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State of the Union

By Nick Fracaro at 4:26 pm on Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Blogger’s Block is much different than Writer’s Block. It’s more like “biting your tongue.”

I have been working as dramaturg on a project and traveling a great deal with it in recent months. I have been writing non-stop during my sabbatical from Rat Sass, sometimes posting in the comment section of other domains, but I have refrained from “publishing” proper because I have been overwhelmed of late by the enormity of the act.

After this two-month absence from blogging, I feel almost obliged to enter back into the fray with a theatrosphere State of the Union address. I am compelled to this in large part because of George Hunka’s recent Where Do We Live post, in part a review of the New York blogosphere. Until he recently unsubscribed, George and I both belonged to the same twenty-some member group and private Yahoo listserv of NYC theatre bloggers. So when George posted his State of the Union, some members in that Yahoo group felt it as a personal attack. There was a call to refuse the bait and collectively ignore George’s post.

Censorship is like Blackballing is like Blogger’s Block, but Different

I nixed such a notion with an email to the group. I oppose blackballing out of principle, but the reason I cited was that the whole issue as framed within George’s psychology was so high school in its pettiness, and any call for collective non-action was equally as petty. George was doing nothing more than listing the blogger kids who will and will not be sitting at his lunchroom table in the future. But along the way he made some ignorant and contradictory statements about the State of the Union that I thought warranted some kind of answer. As a middle ground, someone in the bloggers group suggested making use of the comment forum at SuperfluitiesRedux. George had reactivited the comment section after previously stating he was eliminating it at his new blog.

So I was totally surprised when George denied my response. At his old Superfluities blog, he prided himself on blocking only self-promotional comments. He definitely had never insulated himself from criticism of his opinions before. Superfluities Redux was obviously in flux, especially in its relationship to the reader.

I was stuck between a rock and hard place. I could either elevate George’s reseating of himself in the high school cafeteria into a post, my first blog post in months, or just forget about it. Instead I sent the comment George rejected to the listserv of NYC bloggers. But that felt a bit chickenshit, almost like doing nothing.

Comment sections function as more than just a complement to the blog posts proper. In some ways, the blogosphere’s collective comment section is the meat and potatoes of this new form of communication. The most effective bloggers participate as both readers and writers, from their own domains and from others’. The “Letter to the Editor” now has an authority equal to or even greater than the primary text. But by editing or denying comments at Superfluities Redux, George can run but he can’t hide from the critique of the reader.

The psychology of George going into self-exile and insulating himself from the New York and American theatrosphere is obvious to all who have watched or been involved. Just before he went on his month-long hiatus in September, George felt the necessity to give a negative review of a preview production of 100 Saints That You Should Know at Playwrights Horizons.

The newest NYC print reviewer entering the blogosphere is Back Stage editor Leonard Jacobs. He seemed to be perceiving a certain critical mass in the relationship of theatre productions’ PR to the blogosphere when he went on his September rampage against George Hunka. Leonard’s dogged pursuit of George and then “the issue” became a miniseries of blog posts.

George Hunka Gives Ethics the Middle Finger, Then He Wags It
More Hunka Fallout
Even More Hunka Fallout
The Apologists Defend George Hunka
A Critic Beyond Reproach?

What began as a scolding of George’s journalistic conduct transformed into a one-man lobbying effort to have bloggers held to the same standards and protocols in the reviewing of theatre productions that critics are. Leonard was “moving on” with his campaign, complete with Roman numerals to help the reader in his navigation.

Moving On
Why Do Bloggers Endorse and Embrace “Separate But Unequal”?
A Good Example of the Blogger-Critic Problem
Moving On II
Moving On III
Moving On IV
Moving On V
Moving On VI
Thank you, Tom Garvey

It was under this barrage of criticism from Leonard and others (an angry Chicagoan even offerred a punch in the face), that George slunk off to his sabbatical from the blogosphere. The only real defense of George came from his blogger friends outside American shores, most predictably from his theatrosphere tag-team partner Aussie Alison. Little doubt George’s self-exile from the New York theatrosphere and badmouthing of American critics as well as his current brownnosing of British and Australian critics is because no one here defended his action as blogger/critic when the he left a preview of the 100 Saints production at intermission and still reviewied it.

The New Georges of the Theatrosphere

Going into self-exile from the New York and American theatrosphere George has also gone into self-deceit in believing that the blogosphere theatre talk is of higher quality in other parts of the English-speaking world. When he inexplicably sees the UK Guardian blog exemplifying the seriousness of the blogging form, any inside reader understands his blatant psychology and rationalization at work.

“That there are no New York theatre bloggers writing for them says something about the quality of our work, I’m afraid, and especially the seriousness with which we take the form.”

George doesn’t explain how these brief, newsy, faux articles, which would never have been given ink by the Guardian in the past, are now so significant as blog posts, or how this style satisfies his call for, “longer-form dramatic criticism and essays” in the blogosphere. The Guardian blog is fashioned after the newsprint model and is neither blog nor online article but some fangled hybrid. This most prosaic of theatre talk is an attempt by the Guardian to create a new product for its Average Joe reader and theatergoer, nothing more and nothing less. So when George claimed these wannabe newspaper filler articles have a “growing prominence” somewhere, it was hard to imagine why he was praising them. There ostensibly was no self-promotion at work other than in the compliment he pays his longtime theatrosphere tag team partner Alison. However, when a few days later George himself began writing for the Guardian blog, the self-promotion angle became clear.

One of the more unpleasant mannerisms in the theatrosphere is the unctuous way in which bloggers often link with one another. This gesture when exchanged among peers is nauseating enough, but when practiced by underlings it becomes almost too humiliating to watch. George is the definition of brownnose in his current post about Guardian reviewer Michael Billington. The sycophant’s willingness to give a distorted representation of the American critical landscape in order to ingratiate himself to his new blog team captain punishes severely any credibility George once had as an independent writer and reviewer.

I wrote about the Guardian’s theatre blog debut and more generally about print publication’s venture into the blogosphere last November. In the comments section four months later at this Rat Sass post, the editor of the Guardian blog claimed to me that, “the Guardian arts blog has progressed in terms of the writers’ willingness to engage with the readers’ comments, and the way theatre is written about.”

No doubt. Newspapers with their steadily dwindling circulation numbers are constantly researching and developing new products for the digital realm. So this NewsChat genre of writing for the arts will likely continue to progress, but don’t expect it to evolve out of its product mandate of Art and Entertainment. The Guardian and other newspapers have no ambition to become a serious forum for artistic peers debating theatre ideas. Such niche markets are commercially not worth developing. So any theatre talk at these newspaper sites will be completely divorced from both the practice and theory of theatre, irrelevant as yesterday’s news.

The two mediums, print and online, stand in front of the same mirror, as distinct and as alike as two supermodels. Fashioned in one another’s image and dressed by the same designers, they walk together down the same runway now. Bloggers have always dressed for other bloggers as much or more than readers. In our new communication the reader is becoming the writer, the oral is becoming the written, brouhaha ha ha … the hysterical is becoming the historical. Vice versa. The New Georges of the Theatrosphere are voguing for one another nonstop 24/7. Hunka, hunka, burnin’ love.

george hunka hunka burning loveleonard as elvis

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