Life — Criticism

One thing that I’ve noticed lately is that society has very specific (although unstated) rules as to how things are judged. These rules seem arbitrary, and could admittedly derive as a direct result of my experience, but my understanding tells me otherwise.

When somebody performs, through singing, acting, or playing music, their actions are to be met with unquestionable praise. Now, the amount of resulting praise is obviously quite variable, but even if somebody doesn’t like an orchestral performance, an audience is only allowed to give one vote, so the only opinion you’re expected to provide is the same one as the rest of the audience, really. If I go to a play or a choir show, society doesn’t demand that I tell everybody that I loved the show, but typically I’m expected to say it was at least “Really good!”

If there are bad things that I typically didn’t like, and I’m talking to somebody about it (especially one of the people that performed), most often the blame will be put on somebody. One person didn’t learn their lines, or one group of people didn’t prepare for that specific part. In this circumstance, the problems are always referred to in the third person, because you’ll never be allowed to tell a specific person what they did wrong in a performance.

This is a little aggravating for two reasons. As an instructor that works in a high school theatre program, I’m sort of expected to go to school plays. Any time I talk about a specific play afterwards I feel obligated to point out how amazing it was and specific things that I like about it. Now, I know why this is–small talk is usually very positive, and when it’s negative there is an “antagonist” in that conversation, even if the bad guy is mathematics in general.

But here’s where my frustration with this lies. By virtue of what is happening, everything that’s happening is positive. Now, I won’t pretend that many blood, sweat, and tears are shed for virtually every performance that you go see (most of those things not positive), but the result of such effort is. But when it comes to something that is obviously more subjective, such as writing, drawing, painting, or anything that involves art, games, etc., negativity becomes a far more common and acceptable result. It’s okay to criticize somebody’s creative work because feedback is important and they should always try to improve. So after spending hours upon hours on end making this thing, you still risk harsh criticism, whereas with something like a performance, it isn’t okay to say bad things about it.

Now, I’m not saying the life of an actor is so much easier than the life of an author or anything ludicrous like that. In fact, my personal experience as a writer directly contradicts what I’ve heard being a writer is like, because I’ve gotten very, very few “bad reviews”.

My sole point is that, living in Southern California, ‘The Land of Famous Wannabes’, certain professions are more disheartening than others purely because of societal norms. I’m not arguing that things should be changed, mind you. I’m not advocating for positivity to be stripped from every day customs–there’s a very good reason it’s there. What I am saying is that honest, constructive feedback should be more available to everyone. All parties I’ve mentioned here could benefit from that, since performers could better understand where they can improve and creators can have a more consistent base of encouragement.

2 thoughts on “Life — Criticism

  1. I’m not entirely clear on the initial subject here. I might be viewing things differently. For instance: the BlizzCon talent show is a great example here. When a group performs, or a cosplayer walks out, everyone applauds. But when something better than the norm, when something special happens, everyone cheers. If you pay attention, you can quickly learn the difference between “polite applause” and “you have done a good job.”

    It’s a bit like what you mentioned – the audience only gets one vote. It isn’t like people can give any sort of critique while sitting among hundreds of people who might also wish to say their piece. I’m sure if everyone saw a play though, say, YouTube, or a Reddit link or something where feedback is much easier to give (but YouTube comments are awful but it’s the idea I’m trying to present here) there would be a great deal more criticism I’m quite sure.

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    1. Hm. Perhaps I didn’t do a good job conveying my point, cause I don’t think you really got it. But I also don’t care enough to read my post over again to really understand what I even said!

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