Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Zip the snark

To snark or not to snark? Why is that still the question?

I must respectfully disagree with my colleague, dance critic Robert Johnson, whose recent article--see "Shall we dance: in defense of 'snarky' reviews"NJ.com, March 2--seems to dignify the terms snark and snarky, as appropriate and helpful modes of critique, while sometimes sealing them away in quote marks of inconsistent ambivalence.

Johnson wrote:
In my opinion, snark is an especially appropriate gift for the High-and-mighty. It’s the pin-prick that makes over-inflated reputations shrivel and sputter. Dance is the most wonderful thing, ever, but let’s be clear about this: dances that are boring, derivative, tasteless, badly rehearsed, pretentious and/or willfully opaque do nothing to strengthen the dance community. They do not enhance its reputation, or win converts for the art form. If we say everything is good then nothing is good, depriving truly brilliant artists of the honor they deserve. Great dancers and choreographers, and not critics, set the standards; and without pruning, mediocrity will rise up to choke us.
Snark is not a dance critic's defense against mediocrity in choreography and performance; it is the weapon of the petulant.

If a critic sees something that displeases, he or she can say something without indulging the temptation to lash out and throttle.

Yes, part of the critic's role is to be a smart and reliable Consumer Reporter, especially if the critic is writing for the mainstream press and the general reader. But effective questioning--or even outright negative critique--rarely, if ever, requires snark. And deliberate snark in dance writing does nothing to correct the marginalization and underclass status of dance and dancers in American society. Nor does it further communication between artists and dance journalists to treat artists as if they are nothing more than hypersensitive children pleading for special protection from reality.

Johnson's article derived from a thread of discussion at the recent Dance/NYC State of Dance symposium where a panel--including Johnson, Dance Magazine Editor-in-Chief Wendy Perron, New York Times critic Brian Seibert and dancer-choreographer-critic/blogger Gus Solomons jr--took up the topic, among others. "Among others" becomes necessary here because, as far as I can tell, talk of snark and its worth was the only splash that created a ripple of continued discussion beyond that panel. That happened, probably, because whenever the dance community talks about mainstream dance critics, the Curse of Snark is the primary focus of complaint.

So, I want to know, at this late date, don't we all have something better to talk about? If talk about why snark is good is the only way to give sizzle to a panel on dance criticism--and that might still be the case--we all have huge amount of work to do.

4 comments:

Christine- editor of The Dance Enthusiast said...

Love this piece. Agree. Respect Robert Johnson but disagree with his point here very much.

I was upset by all the talk of SNARK at the Dance NYC State of Dance Panel a couple weeks ago.
Much of the snark talk also seemed to be levied at dance "bloggers" who were not represented on the panel at all...except for Gus Solomons (?)

There was no one on that panel who exclusively blogs about dance who could speak up for bloggers and the integrity of the writing on blogs. I am a proud anti-snarkest and I did speak up. And I am so glad you did as well in this piece.

Jody O said...

Sometimes the Snark is bigger than the bite

erica said...

I follow dance criticism especifically the NYTimes as I am in the field and
"snark" is rampant everywhere.
Although it pleases the writer and makes for witty writing, it doesn’t inform readers and as an artist it is just plain disrespectful.
Unfortunately many writers don’t feel accountable to be "present" at a performance they would rather entertain.

Ann Moradian said...

Thank you Eva and Christine for challenging the value of the snark in dance criticism.

When I used to swear around the house as a teenager, my mother (a journalist) was not impressed, and said that it was either laziness on my part, a lack of imagination, or a lack of vocabulary. Snarky criticism seems similar -- self indulgent and inarticulate. And not constructive. When a piece is weak, it is enough to point to the actual weaknesses.

Snarkiness is best reserved for private conversations among friends where personal ranting and indulgence are tolerated

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