Saturday, October 20, 2012

trolling the web

If you go back and look at my last review (no, I'm not providing another link), you'll find comments from a couple people correcting my misidentification of the encore. I was grateful for the first person who knew what it really was, but the second one was rudely critical. I replied to both, because I wanted to acknowledge making an error, but also to indicate where I thought the limits of the sin lay. A mistake of this kind does not forfeit one's credibility.

My reply to the second poster actually brought me a phone call from my editor, warning me (not in these words) not to feed the trolls. I don't think I was; the comment was insulting but not trollish. If the commenter goes on further about it, though, I will refrain.

I can't say I'm entirely enthusiastic about Web 2.0 and its commenting functions. True that it makes it easier for readers to toss off a casual compliment or an informative aside, and I've gotten some of those. But it also makes it possible for any passing moron to leave a crude insult permanently appended to your professional work, and if you're not the publisher of your own writings, there's nothing you can do about it.

Some comments are easy to ignore. One of those passing morons recently accused me of preferring to display my erudition rather than reviewing the concert. True that this particular review tended in that direction - it was very straightforward repertoire; there wasn't that much to say about the performance - but my various reviews go both ways. Having received numerous compliments - more in person than online - for this quality in my writing, I choose to see an accusation of showing off my knowledge as a compliment. The commenter seemed jealous about not knowing as much about Respighi as I do.

It was easy not to reply to that one, or to the time (long ago now) that a commenter said that I'd spun out more wordage than anything I had to say, which on that occasion I must admit was unusually perceptive. But the people who huff about negative reviews deserve a smart slap, and I've given it to them. I was particularly incredulous at the ones who said that it isn't the reviewer's job to sit in judgment. What? It's hardly the reviewer's job to do anything else. To use aesthetic judgment to evaluate the works (if they're new) and the performance is what the reviewer is for. If you want a neutral description of the music, that's what program notes are for. And superlative adjectives should be saved for professionals at the top of their form. Non-professionals who do a good job by non-professional standards get milder compliments, and should be praised straightforwardly for what they do well, and it should be equally straightforwardly noted when they do not.

My motto is that of Le Guin, who conveniently - and revealingly - used a musical metaphor when writing about evaluating literature. I take it non-metaphorically.

In art, the best is the standard. When you hear a new violinist, you do not compare him to the kid next door; you compare him to Stern and Heifetz. If he falls short, you will not blame him for it, but you will know what he falls short of. And if he is a real violinist, he knows it too.
On LJ, where I do publish my own writings, I screen anonymous comments, and I will delete what I call "drive-by insults," but I've only done that a couple of times. Although, long after it was over, I once hid one long and fruitless comment exchange, I've never otherwise been tempted to delete a comment by a named LJ poster, except for editorial purposes (like accidental double-posts).

And I follow this principle in contributing to any dispute: I will keep responding as long as I have something to say and consider it worth the bother of saying. And when I do not, I will just stop. No-one can tell you, "I get to have the last word." You can only give that privilege to the other party. (And you can't do it by saying, "I'm quitting this argument, but here are some parting shots," sometimes with an explicit overlay of "And you don't get to respond." I see this too often. It's not kosher. Either you continue the argument, or you resign it; you don't get to try to do both at once.)

Your turn, if you care to take it.

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