I've been dilly-dallying on writing a post about critics for awhile, and then Jimmy C-Note went and started posting on the subject so it's give me a nice kick in the pants.
1. Blog Suspicion. The core of the blogosphere's DNA is suspicion. There's a refusal to take anything at face value and a refusal to accept anyone as an authority simply because they claim to be. There's also an immediate suspicion of people's motives when they write and say things they write and say. In many ways, this is a positive. The blogosphere's ongoing pwning of the mainstream media, for example, is a net positive. But it is also the blogosphere's achilles heel. This happens in all sorts of arenas...the assumption that people are acting in bad faith makes it hard to discuss what they're actually saying and can diminish the conversation at times.
What happens, then, when that suspicion is applied to art? This question makes me think about a recent project undertaken by several of my favorite political bloggers this summer. This summer, you may recall, was Infinite Summer, a mass online book club of Infinite Jest. As a way of participating, Ezra Klein, Julian Sanchez, Matt Yglesias and several others founded this blog. The early postings of it are like a parody of bloggers reading a book. One of them did oppo research before starting, reading James Wood's "takedown" of David Foster Wallace prior to cracking the book. One of them said he was reading largely because he wanted to see if it was really worth all the hype, not because there was anything about the book that actually interested him etc. and so forth.
The idea that, given the choice between reading DFW's thoughts on fiction or an essay-length takedown of DFW's work, one would choose the latter as a way of better understanding Infinite Jest is pure Blog Suspicion. It's what happens when you apply the skills of a political blogger to the field of understanding and writing about culture.
Oddly enough, the reviewer who openly espouses a similar attitude here in New York is, of course, Charles Isherwood. Reading his work, it becomes clear that when he sits down to view a play, he wants it to prove itself to him before he can open himself up to accept it.
This is problematic. Theatre relies on a certain level of complicity between artist and art. And if you don't make that good faith effort in the beginning, there's a good chance that you're sunk. That's true of most art forms. It's especially true of theatre. I'm not saying it would be awesome if all reviewers assumed they were going to love what they were going to see, but rather simply that the work they're seeing was greeted with an open mind.
The question becomes... as the blogosphere takes over a lot more of theatre reviewing (particularly once the Times goes out of business or becomes an all-online publication) what will happen with Blog Suspicion and theatre reviewing?