In the TimeOut Chicago article “Critical Condition,” many different critics relate their thoughts and opinions about criticism, as well as some of their experience as critics. Among these critics is the theater blogger Don Hall. There were a lot of opinions that many of the critics shared, but Hall’s comments and insights into criticism were especially interesting, especially in the way they relate to the internet and social communication.
Don Hall’s approach to reviewing comes from a socially oriented view. This may stem from the fact that Hall is a blogger, as blogging and the Internet are a very social medium, or at least more so than print is. Hall sees reviewing as an instrument for self-expression, as opposed to being used as a way to rank or grade something, or as strictly a job. He says “…for all the bitching about money, money has little to do with this thing we do.” Hall also says “I like the comments from readers…when they call me an ass.” Most people would be looking to receive high praises for their work, which tells a lot about Hall’s motivations as a critic. If you are satisfied with receiving comments that attack you personally, then your reasons for writing criticism have integrity and your opinions are coming from an honest place.
To be excited about responses, especially negative ones, also goes to show the importance of communication in the way Hall sees reviewing. For him, an important aspect of the review is opening up a dialogue with the reader (in his case via the comments on his blog), as he calls the “debate…the ‘sharpening stone.’” The idea of debate is a key one, as Hall’s approach to criticism is essentially that of a debater. He says “in order to appropriately criticize, a dollop of self-awareness is necessary – knowing your own prejudices etc.” You must know yourself firstly and most importantly before you can make a judgment on something else, or begin to have a dialogue about a topic of criticism with someone else. Also, the critic’s opinions do not necessarily trump the opinions of all others, just as in a debate all sides are given an equal opportunity to be heard. The verdict, at the end of the day, can be left up to the spectator/reader to decide.
Downton Abbey Review: Almost Normal
This review leaves much to be desired. In the very first sentence, Carissa Pavlica (the critic) uses the first person, as she tells us the one thing she learned from this episode of Downton Abbey. This is not the only use of first person, though. Throughout the entire review Pavlica continues to use it to express her reactions to the episode (“it would be nice if she got a happy ending”, and “I hope that doesn’t last long, because I enjoyed…the way she tried so determinedly to be appreciated”). These kind of statements don’t really carry much weight or meaning.
Aside from these reactions, the remaining eighty percent of the review is simply a summary of the episode’s plot. Pavlica recounts the various plot points from the episode, such as a character starting a soup kitchen or applying for a job, and then from time to time interjects her opinion. Along with her opinion, she gives a few simple predictions for what will happen in future episodes. These predictions are out of place for this review, and don’t seem to be well founded.
Looking at the entirety of this review, there is not much substance. The reader is left with little more than what transpired during the episode and a few vague opinions.
Downton Abbey, episode 8, review
This review, by Ceri Radford, is much more effective than the previous one. While it does contain some plot points and summary, this does not make up the majority of the review, and they are skillfully woven in with the critique of the show. It seems much less clunky than simply alternating between summary and opinion, like the last review did. This review also mentions more mechanical aspects of the show, pointing out particularly good performances and lines of dialogue.
These elements help to bolster the opinions in the review and give them more weight. Radford writes “It says something for the strength of the acting that you still cared that – sniff – they might never be together, even while sniggering at the outlandish obstacles to their union.” This is much more effective than simply stating an opinion in the first person, as in the previous review. This reviews also flows very nicely from one point to the next, whereas the previous review seemed to haphazardly jump from point to point, trying to get in everything it can all at once.