On the back of a trip to Edinburgh’s Fringe festival I’ve found myself in a position where I’ve been confronted by a series of reviews and critiques, and with Liverpool’s upcoming Biennial I fear this will be the same. Edinburgh in August being the natural migratory path for many a fledgling critic alongside the irate comedian, the outdoor performer and the slightly overbearing promoter (often all three are rolled into one). Linking them all is a smorgasbord of reviews and ratings, used in an attempt to seduce the punter into their particular nudist adaptation of Shakespeare, an undergrad’s self directed monologue of the Sartrean emotions or perhaps even a performance lacking in any pseudo-intellectual clichè. Most of these reviews conclude with a 4* rating, a small minority entertaining the comically bad (1*) and works of genius (5*), and herein lies one of the major issues with critics – there is often a level of vested interest.
This mutual back scratching is strongly inferred by the amount of homogenised ratings used, while I obviously must take into account that performers shall pick their more favourable reviews, it’s a minority of publications whose names appear on a majority of adverts and posters. My brief time pretending to be some sort of writer has only reaffirmed this opinion, from reviewing music to events there have been restrictions placed upon me. Be it to curtail my honesty when reviewing albums and singles (as we couldn’t afford to upset and lose the support of those supplying us) or to completely rewrite neutral preview pieces to be more positive at the behest of event organisers (at the threat of removing access).
It’s understandable to some extent, no one wants to hear negativity about themselves but in doctoring your image in this way it renders the critique redundant. Just like the crowds at Edinburgh who ignore the swathes of 4* star reviews, the promotion companies attempting to expand their acts’ notoriety shoot themselves in the foot if all the reviews return mildly forced and all gleaming. This is often the case for free online media and student media, before becoming more refined as an agenda or style in larger publications. If a critic is to have any audience at all, and in turn affect sales/attendance to the benefit of band/artist/company, honesty should be key. This allows the writer to find an audience who will share the writer’s sense and sensibilities in both writing style and judgement, but it does not take place and in my opinion no one benefits.