By Isaac Butler
Earlier this week, Michael Kaiser confessed to being wary of social media's abiltiy to open the doors and let the rabble into the marketplace of ideas. I don't think Kaiser's thoughts on this subject merit much consideration, but then again, I don't think much of anything Kaiser says is worth considering, which is why I don't read him. I already know what the consensus wisdom amongst institutional types is. In this particular case, even were I sympathetic to one of the most powerful institutional arts folks bemoaning the fact that less powerful people than he might have their voices heard, the truth of the matter is that ship has sailed and the question is not "should we be happy about it?" but rather "what's next?"
Writing in response to this post, Howard Sherman mentions that he and WaPo reviewer Peter Marks have "met" via social networking and become friendly conversationalists about issues involing theater:
Peter Marks of The Washington Post and I have struck up a series of impromptu, friendly debates on Twitter on a variety of theatrical topics, all in the limited forum that Twitter provides to explore any idea at length or in depth. I think these discussions take on a greater meaning in light of a Huffington Post blog from earlier today by Kennedy Center president Michael Kaiser, in which he bemoaned the fate of the professional critic and confessed to being scared of the cacophony of individual voices making their opinions known online.
I happen to think what has sprung up between Peter and me — and the various people who follow or join our conversation — is almost an ideal of what social media can achieve and proof that the barrier between critic and audience, amateur and professional need not be stringently maintained — as if it could be.
I have many thoughts on this. But the first one is this: Howard Sherman is not an actor slaving away in the indie theater circuit in, say, Cleveland finally happy that his concerns can be taken seriously by the media and theatrical elite. Howard Sherman is the theatrical elite. His bio includes stints as the head of the American Theatre Wing and being executive director of The Eugene O'Neill Theatre Center in Waterford, CT. If Howard Sherman wanted to talk to Peter Marks, he doesn't need twitter, he could just pick up the phone or shoot him an e-mail.
I agree with Howard that there's great things going on in terms of social media putting people in touch. In fact, Terry Teachout wote a piece on this very subject in the Wall Street Journal over five years ago after he saw a play that George Hunka and I collaborated on that he learned of only because we talked about it on our blogs. Parabasis has been enormously instrumental in my own career and life. There's tons of people on all levels of the industry that I only know because of this blog, and I'm grateful for it.
But I'm not sure the ideal of social media w/r/t the arts is to help people network. And I'm very sure my personal ideal isn't that it help well established powerful people in the industry network. That's not opening any doors, and that's not what Michael Kaiser is so scared of.
UPDATE: For more of a response to Kaiser, see Jeremy's take at Culturebot.