Office Space scene "The Going Away Present" of printer destruction
Office Space scene "The Going Away Present" of printer destruction

Over on OpenSalon, Mary Elizabeth Williams did a post on author’s social media e-sponses to negative reviews .  At first, I was amused by the spirited rejoinders.  Williams cites Ayelet Waldman’s response to Jill Lepore’s review of Bad Mother in the New Yorker, was allegedly a succinct “The book is a feminist polemic, you ignorant twat.” My favorite was Alain de Botton’s response to Caleb Crain’s review in the New York Times on the latter’s blog::

“Caleb, you make it sound on your blog that your review is somehow a sane and fair assessment. In my eyes, and all those who have read it with anything like impartiality, it is a review driven by an almost manic desire to bad-mouth and perversely depreciate anything of value. The accusations you level at me are simply extraordinary. I genuinely hope that you will find yourself on the receiving end of such a daft review some time very soon – so that you can grow up and start to take some responsibility for your work as a reviewer. You have now killed my book in the United States, nothing short of that. So that’s two years of work down the drain in one miserable 900 word review. You present yourself as ‘nice’ in this blog (so much talk about your boyfriend, the dog etc). It’s only fair for your readers (nice people like Joe Linker and trusting souls like PAB) to get a whiff that the truth may be more complex. I will hate you till the day I die and wish you nothing but ill will in every career move you make. I will be watching with interest and schadenfreude.” [Emphasis added]

I chose to show the full comment, not just the last sentences in bold that many are quoting, since I wanted to provide context and show that it wasn’t just a two-line virulent jab.  Some might call this churlish, but I saw it as a writer showing he has the chops as a writer to defend his book against criticism.

I do understand why Williams offers her advice of being careful about ranting at critics.  Such angry behaviour can make can one seem shrill and immature, although I do enjoy the sheer drama of it all.  Publishing, as it stands today, is hypercompetitive and there are influential gatekeepers like critics.  I wonder if these interactions in social media are showing how the “authority” of the critic is being decentered.  Social media allow for dialogues and will expectations shift, in that critics will have to justify their reviews to authors and audiences alike.  Interestingly, Caleb Crain chose not to respond to Alain de Botton’s comment, only offering an unsatisfying::

“Folks: Thanks for all your comments. A broad range of opinions have been expressed, and I’m going to close comments on this post now. all best wishes, Caleb”

That said, I wonder what the future of publishing and criticism are, given Web 2.0 and beyond.  The critic serves a winnowing function, granting {or taking away} legitimacy and status.  Will this function be replaced by an increasingly intelligent Web 3.0 with “crowdsourced” reviews?  What are the implications for acadème and peer-review journals?  Will the “wisdom of the crowd” topple the institutional fiefdoms controlling knowledge?

I know critiquing work can be tough.  While not that in-depth, the act of reviewing Soderburgh’s The Girlfriend Experience was illuminating for me, particularly after seeing how many reviewers were taking the easy road.  I’ve done peer-review for over 15 years now and have been through the double-blind review process, as well.  I’ve always tried to be constructive with my reviews, even with what I see is a flawed manuscript, offering citations and {hopefully} theoretical or methodological insights.  I’ve read that Will Ferrell is very constructive as a colleague, often taking the time to help others work through something not working with their comedy, and I’m trying to pattern myself after this.  My take is that if you can’t be constructive and if you tear something down without backing it up, you better be prepared to fight it out and social media is the perfect venue for this.

Song:: There Is Nothing Wrong With Hating Rock Critics (Cd) – Of Montreal


Video:: Office Space “The Going Away Present”

Twitterversion:: Authors using #socialmedia to lash out at negative reviews. #Fail or #Web2.0 decentering of critics as #gatekeepers in publishing? @Prof_K