THE WHISPERING MAY HURT YOU, BUT THE PRINTED WORD MIGHT KILL YOU
I linked to this humorous article by Everett True in the Lance Scott live journal (where I go to air out Lance-like thoughts and fictional occurrences and confuse people into thinking it's all happening to me), but I am going to link here, too, because (a) I like it, and (b) I like Everett. I was writing for the Portland Mercury when he first moved to Seattle, and that was when Cut My Hair came out, so my editor there forwarded him a copy. He wrote back that he liked it until the final third when "it got all portentous on my ass." Fair enough. I think a nicer way to say it than the Willamette Week's "The major symbol...recurs as chronically as crabs in a whorehouse to remind us that the book has Big Meaning." But the rest of that WW piece was a nice review, so I didn't take it bad. I even joke about it on my own site when linking to it.
There was actually a worse write-up in WW the week before the review was printed. It was the blurb for my reading at Powell's. The tone of it (and it was just a couple of lines) was extremely sarcastic, including making fun of the fact that I was having a slideshow with some of the art (something Powell's had requested). It pissed me off, and I nearly dashed off a letter to the books editor at the paper, who I wrote the occasional graphic novel review for, but thought better of it. This was the same editor who eventually told me that writing critical reviews of graphic novels was "stupid." Her logic was that, you know, people wanted to look at comic books, not read about them. I kid you not. I was glad to see her go.
Anyway, it was the right choice not to complain. I think it's entirely bad form for artists to whine about reviews, particularly in the same forum as the review was printed. It's part of the trade off. You know that going in, there is a double edge to promotion. I had also written my share of snarky pieces in the past, including a few that garnered responses from the targets. Like, when Cobra High called my house in the middle of the night and hung up, not considering the fact that I may have caller ID and crank calling from their work wasn't the smartest option. I just asked my editor, "Do you know anyone who works at _______ Café?" Yes, she did. Some guys in Cobra High. What a coincidence that my write-up of their show had appeared the same day. I also had a review of a CD by The Pinehurst Kids that had inspired one of the guys in the band to retaliate on the Mercury's letters page. As usual when such a thing occurs, the artist ended up looking like a baby who couldn't take it. Trust me, no one remembers a bad review, nor the guy who wrote it; everyone remembers the guy who got reviewed whining about it. (I took a different approach as an editor, as I often felt compelled to defend the work of my colleagues; though, I tried to confine it to someplace like the Oni message board, where it was in the atmosphere of people hanging out and talking; our own backyward, as it were.)
I've been noticing a disturbing, yet similar, swing in another direction for a while now. That is, the critics now defending themselves. This seems to take place particularly online, where reviewers seem to roam around looking for people taking exception to what they wrote (do they google themselves?). To me, this is plainly bad form. I never answered my hate mail, I just let it go. It's the same principle: if you're going to criticize, expect to be criticized, accept it as the lay of the land. Even worse than having a thin skin, though, as a writer of opinions, if you feel compelled to not just defend those opinions against scrutiny, but to clarify those opinions in order to be better understood, you shouldn't be spending the time arguing with some blogging scamp, you should be looking over your original piece and wondering if it was something you did to be misunderstood. You can't wave away the criticism of your own work by insisting you were misinterpreted. As an alleged writer, you should know that all words can be interpreted in a myriad of ways, and you should be examining the ones you strung together to see how you may have led a reader down the path to misunderstanding you. You can never hide behind the stance that "it's just words on a screen," either, because you should know how powerful words are.
Now that I think of it, that last bit applies to writers who can't help but act like jackasses in online forums. I've seen plenty of these "personalities" who indulge in bad behavior and then hide behind those kinds of defenses (I've even pulled it myself once or twice, sometimes intentionally to fuck with someone). If any writer says, "Hey, you misread, I'm just kidding, I didn't mean it that way, it's just words," you should assume either (a) he is lying to you, or (b) he's a piece of shit writer. More often than not, go with (b). And all you (b)-grade writers should consider yourself on notice. Piss me off, and I may point you out. It's because I'm a type-(a) "personality," and I'll get away with it.
Current Sountrack: 808 State, Ex:El
[to leave comments, click on the time-stamp below, then scroll down on the new page] – All text (c) 2004 Jamie S. Rich