on us.

The critics now have to perform.

We have judged artists on their ability to excite, to innovate, to surprise, to engage, to inform.

Now the world is demanding that of us, too.

It might have been enough during a certain period for Christopher Isherwood to declare, "I am a camera."

Today's critic has to declare: "I am a camera, I am a videographer, I am an podcaster, I am a feature writer, I am a critic, I am a marketer, I am a blogger, I am an editor, I am..."

I am the person who can engage the people using whatever tools are available. I am curious enough to examine the way new technologies can help tell stories. I am flexible enough to learn these technologies. I am brazen enough to shamelessly promote my point of view. I am willing to utilize the kinds of storytelling techniques that are pointed out as verboten in "The Elements of Style."

Make no mistake, the reviewers on Amazon.com won't take our jobs. Nor will it be the Depeche Mode obsessive.

But that kid who read your book, learned something from it and created a cult around her brand of critique using a listserv, blog and weekly podcast will.

You might be ok resting on your laurels and teaching at university and ignoring all these electro charges crackling through the air. You might be moderately relevant as a footnote. Your obituary is certainly secure. But your days of making an on-going contribution to the PUBLIC discourse are numbered.

Unless you do something about it.

Will you?

Posted by at May 15, 2006 8:31 AM


Amen. Brand-building.

Some critics already do this. For example: New Yorker music critic Alex Ross has a blog: The Rest is Noise.

Another key point that I'd tack on here is that when critics have a web presence there is an easy way for readers to talkback to them. I've noticed that readers really seem to enjoy that. Having my email address on my blog has been hyper-valuable in lots of ways, from developing sources to getting yelled at when I screw up.

Posted by: Tyler Green at May 15, 2006 9:02 AM

Yes, that relationship with readers is key. But you have to truthfully want to engage with people. Some people fake it and it's painfully obvious.

Posted by: Caryn at May 15, 2006 9:29 AM

I love this post, if only because it takes a written form that is so dear to blogging - a manifesto of sorts. However, I take issue with only one point -

"The critics now have to perform."

I don't believe that there was ever a point where critics were not performing. To take the famous critic George Bernard Shaw as an example, his desire with critiicsm was to create pieces that anyone who read the paper might enjoy - and if humor, vulgarity, and even perhaps inflamitory language was the way to get readers engaged, so be it.

Any form of writing projects an idea to the reader - we write in ways to keep our readerships engaged. otherwise, we would do reviews in bullet points, rather than paragraphs. Criticism can be, and as your post proved, is, a creative an exciting process. Blogging and traditional criticism are not so far apart as many might think - if the medium is the message, then perhaps the same people in a new space (i.e. Alex Ross) might start producing very different work.

Posted by: Claire Blaustein at May 15, 2006 9:57 AM

I was referring to writing, but more importantly, I was referring to NOT writing. As part of my job, I now make videos, cut audio and engage forms of media I never thought I'd tangle with but a year ago. Like a choreographer that has to make choices about staging and music, we, too, have to decide how to tell our stories in the most potent way possible. And text may not always be the way.

Posted by: Caryn at May 15, 2006 10:20 AM

When I read blogs, I don't care if they use video, podcasts or whatever. I'm interested in content expressed well. Whatever format you use, do it well. That doesn't mean you need the best and brightest website design, but that the writing is good, and the site doesn't distract from it. The site should honestly represent the writer and/or the subject.

Posted by: hdw at May 15, 2006 10:51 AM

Please note that I made a correction in my post. When I was writing it, I kept reminding myself to not mix up the two Isherwood first names: Christopher is a deceased novelist and conjuror of "I am a camera" while Charles is a very much alive theater critic (and author of the bio of gay porn star Joey Stefano, which I believe Christopher would have enjoyed...I certainly did.) Thanks to Anthony DeCurtis for pointing out my error.

Posted by: caryn at May 16, 2006 10:20 AM

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