State of the Union

State of the Union

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

24 thoughts on “State of the Union

  1. Nick, I think your post is petty and reeks of “Blogger’s Envy”.

    It’s also innaccurate. You say:

    “The only real defense of George came from his blogger friends outside American shores…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.”

    If you do a little research you’ll find that a number of American bloggers defended George’s actions in principal. I can name four:

    Mark at Mr Excitement news:

    I think that any reviewer, formal or informal, press tickets or not, has a right to leave a show at intermission and to write about their experience.

    Joshua James

    I agree with Mark.

    Aaron Riccio:

    I don’t think you had any obligation to stay — as one of the other people on that invite from Playwrights Horizon, it was very clear about the content being up to you

    Paul Rekk:

    I take no issue with the preview or leaving at intermission ordeals or the review itself.

    These opinions were expressed in George’s comments section immediately after he reviewed the show.

    And while two of them, Paul and Aaron, took issue with George not declaring his walkout at the top of his review, clearly they defended his right to review a show he left at intermission.

    I can’t be bothered trawling back to look for more examples but there were others. My point is you really need to check your facts if you want your blog to be anything more than a cheap tabloid.

  2. Troubador,

    To achieve any legitimate status as a reader of the Rat Sass tabloid you’ll need to identify yourself beyond your pseudonym. I allow the Anonymous Coward and el Pobrecito Hablador to comment here but I rarely respond.

    For the record, I peeped in with my own support of George in the same comment section where you quote the others. Such twitterings are not really defenses.

  3. Nick,

    when you post something that reaches the “legitimate status” of a serious argument I’ll use my real name (as I often do on other blogs).

  4. Nick — Troubador is using a time-honored blogger technique that involves choosing a minor detail of a larger argument, identifying a few tepid comments that contradict the point you’ve made, and then claiming that their “evidence” undermines your argument. The fact is that most of the theatrosphere, including me, reacted pretty negatively to George’s “review.” While I doubt there is a single blogger who wouldn’t defend anyone’s right to walk out of a performance, when one has received complimentary tickets to do a review and one walks out and writes a scathing review of the first half of the play — well, that’s ethically suspect, to say the least. And most bloggers agreed.

  5. Scott,

    there were more than a few “tepid” comments contradicting Nick’s point. An obvious place to start is Isaac Butler’s blog entry of September 1:

    The discussion was far more varied and nuanced than you seem to recall. I think that’s true of nearly every blog I saw that dealt with the subject. Nick’s argument that George “slunk” off into hiding because no one would defend him is not supported by the facts.

  6. I just read Isaac’s original entry, and then the 33 comments (yikes!) that followed, and I guess my belief that the comments were tepid was reinforced. Leaving aside Allison Croggin’s many comments, which Nick addresses in his post, the strongest support I could find was Isaac saying “George didn’t do anything that is clearly wrong.” Hardly a ringing defense. And most of the comments were about whether blogging really mattered, or the violation of the “embargo,” both of which were beside the point.

  7. …and how did Nick “address” my comments? (Scott, surely by this time you could spell my name correctly). I believe he mentioned me as part of a “tag team”, meaning that I just chorus approval of Mr Hunka. Nick didn’t exactly tackle anything I said. Eg, respected dance reviewer Hilary Crampton’s strong defence of walking out of shows (yes, she’s a “professional” print critic. And so, as it happens, am I).

    Your comments on the Guardian are bizarre, btw. It has by far the largest on-line arts section of any newspaper. And is actually increasing its circulation.

  8. No, Alison, you’re not the chorus appoval. I meant exactly what I said: you and George are the theatrosphere’s equivalent to the pro wrestling tag team. I have both experienced and watched you apply your tactics on others quite often.

    What’s your need to argue with me over the ethics of a critic on leaving a show early and then still reviewing it? Argue with the 6,000 playwright members of the Dramatists Guild about it. After the Hedy Weiss controversy last year, the Guild came out with a public policy stating that critics should review the whole of a theatre production, never just a fragment.

    I made no statement about the Guardian’s print circulation, just generally about newspapers’ circulation overall. I also said nothing about how big its on-line arts section was. So what exactly bizarre comments did I make about the Guardian?

    The only piece of identity I have on Troubador is that the IP address and email shows that s/he is Australian.

    I don’t know too much about the national character of Australians so I’ll rely on historian John Hirst to give us a closer glimpse of Toubador’s character. He sees the “convict stain” as a dominant aspect of that character.

    “It’s a natural thing for a colony, isn’t it, because it starts off as a sort of second-rate place, almost by definition. And we had that extra inheritance of being a convict colony. So we were a sort of shameful place in the eyes of the world.”

    Troubador has no real name or reputation to protect. When humiliated in the eyes of others, s/he is able to simply slink off to hide in another pseudonym. The opinions from this shameful place are unworthy of consideration.

  9. But seriously Nick, do you really think that maligning the character of an entire nation is a sensible way to respond to the musings of someone you describe as an “anonymous coward”?

    On behalf of my countrymen I’m deeply hurt.

    I’m proud of my convict past!

    (Even if I was born in Eastern Europe.)

  10. Ah yes, John Hirst, who teaches European history. An expert indeed. Yes, that “convict stain” … dear me, no wonder Australians have such bad manners.

    Only trouble is, I’m still a British citizen – like much of the population, and the mysterious Troubadour, I was born elsewhere. And much as I approve of the Currency lads and lasses of our rambunctious past, I can’t claim any real legacy from them.

    Mind you, it’s a bit much getting a lecture of bullying when you’re quoting Leonard’s campaign – no less than NINE posts abusing one person – so approvingly. And since when did playwrights determine the ethics of theatre critics?

  11. Troubadour, I didn’t invent the Anonymous Coward name for your class of commenter, it has a long history in the online community. I myself prefer the SuicideGirls’ descriptor of your species. You’re the first Random Fuckbag spawned in Eastern Europe I’ve had the pleasure to encounter. Welcome to Rat Sass comments. And I loved your “Heh heh heh” comment. So melodious, that must be why Alison calls you the “mysterious” Troubadour.

  12. Mac, it’s obvious what I was doing. I was needling the Random Fuckbag who has an Australian email address. No more, no less. Well, a little more I guess. I knew the Profane Schoolmarm also has an Aussie address and supported the “mysterious” presence in her blog domain.

    That said, I’m not kidding about the convict stain. I’m googling on the keywords “national character” and Australia, then following through by glancing at reviews of the book “The Australians – Insiders and Outsiders on the National Character since 1770” and interviews with its author John Hirst. I claim no knowledge or have no real opinion about the national character of Australians; I only quote this seemingly respected historian.

    I dislike skulking. This skulking around this George business by NYC bloggers annoys me. Mr. Excitement News calls it “unsavory.” No shit. Character assassination is for real if you have a name and reputation to protect. It’s not just a matter of moving to another country or blogosphere domain or pseudonym. Etc.

    The ostrich is also from Australia. I find the way it hides from its predators humorous.

  13. Mac,

    The Anonymous Coward said I maligned the character of an entire nation. Only an Anonymous Fuckwit without a name and reputation to protect could accuse someone of that with no basis in fact. The historian John Hirst and I have nothing but respect for character of the Australians and their struggle with their national identity.

    I believe that the convict stain haunts the identity of Australians similar to how the legacy of slavery haunts our own. And at a personal level, I struggle daily in a very palpable way with “the sins of the father.” My study and practice of butoh and physical theater would deny the destiny that father DNA would claim.

    Now, Mac, please clarify your disappointment with what I said. Also explain to me why you beat your dog and malign short people.

  14. Nick,

    at 4.15 pm you said:

    “I claim no knowledge or have no real opinion about the national character of Australians”

    at 8.52 pm you said:

    “I have nothing but respect for character of the Australians and their struggle with their national identity”

    Perhaps you did a lot more reading and met a lot of Aussies during those four and a half hours but I suspect not.

    It is simply the kind of contradiction that makes you look silly.

    If you don’t want anonymous commenters or people using pseudonyms then make it your policy at the log in and remove those comments. That way you won’t have to waste hundreds of words explaining why those opinions are “unworthy of consideration”.

    That also makes you look silly.

  15. Troub, I allow the Anonymous Scumfuck because the creature often keeps me off-balance and honest. I just have little respect for the person beneath the mask. They risk nothing of their own with opinions.

    Yes, the contradiction. Real people have that as part of their condition. I’ve been reflecting back on couple friendships with Australians I had years ago and realize I do have an opinion. Specifically I was thinking of a friend and peer of mine from the early ‘80’s, who died just this year. Lindzee Smith was more of an anarch in theatre and life than I would ever want to be, but we partnered for some time in disrupting things in the East Village and Lower East Side wild days. I admired his character, which then and now, seemed wholly Australian to me.

  16. Nick, you’re not suggesting that Troubador and I are the same person? Let me relieve of you that strange suspicion: I have never used a pseudonym in my life. There are, after all, 21 million Australians, almost 4 million in this city alone. All of them shamefully hiding their “convict stain”. And maybe some of them share the same internet provider.

    Btw, ostriches are African. You’re mixing up the fauna. We have emus, which run very fast and kick very hard.

  17. Alison, thanks for clarifying that I am not you. It was important to me as sometimes I get…confused.

    (I have to confess to a certain disappointment that we are not one and the same, but at least it explains the beard.)

    And thanks Nick for the link to Lindzee Smith’s tribute site. It was a touching and welcome diversion.

  18. Alison,
    As an American I claim mostly ignorance on how the “convict stain” impacts on the national identity of Australians. But even as an ignorant American, I know that Gallipoli was more than just a Hollywood movie starring Mel Gibson, so I understand John Hirst explaining here its significance in escaping the convict stain.

    “I think the enthusiasm about Gallipoli, for instance, can be explained in part because this was the moment when we shook off the cringe and our soldiers were as good as Britain’s, and perhaps later in the war they were even better.”

    Thanks for the beard idea. I’ve added another portrait to the gallery of New Georges of the Theatrosphere. I think the Hunka goatee in this potrait works just as well as the Elvis getup did in the others, don’t you?

  19. I look quite handsome with a beard. Maybe Troubador will out himself and relieve me of suspicion, but no doubt you will accuse his real identity of being one of my fictions. So be it.

    But – uh – you’re not doing much to bolster your claim that the NY blogosphere is as high a standard as the UK or the Australian branches. With defenders like you, who needs enemies?

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