The Playgoer: More Criticism, Not Less

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Thursday, July 05, 2007

More Criticism, Not Less

"Varied and lively opinionated criticism isn’t necessarily good for individual productions or artists, but it is good for the genre as a whole. If there is no intellectual, aesthetic, political, spiritual, passionate argument about what gets made, then the only arbiters of value are the box office and the phone-in. Bad culture drives out good unless there is someone there to stop it. Look at cinema, which is now virtually critic-proof."

- London Times' A.A. Gill on what he views as the sorry state of dramatic criticism in the UK.

I don't follow the London critics enough to either agree or disagree, but I'm quite taken with at least one part of his argument--that good-quality criticism can help create interest in theatre. He cites the rise in readable food criticism as creating a new interest beyong eating. One might say the same for (if you can believe it) automobile criticism.


Anonymous said...

What is sad about this is that London has probably 3x as many "serious" critics as New York, and at least 5x as much disagreement as our first-string critics, who are almost always fundamentally in agreement.

Anonymous said...

Gill's pov is so critic-centric and presupposes that critics know good culture when they see it.

What real proof is there of that?

There's plenty in the canon that was panned on first arrival. And plenty that's within the canon that's pure esoteric crap.

And when wasn't cinema critic-proof?

Gill is full of it.

Anonymous said...

What's with the slam? What do you mean, "if you can believe it"? Automobile criticism is a completely legitimate exercise.

Automobiles are a mix of the functional and the aesthetic; automobile criticism is probably quite analogous to architecture criticism in that regard, and no one has any doubts about the latter's legitimacy as a critical discipline.

Actually, it's a surprise that automobile criticism is this late to the party. Autos are about as old as cinema, yet cinema developed a critical framework and vocabulary long ago; auto criticism is only now finding its feet.

Ten years from now, perhaps you'll express similar surprise at the quality of technology criticism, or the critical vocabulary it's developed. Thirty years from now, there may well be (for example) doctoral dissertations examining digital-music players, functionally and aesthetically, from a queer-theory perspective - as well as professors competent to review such a dissertation.

Paul Rekk said...

@anon: "And when wasn't cinema critic-proof?"

Love her or hate her: Pauline Kael.

Also the original Cahiers du Cinema crowd, before the critics decided they could do it better. And succeeded.

I don't know enough about the London critics to say too much either, but the problem with a critic-centric society has very little to do with the critics. It's the theatre (or film, you pick) goers who are waiting to be told what to watch and then blindly follow that are the base of the problem.

Playgoer said...

Whoa, Nelly. Sorry to irk any auto critics out there. Truth is, I'm a New Yorker who doesn't drive, ok? So I wouldn't know good auto criticism from... well IPod criticism, since I don't have one of those either.

I can appreciate that good writers can elevate any subject. But I have to admit something disturbs me about a field of criticism devoted to promoting mega-corporate products. Criticism and consumerism, I suppose are always in bed together, but if I don't like consumer-guide theatre criticism, why would I like it on a technology page?

Anonymous said...

Uh -- HOLLYWOOD??? Aint that mega-corporate? Is all film criticim PROMOTIONAL? Why assume that all car criticism is. Wasn't there a Pulitzer Prize in Criticism for auto crit recently?

Anyway, good critics aren't for the purpose of telling people what plays or movies to see (or cars or ipods to buy); they are for fostering intelligent discussion and promoting thinking about the art form and the issues it raises. Are all critics doing this well? Nope. But it's still a good enterprise. Critics certainly should not be the final arbiters, but god (or somebody) help us if box office alone rules. There are many a good thing in the world that don't have mass appeal. And many things with mass appeal that are crap. Not necessarily in either case, of course . . .