Saturday, June 10, 2006

A Little Matter of a Conjunctive

At the end of her otherwise sympathetic review of Stopping Traffic, NYT critic Anita Gates writes:

"This is a show with a message (the need for openness about mental illness), but it's an entertaining, endearing one as well."

Is anyone else bothered by that three-letter conjunctive and all that it implies?


John Branch said...

Okay, I'll bite. Yes, that kind of either/or thinking is antithetical to any broad understanding of art and life. It amounts to little more than the view about vegetables a child is apt to get from its parents: you may not like spinach but it's good for you.

One of the perils of being a critic is that one must always guard against these easy shorthand expressions ("but also entertaining") and the easy shorthand thinking that often lurks behind them. You need to become, in essence, a critic of your own criticism. It's easy to forget this, especially in writing for a daily paper (I know from experience).

Alison Croggon said...

Actually, I'm as bothered by "message", "entertaining" and "endearing" all being in one sentence even more than the "but". True what John says above...

Anonymous said...

You think that's awful - read Janet Maslin's book review: The Futurist': The Hero Goes Around Spouting Drivel. It Pays the Bills.

I feel like she wrote this at the last minute because the bottle of scotch killer her memory of a deadline.

devore said...

I'll defend Anita, as I'm a freelance critic. Not so muc for theater anymore, just movies.

I write reviews for civilians, not the artists. And you might scoff at this, but it's a responsibility to encourage people to open their pocketbook based on your opinion.

Anita's closing sentence was shoddy, sloppy, uninspired. But she wants people to see the show. Most people don't want to be beaned in the head by agenda and message. Forget that it's arrogant on the artist's behalf, it's also boring. Hence her caveat.

It's entertaining and endearing.

People pay for tickets. With money they earn. Money they work for. In every blog that I read associated with theater, there seems to be a lack of sympathy to audience members.

I don't know. Just seems that going after a critic trying to tell her readers that Stopping Traffic is medicine and sugar seems pointless? Petty?

Scott Walters said...

Devore -- I was trained as a reviewer as well. I attended the National Critics Institute at the O'Neill Center. I have great sympathy for reviewers, who work under very stringent deadlines.

No, what I was commenting on was not the critic, but the use of "but" as indicative of what I think is a common belief: that messages and entertainment are mutually exclusive. I think this should give an artist pause. Aristotle said the function of theatre was to entertain; Horace, to entertain and educate. Neither left entertain out of the equation entirely. Don't like Aristotle and Horace? Check out Brecht's Messingkauf Dialogues, where he also puts entertainment first and foremost, but discusses what a contemporary audience finds entertaining. No, I think the "but" in this sentence should make us ask what we've done, as artists, over the past century or so to create this split.

Freeman said...

I'd like to back up Devore (and by proxy Anita) and ask that we lay off the the perhaps uninspired writing and be happy to see a bit of encouragement.

I think that "but" could have just as easily been an "and."

As far as I can tell, there's no "split." It's just that theater with a message is a balancing act. You don't want to preach to your audience or make them feel like they just attended a lecture. No one likes to go to the Dentist, even if it's good for them.

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