Will the Internet Keep Critics Honest
by Azlan Ezaddin

Web sites are popping up all over the world for various reasons. At least one (not criticaldance.com) was begun to encourage lovers of dance to form an alternative voice to the malicious and biased among newspaper critics. It was a way of keeping critics honest. The web site even published a very informative and thoughtful article on criticism, by someone close to the world of ballet, that seemed targeted at a specific critic who has long been accused by the dance community as being biased. A forum was even created, so that when critics such as this unfairly writes that a performance was horrible due to a middling oddly proportioned dancer or refers to a seasoned choreographer as amateurish, the dance community could post into the Internet forum with outrage and share with the world their own more truthful assessments of the performance. At least, that was the idea.

The web site I refer to, even though it has succeeded in many other areas, failed to live up to its honorable goal as an alternative voice. Fortunately, other web sites have taken up the mantle. Dance Insider Online offers honest reviews by honest dancers and criticaldance.com not only allows lovers of dance to speak up but also places links to newspaper reviews side by side, allowing readers worldwide to compare the critics; the odd, biased one almost always stands out.

While dancers themselves are still timid about confronting their critics, authors, perhaps because of their comfort with the written word, seem to be taking journalists head on. Kevin Hartfield, in his article in the Hartford Courant titled Internet Emerges As Jousting Field For Journalists, writes, "If the past 10 days are any indication, the relationship between media and book journalists and the writers they cover -- at least those who have their own websites -- has changed forever." He is referring to a couple of recent incidents in which writers maligned by critics have responded by publishing their own clarifications on the Internet.

One such writer was Dave Eggers, web editor of McSweeneys.net, who printed a rebuttal against New York Times correspondent David D. Kirkpatrick. His 10,000-word open letter to Kirkpatrick ends with, "So. You used my words out of context, and used words that were never meant for public consumption, and now it has happened to you. You cast doubt on my motives, and now people can wonder about yours. It must feel strange. You probably don't think it's fair. My guess is you don't think you come off too well, and you wish you could take each person reading this aside and try to explain. Welcome to the club."

If you think about how wide a readership the Internet has over a newspaper, the repercussions to a newspaper critic who is dishonest can be staggering, that is as long as the Internet and forums such as criticaldance.com are used in that way.

The question is: will we see a new class of fair critics that are kept honest by the Internet?

[As a side note, it is interesting to note that the site I refer to in the beginning of this post has recently hired the critic disliked by the dance community...]


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