Monday, September 27, 2010

"Opinions are like assholes and all..." (Don Hall)

Don Hall is an entertainingly sarcastic critic and creator of the blog An Angry White Guy in Chicago. Although he primarily reviews theater, he has been known to post his opinions about news, politics, web videos, and his mom. For example, while explaining his choice to write about an article about the former Bush Administration and the war in Iraq, he said, “[…] instead of looking back and trying to pin the most expensive and misguided war in the history of the United States' existence on someone, we should focus on the economy and the global warming and the fucktarded Tea Party taking over the government and the fact that Lindsey Lohan is an addict and that Ashton Kutcher finally slept with a woman his own age.”

This same attitude applies to his take on criticism as both a lifelong passion and profession, regardless of whether or not he is paid to do it. In a discussion article orchestrated by Kris Vire in Timeout Chicago (that included several accomplished Chicago critics), Hall rhetorically asks the group, “So is it courage or just a stubborn need to express our opinion?” In a world where the job market for critics is ever shrinking in regard to monetary compensation for their writing, this is rather profound. One can argue that they’re passionate or well educated, but if they aren’t pushed forward by an obstinate need to articulate whatever the reaction is towards any cultural phenomena, how can they be successful?

Beyond this, during the same discussion with Vire, Hall was able to consolidate the most crucial characteristic of a great critic: “In order to appropriately criticize, a dollop of self-awareness is necessary—knowing your own prejudices, etc.” The critics that are worth reading (or at least paying attention to) consider their biases when they write. You can’t accurately critique anything until you can accurately critique yourself. Without this “dollop of self-awareness”, the article is inevitably tainted because the reaction isn’t 100% honest. Like when people are freaked out by soy products, yet loudly declare that Vegan cuisine is disgustingly bland. In most cases, these people tried something once and entirely base their opinion on that single experience.

Which leads to the final point—criticism needs to be backed by knowledge. Above all else, ill informed opinions are basically worthless. With that said, one can still adequately critique French pastries without undergoing years of culinary training or residing in France for several years. However, if one has never tasted a croissant and has no idea how one is made, research and tasting is necessary. This goes hand in hand with being able to take criticism as well. Feedback in invaluable: “I like the comments from the readers. I like it when they call me an ass. I get a lot of angry e-mails—I try to answer them. The debate is the ‘sharpening stone’” (Don Hall). If outside opinions are disregarded, the writer might as well just lay face down on the floor and admit that they can’t provide substantial evidence to support their own words. Don't fucking waste my time.

Timeout Chicago - Chicago's Top Taste Makers Discuss Why They Critique Culture - by Kris Vire

Don Hall - An Angry White Guy in Chicago

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