I think I’ve participated in and even moderated enough panel discussions on drama criticism and the Internet to moderate a panel discussion on these panel discussions. I stopped doing so not long ago; at the last one, “Risking Criticism/Criticizing Risk,” during the 2009 Association for Theatre in Higher Education conference, I along with fellow panelist Mac Wellman fell into something of a funk, intimating that the opportunities that theatre blogging presented in its early years had been wasted; that the blogging community itself had fallen into a fragmented, bargain-basement imitation of the inside-baseball gossip item, self-absorbed personal anecdote and facile review that could easily enough be found in contemporary print journalism, demonstrating at times a sad lack of ambition that is mirrored in contemporary drama. Even its international quality had waned.
But hope springs eternal, especially from Alison Croggon, who gamely continues to sit on panel discussions and bear the brunt of hostility for all us bloggers. In an essay on today’s Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s “The Drum Unleashed” blog — mixed metaphors apparently their specialty — she discusses a recent discussion in which she took part at Melbourne’s Wheeler Centre. Stylishly parrying insulting thrusts from Australian print critic Cameron Woodhead (“The Internet is full of trolls,” he trollishly comments — not that he’s wrong, precisely; some of them, in my experience, are even print critics), our Ms. Croggon continues to carry the banner for those of us who sweep up around our little corner of the blogosphere, but not without an eye slightly yellowed with jaundice:
It may be true, as [Geordie] Williamson claims, that “for every brilliant new blogger that has emerged, 100 pallid yes-men (and women) have sprung up.” What he doesn’t concede is that this is even more true of print criticism, and that this print “hive mind”, or manufactured consent, has been culturally toxic because its intellectual weight has been supported by the institutional power of newspapers and publishers. Australian publishers have seldom been champions of the lone critical voice: most often, it’s those very critics who have been marginalised, and, in at least three cases that I know of, sacked, while the yes-men sail on.
What the internet means for the old-fashioned print critic is the end of institutional authority. That so many of these critics mistake institutional authority for critical authority says everything you need to know.
What’s true Down Under is true Up Over as well. Alison’s full essay can be found here, and the Wheeler Centre is promising to post a video of the panel discussion soon. I will add this link when it is live. In the meantime, many thanks to Ms. Croggon, who continues to provide encouragement to pursue Superfluities Redux (which will celebrate its seventh anniversary in two weeks, on 1 October).