Superiority Pt. II: The Reckoning

This technically isn’t really closely related to my previous bitchfest on all things superiority, criticism, negativity, etc. But it is related–maybe even more closely than I thought. You decide.

I do some editing for a small but growing music magazine. I’ve mentioned it a few times, but due to potential controversy, it and those involved shall remain nameless. One of the latest tasks delegated to me by our editor-in-chief was to maintain our Twitter account. Writers and section editors are supposed to tweet headlines and articles as they go up, but a lot gets missed, so my new job is to make sure they don’t get missed. I’m already behind.

I was doing some tweeting on our account last night and checked our @ mentions, as I always do, to see who’s communicating with us and what they’re saying. They range from reporters retweeting their stuff to musicians sending links or retweeting their own reviews or thanking us to trashing us, though the latter is rare. But I noticed a few angry tweets about a negative album review we’d posted.

Full disclosure: I don’t read everything we post, I don’t listen to every artist we cover, and I certainly don’t like all of them, so to really understand the problem, I read the review. It was negative, sure, but it’s not our worst–in fact, while discussing this, my editor pointed me to one with a numerical score of 18/100, while the one in question scored in the 50s. It did get some light praise, too. The main problem was it was basically boring and redundant. I listened to the sample song included in the review, and though one song is hardly representative of an entire album, I understood and agreed with the writer’s point. The song was repetitive and boring.

The artist understandably disagreed and was unhappy. The artist also understandably linked the review and angrily tweeted, saying the review made he/she want to stop reading reviews of his/her music altogether.

Artists from all fields handle criticism differently. Some refuse to read anything negative, others think you have to take the good with the bad and the negative can and should be learned from. I tend to be in the latter camp. Much as I hate negativity, as a writer I have to listen to criticism if I want to improve. It may not always be right, I may not always agree, and the person may not always be qualified to adequately critique, but as long as it’s being constructive and articulated well, it’s worth a listen and discussion. Sometimes, it just comes down to a matter of opinion. People do have different tastes, after all. The five albums I chose as 2012’s best might end up on another’s list of 2012’s worst.

I’ve been thinking a lot about negativity, given everything that’s happened over the past month alone. Everyone loves praise and being told good things about themselves, but we seldom want to hear the bad. Should we listen to just the good and ignore the bad? Sometimes. I’ve concluded the problem isn’t negativity itself but rather the way it’s presented. Negativity I’ve been criticized for perpetuating on this blog, for example, is less personal attacks and more sharing my side of a shitty story, angry as that side may be. But negativity directed at me, directly or otherwise, was much more personal and hostile, reaching beyond a matter of differences of opinion and venturing into bullying. It’s one thing to calmly and rationally discuss a problem with a person or write about it. It’s another to maliciously speak ill of them to their other friends and on social media and say a whole matter of shitty things directly to them. And criticism of the arts kind of works the same way.

Somewhere in Amanda Palmer’s series of blogs on bullying, she mentioned a writer who wrote a piece about her (I admittedly didn’t read it) said to be full of vitriol beyond the point of disliking her music and to the point of attacking her. There’s a difference between a review disliking her music and a reviewer attacking her. There’s also a good and a bad way to review an album–or anything, really. The good way is to be articulate and analytical, explaining what the problems are and why they’re problems. The bad way is to just dismiss it as shit or insult the artist as a person. Unless they prove to be a shitty person, that’s irrelevant. Even still, much as we all may hate Chris Brown, unless his behavior informs his music or vice versa, one has little to no place being mentioned when discussing the other. That’s a whole other issue, though, and doesn’t mean I think we should ignore what a shithead Chris Brown is.

I found the review in question to be of the good, analytical variety. I wouldn’t have necessarily gone about it the same way, but I certainly didn’t think it was so negative to make the artist freak out. In the end, though, he/she seemed to calm down and took an “agree to disagree” stance.

His/her fans, however, didn’t, and we got some tweets implying everyone on staff is an idiot, saying something like all one needs to write for the site is a third-grade education. Another called us douchey. Other responses not directly tweeted to us included saying we probably only got two hits a day. We get more, for one, but best of all, this was tweeted by another artist we cover extensively and generally positively.

Now, this brings up an interesting issue. First is the childish implication that taste and stupidity are related. But most telling and most important, the artist’s initial reaction combined with fan reaction implies that negativity toward the artist is unacceptable, stupid, and mean but personally attacking the writer of the review, as well as the publication itself, is okay. The angry fans–and to a certain degree, the musician–are actually guilty of the very thing they’re upset by.

I think many people forget reviewers are people, too, and artists in their own way. Reviewing may not always be an artistic, hugely creative endeavor or may not be interpreted as such, but these people are still working hard and are still crafting something out of nothing–and some reviews do read like poetry.

But perhaps the way to make this point most succinctly comes in an unrelated tweet we got from a separate artist on his/her album just an hour ago–“Read the review, and allthough it was not a favourable one for me – I think it was spot on! Thank you, I will improve :)” And I’m 99% certain that’s not sarcasm.

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