Thiis comment left on Jeffro’s Space Gaming Blog resonated very strongly with me
Being a good critic takes a lot of courage of a certain kind, I think. Perhaps this is why I don’t write a lot of reviews of more contemporary media. Especially for critics who fraternize with the writers they’re charged with reviewing (of course they same applies with video games or what have you), I think it can be difficult to write honest criticism and there is the temptation to inflate positives. Hell, these pressures are even present when you don’t personally know the creator. I’ve reviewed or wanted to review games I’ve played where it pained me to list negatives because I really liked or sympathized with the developers.
I’m reminded of that line in the film “Almost Famous”, when Lester Bangs tells the novice music journalist “These people are not your friends”.
When you’re on first name terms with some of the people you’re reviewing, there’s always the potential for conflicts of interest. No matter how much you try to be objective, once you know the people involved it does change the way you perceive their music.
When you’re writing enthusiastic positive reviews, they’ll always love you, but if you say something critical you can sometimes find out how professionally they handle it the hard way. Nowadays I’ve got a self-imposed rule that I’ll restrict strongly negative reviews to artists I don’t know personally and am unlikely to meet, and will decline to review albums or gigs by people I know if I think they’re sub-standard. I haven’t always followed that rule in the past, but the damage it can do to relationships just isn’t worth it.
The linked blog post raises wider questions, which it doesn’t really answer, over what criticism is supposed to be for. I’m a strong believer in critic-as-curator, someone who sifts through the dross and tells the world about the good stuff that might otherwise have flown beneath people’s radar.
There’s a place for criticism highlighting where artists can improve, but I’ve not got much time for critic-as-gatekeeper, or worse, critic-as-would-be-censor. The most obnoxious failure mode of rock criticism is the sneering dismissive review by someone with no love or understanding of what the artist is trying to do, that challenges their work’s right to exist. Too much mainstream music press coverage of progressive rock by people steeped in the thirty year old revisionist punk narrative falls into that trap.