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March 30, 2009 | by  | in Online Only |
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In response to your comments…

Sometimes at Salient, we write things that annoy people.

This is not uncommon.

We are people too, you know. Critics do have feelings. We offer a space for the critical review of productions from the point of view of our audience: students.

So here is what happens when the shit flips on Salient and we are misunderstood and/or people take what we are saying too seriously.

Preliminary reading which will preface this is here. Please read the flame war.

Salient’s response

Mark,

Opinions are wonderful things. They are what separate us from the animals and what mark us out as individuals. Like a finger print, no two persons’ opinions are alike. People hold their views very close to themselves, sometimes to the point of being unable to distinguish between people disagreeing with their views and people disagreeing with them as human beings with a right to exist. We have all been guilty of this. This, however, is no excuse for your consistent and personal attacks on Emma.

It is perfectly acceptable for you to disagree with her review and her opinion. As Editors, we thrive on opposing views. Debate is a wonderful thing. In a good debate, a good discussion, both sides will learn something. All we seem to learn from your letter is that you like to harangue and bully a first year student critic writing her first review.

It is worth restating that the subjective theatrical quality of Kia Ora Khalid is not under discussion here. Nor is the objective or subjective quality of the review as piece of literature. What really needs discussion here is the level of discourse following the publication of the review. Your discourse that is. You see, however, in your ongoing efforts to tear apart a seventeen year old girl, to have been somewhat mistaken on some points in your letter.

Lets have a look at them shall we?

“It’s unfortunate that your criticism of ‘Kia Ora Khalid’ is lacking in, well, EVERYTHING.”

Umm. Not isn’t. It is not lacking in text or opinion. Both of those can be considered things indemic to writing of a review making your assertion that it is lacking in EVERYTHING factually incorrect. Easy mistake to make.

“One thing that professional critics do is they CONSTRUCTIVELY pull-apart the mechanics of the show/film/album they are critiquing – as in they can justify what they are saying by detailing what could or should have been done better.”

You are right. That is one thing critics do. It is not the key stone of their job description. What you are describing amounts much more to the work of a dramaturg. The deconstruction of a theatrical work is, I agree, a very interesting form of criticism. But, we here at Salient, are a little squeezed for page space and the word counts for reviews (350-400) are not long enough for such a dramaturgical critique to fit. Knowing this full well, we as Editor and co-Arts Editor (and head of the Theatre page), made a decision early on to cut our reviews down to the fundamental three questions a critic should ask —What is this play saying? Does it say it well? Is it worth saying? — You will find, if you can bear to reread it, that Emma broached all three of these questions.

You are vilifying her for not doing something she didn’t have to do. Something she didn’t even have the space to do. It would be the same as me beginning this letter with ‘Dear Mark, It’s unfortunate that your criticism of our criticism of ‘Kia Ora Khalid’ is lacking in, well, EVERYTHING. One thing that professional Salient letter writers do is send us offerings of gold and custard. You haven’t which is disappointing.’ You don’t have to include yellowy offerings with your letters, critics don’t have to undertake in depth analytical discourses.

“Okay, on first glance you’re clearly inept at that so we’ll try move past it .”

Okay, on first glance you’re not going to make you any friends or even have people listen to your points of critique if you start out by labeling them as inept. It is the same reason that we don’t begin notes to contributors with ‘Listen Idiots!’ It’s rude. Simply rude. No one every got anything by being rude. Except maybe slapped a few times. So, if you want to give people feedback take your own advice and be constructive. Saying that you’re just going to dismiss someone out of hand makes people reflect similarly on your work.

“Alas! I can’t help the feeling, that whilst reading your review, that your dripping sarcasm and snobbish mindset suggests you were born and (in)bred in a semi-gated community with your parents paying your way to avoid mixing with common-folk.”

Ah. Your first fully blown personal attack. This is not constructive. This is barely criticism. All we gain from this is that a) you still refuse to follow your own advice, and b) you automatically and ironically assume that anything beneath full blown praise for anything is pretentious wank from elitists. This should be simple and obvious but, ahem, just because someone disagrees with you does not make them an inbred agoraphobic spitting at all the sunny people outside. We can see from your letter that you are a strong holder of beliefs. This is an admirable trait. But how would you feel if we were to attempt to rebut or discuss your points simply by calling you a no faced swamp monster.

What you are committing here is the logical fallacy called the Ad Hominum attack. This is attempting to discredit something by attacking its creator. For example, ‘Schindler’s List is a shit film because Spielberg is a dick!’ This is a common mistake and you can be forgiven for falling prey to it, especially considering how much it pervades the current media discourse. Just know better in the future. Okay?

“So, you experienced a “foreboding feeling” before even attending the production. Why did you go then?”

You seem surprised that reviewers may have some expectations of what they are about to see. This is odd. Do you not sometimes have half-baked opinions on things you haven’t seen yet? I would find it very hard to believe you if you were to reply ‘No.’ It is fundamental element of the viewing of art, especially narrative art, that the audience, critics included, will have already started forming opinions on the work before it begins whether it being a “foreboding feeling” or simply genre expectations. Why did she go? Because we asked her to. It would have been very rude to have accepted the review tickets and not attended. Why didn’t she pull out if she had a “foreboding feeling”? Because maybe she has faith enough in the human race to think it might surprise her.

“Is it that you had little else to do in your time than attend and systematically slander a children’s show…”

She asked to review a play. It was her first ever review. The tickets for Kia Ora Khalid came up, we offered them to her. She accepted. Do you genuinely believe that Emma is some Machiavellian monster sitting and waiting wanting to tear apart a children’s show? Of course, she isn’t, don’t be ridiculous. You seem to have the cartoon image of critics as joyless monsters preying on the weak stuck in your head. This is simply inaccurate and mildly offensive. Just check out the large number of positive reviews we at Salient have published so far this year. If we thought that one of our reviewers was simply tearing something apart for kicks, we simply would not publish it. Reviewers take little pleasure in having to review bad theatre, especially in such a small town as Wellington, where everyone knows everyone. It is not something done into lightly or for kicks. Critics are people too, y’know.
Also, FYI, Slander is spoken. Libel is written. For example, ‘Your constant accusations that our reviewer is inept and inbred could be considered libel.’

“…brought to the stage by leading professionals of the performance industry (namely, composer Gareth Farr, director Sara Brodie and writer Dave Armstrong) or…”

Will all due respect to all the extremely talented people involved, simply citing the people who were involved in a piece is no way to demark its level of quality. People who do good work also do bad work. David Lynch made Dune, for instance. This is the opposite of the Ad Hominum fallacy, The Appeal to Authority. Past work does not automatically dictate future work.

“…or is it that you are far superior to them and thought you simply MUST contribute your words of wisdom?”

Sarcasm does not help people make their points. Irony is not a good argumentative tool. It simply shows a lack of imagination. She contributed her review to the public sphere because not publishing a review after accepting review tickets is seen as exceptionally bad form. So, actually, yes, she must, not because she feels herself superior but because it was the job assigned to her.

“Being a children’s opera, then, I would’ve thought that “embarrassingly blatant themes” would be necessary to get the point across.”

It is a common misconception that narrative work for children has to be egregious in its spelling out of obvious ideas. Children are highly intuitive, especially when it comes to sub-textual meanings. We shouldn’t condescend to them. In the same way, that people studying childhood development are beginning to think that speaking baby talk to children slows the growth of their verbal skills, we should not numb our children to connotative meaning in narrative art forms by sign posting meaning so obviously. So no, Mark. Sorry. Theatre does not need to be “embarrassingly blatant” to communicate meaning. That should be kind of obvious. Embarrassingly blatant, almost.

“Or maybe the production should have evoked ‘Hamlet’-style ideas and imagery to be satisfactory to you?”

First, you accuse our reviewer of being condescending. Then you feel the need to repeatedly attempt to tar her with broad, stereotypical assumptions about her life and personality. Which is eerily close to condescension if you ask me. I’m not going to accuse you of hypocrisy. This paradox in your writing may have been intentional, artful as it is. And just so you know, No. No reviewer that either of us have ever met has ever had one set idea of what good theatre is. Such a process is regressive and useless. You may be confusing Emma with Eugene Scribe the quite dead French critic who invented the idea of the ‘Well Made Play.’ A mistake many people have made.

“I hardly would’ve thought that appropriate for a children’s show.”

I agree. Some of the themes of Hamlet would indeed be deeply inappropriate for children under ten. However, you are the only person positing their inclusion in or replacement of Kia Ora Khalid, all you have achieved is to disprove yourself. Which makes writing this letter easier.

“Amongst my critique I must say I do admire one thing about you – your hypocrisy.”

Pot. Kettle. Black.

“You said there’s a “great unspoken irony” that white-skinned Martyn Wood was cast as dark-skinned Afghani Khalid. Do you not realise that these people are ACTORS? They are meant to be someone they’re not, to encourage your imagination of their character. That’s their job.”

It was not the fact of his casting in the role that was the issue under discussion. It was the fact that on the opening night performance at least, something clearly had been done to darken his skin — such an act carries with it echoes of black face. The unspoken irony is that a play that is so heavily geared towards messages of racial equality is or was utilisating an image so directly and surtextually evocative of such an appalling racially charged image. It would be similar to casting Lara Croft in a film adaptation of The Female Eunuch. Of course, she knew that they were actors. Of course, she knew it was their job. You are the one who seems confused, misunderstanding as you seem to the whole point of the comment. There is a large difference between ‘[being] someone they’re not, to encourage your imagination of their character’ and blacking up.

“I think the greater “irony” actually is that you think the production is “insulting to a five-year-old’s intelligence” whereas it clearly achieved its goal by forcing you to “confront [your] own racism and attitude towards refugees”!”

You seem to misunderstand. Good theatre and bad theatre are not binary oppositions. A bad piece of theatre can have moments of great effectiveness and great theatre has troughs all of its own. Emma was simply demonstrating this idea. She felt it was insulting to a five year old but at the same time gained something from it. These are not mutually exclusive ideas. Something can achieve some of its goals while still being insulting to members of the audience. What you have created here is a false dichotomy. This is not a case of one or the other—from which your alleged irony arises—both of these things can coexist.

“I guess it’s easy to overlook things like these when you’re busy defaming performance by people more talented than you.”

Now. We’re going to be honest with you. It is around this line of your letter that we really start having trouble keeping our cool. This sentence is so full of arrogance and ignorance that attempting to rebut it is admittedly hard. This is one of those cases where an insult tells us a lot more about the insulter than the insultee. When we boil this statement down, all it really works out to is, ‘Dear Emma, you are stupid and have no talent.’ This is frankly an unacceptable level of discourse. That you think it is okay to attack people so directly with such little knowledge of them or their work, reflects we feel very, very badly on you. We say this not as a judgment against you as person. But, please, you really need to understand that insulting someone is not making a point. It is, to restate, rude and unacceptable. Please reconsider your approach for any further similar correspondence. It’s not making you any friends.

“For the large part, you affront things at face value instead of any consideration for the actual purpose of the play. It’s clear that you walked into the Opera House with every intent of slamming the production.”

These are such crass generalisations that we’ve deflated them elsewhere. Repetition does not reinforce your argument. What you are saying is simply fundamentally untrue and we think you know that too but got a bit too caught up in your attack to stop and consider the intent and meaning apparent behind your words. You can’t just say things and wish them to be true. Life just doesn’t work like that. Insert blatant painful satire on Iraq here.

“It’s unfortunate that your criticism of ‘Kia Ora Khalid’ is lacking. It’s also unfortunate that the bug up your arse has not seen sunlight in many-a-year.”

Okay. We’re going to put this as a question. Sit down with me man. Let me ask you something. What did you want to achieve by sending us this letter? What was your end game? Your expected result? What did you hope to gain by having Salient publicly publish this letter when it consists of little more than small minded and personal attacks against someone you don’t know? You obviously have read the comments on the Salient website. You have read actors from the play publicly threatening my reviewer. What have you got to add to the discourse? What should I walk away from reading this thinking? Did you just want to shame her more? To make public your clear distaste for a seventeen year old girl trying her hand for the first time at criticism? What did she do to you? Did you even see the play under discussion? What do you want? Just to troll? To let the world know that you can be as mad as hell as everyone else? Seriously. we want to know. Email us: editor@salient.org.nz. Honest. Because, honestly, when we read this, all we could think was – why like this? You clearly think you can and could have done a better job than Emma. Why not ask to review something yourself? Send us an email. Come up to the office. We could have discussed your issues face to face. We still could. But, why here? Why like this? Why be so overt in your hatred? It just seems so distasteful, to express these views in a public forum. “Look at me! I hate her too!” This should not be interpreted as some pro-censorship diatribe. We am not atop a soap box to declare the needed end of any public discourse, especially the ever lively Salient letters page. Such things are wonderful demonstrations of the every present need for free speech. But free speech, like all free things, can be abused. This letter ads nothing. It contributes nothing apart from gratuitous hate.

You give us no proof within the letter for any reason for us to listen to you over her. You tear her apart with the same vigour and calculated malevolence that you accuse her of. We hope this unspoken irony is not lost on you.

Now, we want to speak to a wider issue. So, let me clarify now that this, Mark, is not really directed at you. Such an active revolt against an inexperience critic really makes me fear for the development of critical voices in the Wellington theatre scene. We both, along with Fiona the co-Arts Editor here at Salient, are working very hard at bring flesh blood into the arts world. Criticism is one such part of it. We have not been able to contact Emma, since the fan was shit hit, but we would not at all be surprised if she refused to ever dip her toe into the pond of theatrical pond again. This is not a good thing. Not at all. People learn by doing and for someone to be so directly attacked on their first public work is almost sinister and very unfortunate.

This does not reflect well on the Wellington theatre scene. It is usually such a warm, wonderful and accepting place. You are not helping, Mark, by validating these peoples deeply unprofessional rage by asserting that you, as a member of the public, accept, encourage and ad to their dummy spitting. Sorry, we’ve not seen you down the Pit so, we kind of assume that you are not the Wellington theatre world. If you are. Sorry.

So, Mark. We ask you once again.

What did you want to happen?

Thank you for your time,

Jackson James Wood and Uther Charles Allen Dean
Salient Editor and Salient Co-Arts Editor 2009

THE REPLY

Hi again,

I appreciate you taking the time to respond to me. I honestly didn’t expect it.

I know I overstepped my mark in the response to Emma’s review. In hindsight, I think her opinion was unsubstantiated, AS WELL AS my own. I guess I want to assert that I’m not as “sinister” a guy as you seem to think of me as – at the time of writing my letter there were several reasons why it eventuated the way it did:

1) I really think Emma manipulated things that at face value to give the show, as a whole, a poor image. Fair enough, that is her opinion. But she just dosen’t seem to solidify her argument throughout, aside from stabbing at random aspects of it.

2) It seems she struggled to be positive at all about the play – like when she mentions “the leads could actually sing”, to me, it’s like, she must think generally performers don’t know how to sing at all. They are few and far between. Why could she not say “the leads could sing”? Taking out that ONE word would make so much difference! And would, to me, validate the critical/negative things she says. Yes, I’m getting finnicky, I just wanted to provide an example.

3) I’m close to one of the lead actors. So that accuonts for A LOT of my heightened emotion in my letter. But also, I felt I couldn’t let that review reflect so badly on everyone involved. Because it does. Even if the “subjective theratical quality” is not discussed, people don’t care when they read a review! I just don’t think a bad reflection justly sums to the international interest Kia Ora Khalid has received (both Australian and Asian theatre representatives have shown interest in touring), or the multiple standing ovations.

I believe myself to be good at articulating myself on paper, but I know that because of these things I combined this articulation with personal attacks. The end result was ugly, I’m not especially proud of it but it was how I was feeling at the time. I understand it was inappropriate. I HAVE taken that on board! It seems what I’ve said has left a lasting impression on you – good or bad, you’ve taken the time to respond to me. I appreciate it. I DO think I could have written a good review, not neccessarily better than Emma’s as she now has one more on me! Haha. I would absolutely consider writing a review for you guys.

Like I said, I do appreciate your detailed response. Thanks for the reply.

Regards,
Mark

Moral of the story

Instead of anonymously writing on our website and showing your ignorance: just come into the office and talk to us. Seriously, if you’re that dedicated to what you’re saying—as this person was—you should just drop by and say it, face to face.

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About the Author ()

The editor of this fine rag for 2009.

Comments (8)

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  1. Uther Dean says:

    Just to be clear. The letter is a direct response to http://www.salient.org.nz/arts/theatre/kia-ora-khalid#comment-382462 which was also submitted to ‘Salient’ as a letter to editor for our print edition.

  2. Christopher says:

    Where was your freakin 50 post Hitler when I needed it last year J?

    With fond, fond memories.
    Chris

  3. Jackson Wood says:

    50 Hitler posts are the new black.

  4. Shitkicker McGee says:

    Dear Jackson and Uther,

    It’s actually an ‘ad hominem’, with an E.

    hth

  5. Shitkicker says:

    Oi, just coz I left myself logged in at work doesn’t mean you can be me!

  6. Jason says:

    Well done, you two have managed to take shit and come out with champagne. Infuriating and frustrating as it is.

    The reply can’t save the letter now. But at least it sheds light on how that letter came to become so crass and illogical.

  7. You do very well together. So many

  8. Mitzi Del Bra II says:

    Actually 50 Post Hitlers are the new ‘Kampf’. What a turn-on!

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