The Playgoer: Contextomy-gate?

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Friday, October 26, 2007


While Playgoer was happy to make a joke of his own out of context pull-quotes, the NY Drama Critics circle ain't so amused anymore:

Newsday's Linda Winer was especially annoyed that the producers of "Walmartopia" took her largely negative review and made it look like a ringing endorsement.

Other critics were ticked off with a "Grease" ad that made a whole bunch of negative reviews read like raves.

Circle president Adam Feldman of Time Out has appointed the Daily News' Howard Kissel to head up a committee - shall we call it The Kissel Commission? - to see what can be done about this terrible ethical breach.

Either the Walmartopia team has done a good job already erasing any trace of said ad from the web, or I'm not good with the Google. Anyone have it? (Weiner's full--i.e., negative--review is here.)

And I wrote previously about the infamous Grease ad here.


Unknown said...

I'm not sure where the ad can be found at this point, but its contents are described in this news report:

We're hoping to release some guidelines in late November about just what we consider to be fair use of our quotes. Stay tuned.

Playgoer said...

Thanks for the Bloomberg link, Adam. Guess this story is already a month old!

Here's the gist:

"The ad attributed the following quote to Winer: ``This deft, fun, little-guy-fights-back inspirational story has its heart in the right place.''

"What Winer actually wrote in her Sept. 4 review: ``Though the heart is in the right place, the style is as simple-minded as the huge smiley buttons that define the level of the collegiate soft-target spoofing.''

"Director Daniel Goldstein, she wrote, ``uses every cliche known to recent parody to neutralize the preachiness -- and betray the point -- of this little-guy-fights-back inspirational story.'' "

The best part is this reaction from Winer:
""I saw the ad and said, `What idiot liked `Walmartopia?'" she said in an interview. "And then I read it and said, `I'm the idiot!'" "

Also, a new word for the practice: "massaging." As in:

"Tom Greenwald, creative director of SpotCo, the New York ad agency that handles ``Walmartopia,'' calls quote doctoring a time-honored tradition. ``I'm happy to defend the practice of pulling and massaging quotes,'' he said. ``With a show like `Walmartopia,' there's no question it's a deep-tissue massage." "

Deep-tissue? Ewww....

Anonymous said...

Which is a breack of ethics?:

"Actor X was amazing!"

From the following reviews:

"Actor X was amazing in the otherwise deadly revival"

"Actor X was amazing as Professor Y, but when called up in Act 2 to play Mr. Y, I wondered where his talent had gone."

"Actor X was amazing in his impersonations, though impersonations do not a character make."

"Actor X was bad."

Unknown said...

Edward, this is exactly the kind of question we've been wrestling with. Off the cuff, I would say that in the first case -- "Actor X was amazing in the otherwise deadly revival" -- the pull quote "Actor X was amazing" would be fair in and of itself. In the next two, "Actor X was amazing" would require at least the immediate qualifier, i.e. "Actor X was amazing as Professor Y" and "Actor X was amazing in his impersonations." In the fourth case, "Actor X was amazing" would be clearly misleading.

With any luck, we'll be able to codify this kind of thing into manageable rules of thumb.

Anonymous said...

It seems to me the solution is very simple.

Media outlets should refuse to run any ads for productions that are guilty of this type of behavior.

Furthermore, such a transgression would merit that any show repped by the same PR firm would be denied coverage or a review.

They'd clean up their act fast AND free up a lot of critics to see more "independent" theater.

One NYC StageHand said...

And people wonder why theatre workers don't trust producers. For me, the irony is that a show that was so supposedly pro worker was done without a union crew. It's more of that not for profit dodge. "My message is so important you should work on it for free."

Anonymous said...

That makes sense, Adam. One other question I've also struggled with--rephrasing. For example, the Havel Festival got a really nice writ up in American Theatre, but there was no real pull quote...unless I pulled together two far away sentences and sort of made them one. The shows were over by then, so there was no need to use a quote for advertisement (though I did look for one for a fund raising letter), but it would be good to have a rule of thumb. Years ago, I rewrote a quote a little to convey what I thought the reviewer wanted to convey but in pull quote form, then contacted the writer to get his OK...which he gave. But how accurate does it need to be? Does there always need to be an ellipsis? Can you place the quote from the end of the review before the quote from the beginning of the review? And is there a difference between using a quote in an ad and in a fundraising letter?

Just some guidelines I know would be helpful for me, when I pull.

Unknown said...

I could give you my personal opinions on those questions, EE, but since we're currently trying to put together a short position paper on the subject it would probably make sense for me to wait until we're ready to release that...

Anonymous said...

Oh, just what we need... more bureaucracy! It's a matter of common sense!

As an actor I pull quotes all the time. But if I put quotation marks around something I don't paraphrase, I don't rearrange, and I don't mis-contexualize.

If the end result is a little clumsy sounding (usually it isn't), such is life. People, this is not rocket science.

You would know when you've been misquoted, wouldn't you? So does a critic. You would know if someone reneged on an agreement, right? That's why you put one in writing.

Well a review is usually in writing. If you pull it and "massage" it (especially as Grease and Walmartopia have done), you are a liar. Simple as that.

Don't draft a Lutheresque set of guidelines. Hit the producers and PR companies in the pocket books--denying them coverage and advertising--and it will stop.