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December 11, 2008


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Everyone's talking criticism today. BTW, I think your reading of SLMorris' issues with Critic-O-Meter are pretty apt. I know Travis Bedard is talking about this. We have been brouhahain' in C-town about Critical stuff again too.


I don't think that you guys should be focusing on *NOT* including any reviewers--that seems to work against the idea of having a Critic-O-Meter. What might work as a compromise is to aggregate the various reviews based on the *EXPERIENCE* of the critic (obviously a difficult task at this day and age).

Note, I say experience rather than medium: if Eric Grode were to start a blog in which he reviewed shows, you wouldn't want to give him the weight of a casual blogger. At the same time, you might not want to give too much credence to the new guy at New York magazine if s/he hasn't been covering theater. (I'm reminded of the tempers that flared when Caryn James, a book/TV/film critic started covering theater for NYT.) In any case, the more voices you can find.

I strongly advise reading James Surowiecki's "The Wisdom of Crowds": the more voices you list (even if they're not wholly formal--for instance, why *NOT* include "Broadway & Me"?) the closer you're going to get to a fair average. Some specialized writers (like the people at Obscene Jester) may be able to appreciate a show better than the casual critic who was tasked with assigning the latest bit of shock theater. (Note how often people use the term "in-yer-face theater" but seem utterly incapable of describing what that means, or what it should.)

These aren't critiques of the site--they're suggestions. I don't see how your site could hurt anything other than one's ego.


Personally I see no need to add weight to certain reviewers. If the consideration they've gotten thus far in life is not enough, too bad. Whatever weight their opinion has per show should be gleaned by individual readers. Why bother aggregating at all if certain reviews are deemed to have more value?

If from an objective POV their experience truly is deserving of such added consideration, let their work speak for itself in a fashion that it can't on corporate media conglom sites.

Experience is not always synonymus with integrity, ability, relevance or authority. Especially in our digital blogosphere. To my mind, reinforcing political paradigms in the material plane is contrary to most of these blogish endeavors. The very thing that bothers SLMorris, is the thing that has the most appeal.

Again if certain reviewers in any given town need to feel more valuable, it is not the job of Critic-O-Meter or agrregate sites like it to do that. Rather, reviewers should be talking to their employers about getting a bigger offices.


Just wanted to let you know that I've weighed in and I like what you're doing. Every other aspect of popular culture gets graded in this way and to argue that theatre is so fragile that it can't handle the scrutiny is offensive. It's another place to go for people who want to learn more about Broadway and off-Broadway and that can only help.

Steven Leigh Morris

Enjoyed your spirited response very much. Two counter-remarks on the issues I care most about: I think you took my remark about your giving equal weight to the NY Times and some web critic as some Custer-like stand on behalf of wounded print journalists. Like we're standing here changing our bandages and waiting for the next assault. Oh, please. That was two years ago. That war is over. Those of us left in print harbor no illusions about the bloodied state of the industry, and certainly no pseudo-superiority complexes because of it. The fear-based grandstanding that you attribute to me is a bit presumptuous, and it's also wrong. I'd fess up if it were true. The blogosphere, including Parabasis, contains some of the most perceptive writing and discussion around. Like the print media, it also contains some terrible writing. The medium isn't the issue for me; it's the brains, the passion and the experience of the writers, wherever they're writing. That's what I'm suggesting be weighted into Critic-O-Meter. How you do that, I'm not sure: I guess you'd find the standards that matter to you and plug them in. Second, I understand you don't want to see your child criticized -- if I'd framed my comments as "suggestions" rather than "complaints," I'd still be drawing fire for telling other people what to do -- which is all really beside the point. Critic-O-Meter is a symbol for something in the culture larger than itself. Who am I, on one coast, to belittle your efforts on the other? That's not my intent, and if you take it that way, I'll lob your charge of defensiveness back into your court. I love that the blog calls up multiple reviews, providing the option of instant comparison for readers; I don't like the grading, not because you're doing it, but because it reflects a trajectory in the culture that I find reductive. That's not a complaint so much about Critic-O-Meter as about what our culture has become. I think I have a right to express that, and there's no need to be offended by it, as it has comparatively little to do with you or the valuable service that you're providing. Your point about both you and Rob having your own blogs for more ruminative insights is well taken.

Jason Grote

I feel like Mommy and Daddy are fighting!

Seriously, I like Critic-O-Meter but haven't commented on it because I'm too busy with projects to blog, or frankly even think about any of these things. I can barely even muster the energy to think about reviews of my own plays at the moment.

Steven's points are all good -- I don't think he's being elitist -- but I also think that things manage to shake themselves out. When I read Rotten Tomatoes, for example, I take a brief glance at the percentages, but then pay more attention to certain reviewers (and yeah, I do take AO Scott more seriously than the MovieBoy, though everyone knows I don't take the NYT as the last word on anything).

I don't really like the tendency of 21st-century American culture to reduce everything to numbers or grades, but neither do I like the primacy of certain cultural outlets. I'll take the Critic-0-Meter in whatever state it's in, though honestly I choose to go to a show or not based on word-of-mouth, what I already know about the artists, and then the handful of critics and bloggers whose POV reflects my own tastes.

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