Tehee: Everybody's a critic, but who loves a critic?

The Fresno BeeMarch 12, 2014 

As a performance critic, Joshua Tehee says he's "more attuned to outsider, subversive artists." He gave a positive review to Nicky Watts' (above) Rogue Festival performance, knowing most people would disagree with him.


These days, everyone is a critic.

If you doubt it, log on to Amazon and try to buy anything. Even toilet paper comes with customer reviews. They can be quite detailed.

Follow Twitter during any awards show and you'll see a live stream of critiques given out in 140 characters or less. There were 14.7 million tweets during the Academy Awards, with a good share focused on Ellen DeGeneres' choice of jokes and John Travolta's mispronunciation of Idina Menzel's name.

Think about it. You've probably used the online business-review site Yelp. If you are like me, you read the comments on your favorite YouTube cat videos.

I read reviews for movies I'll never see, out of sheer curiosity, and I follow the stable of critics who review television shows, episode by episode, for the online pop-culture site AV Club (www.avclub.com). If nothing else, it saves me from having to watch a half dozen shows each week.

We are social beings.

It makes sense that we find ourselves drawn to such reviews. There is satisfaction in having your opinion validated by others, and a different kind of satisfaction that comes from the disagreements, I suppose.

Those who get paid to write reviews walk a fine line, especially when reviewing local artists and performers. Many think local media has a responsibility to support their community, and they read any critical review as a violation of that contract. It can be a struggle to find the appropriate tone.

The Bee ran several reviews during the two-week Rogue Festival and not all of them were glowing. Nor should they have been.

Critics — at least the good ones — come with a certain level of expertise. They make judgments based on their knowledge of the craft. The may have background, insider information or can pick up subtleties that may not be obvious to the general audience.

A critic's job is not to drive an artist to quit. But they can't serve as blind cheerleaders, either.

Critics should be trusted to be fair in their judgments and to stand by their assessments.

You may not always agree with them.

There is a certain amount of subjectivity that comes into play. I'm more attuned to outsider, subversive artists. So I can give a glowing review of Nicky Watts' performance at the Rogue Festival (which I did) and know that most people would disagree to the point of walking out of the show (several people did).

Critics simply give a benchmark to follow.

In this context, they should be read with appreciation.

While it never feels good for performers to be reminded they aren't as funny or talented — or as well prepared — as they thought, it can be liberating.

It's always been that way for me.

This columnist can be reached at (559) 441-6479, jtehee@fresnobee.com or @joshuatehee on Twitter and Instagram. Read his blog at www.fresnobeehive.com

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