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October 23, 2009


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I love Saint Ettiene.

I wonder if Pitchfork is just just hoping one of those labels will catch on like "punk" or "grunge" and then everybody will know for all eternity that they coined the phrase.

I kind of like "dreambeat". I feel like you could apply that to Sally Shapiro, Cut Copy, The Whitest Boy Alive, etc.

Paul Rekk

The glo-fi/chillwave/dreambeat example creates context rather than providing it, which is something I fully back. Critics at their best should not only be well-versed in the medium but also wordsmiths, and the evocation of a piece with the imagery of your words can be just as effective as doing it with their historical context.

It seems to me that in that example, you aren't expected to bring to mind all of the dreambeat artists you know, but (as Josh just did) imagine what something titled dreambeat might sound like and apply it to what you know.

(Of course, Josh is also right that there's probably some marketing hopefuls behind it, but it's also just fun with words.)

Paul Rekk

Although, for me, dreambeat seems more an Air France/Memory Tapes sorta thing, Josh.

So there, split those genre hairs!


I strongly agree, and thanks for a thoughtful exploration of the subject.

For my two cents, I've come to think that really the *only* valid function of a reviewer is to provide context. More specifically, to educate and guide me through an artwork. Serving as a guide and an educator can enhance my appreciation of the work without dictating how I should react within that context.

For example, I adore when someone knowledgeable about music helps me (a music ignoramus) know what to listen for in a piece of music, and highlights what musical craft the artist has put into the piece. It hugely enhances my listening experience. But just telling me a piece of music is A) great or B) sucks doesn't help me, and since tastes differ it's often less than helpful.

Flinging the reactions and tastes of the critic up on a pedestal as a suitable stand-in for the reactions and tastes of any other person who might experience the artwork is a waste of time at best and hurtful narcissism at worst. It can be hard to remind myself of this when an influential critic gives a rave review on a piece I care a lot about, but it still applies.

Sadly I don't see any hope for getting rid of the self-important blowhard critics. Boy I wish we could get rid of them. Even when they like your stuff, they're ultimately contributing to the ill health of the field.


I think we should start applying dreambeat/chill wave/glo fi -ish labels to playwrights now.

P.S. Dreambeat also sounds like a board game for girls. "I can't wait to go to Becky's sleepover. We're gonna do Biore pore strips and play Dreambeat!"



Funny that you mention Hilton Als' review of "Stunning"--this summer, in San Francisco, I attended a conversation between Als and dramaturg Michael Paller, and one of the things they dicussed was this review, which had just been published at the time. I wrote about the conversation on my blog here:

I agree with you that this review makes it seem like Als preferred to flaunt his knowledge of Bernard Malamud rather than discuss Adjmi's play. Als, however, said that putting plays in context like this is the primary duty of a theater critic--it's his job to discuss how new plays relate to older works of literature.

But, like you, I think that Als goes too far down this path. Especially because he went on to say something to the effect of "Contextualizing a work of theater is a way of giving it dignity, the dignity that literature has. Because theater is, primarily, a form of literature. So playwrights should try to get people to read their work, that's the important thing, and they shouldn't care if it doesn't get produced."

This might be the most outrageous thing I have ever heard a theater critic say. What an insult to everyone who works so hard to bring plays to life onstage!

That aside, though, it just seems like Als' review tries to put the play in too broad of a context. The examples you cite from Zinoman and Cote discuss the plays in relation to trends in the modern theater. But when Als tries to contextualize a play by referring to a novelist who was last popular 50 years ago, it just comes off feeling irrelevant.

Travis Bedard

Sheila Callaghan - Glambeat Nightmare


John Ellingsworth's post today on the Guardian theatre blog ties to this conversation from last week. Do tweets about recent performances influence your perception and attendance of shows? Has the 5-star rating system (associated with film in my mind) ever been used to rate theatre (and I just missed this)?

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