New Edition Digital Get Down reviews are gonna be firin up soon! I love these guys for real, and so does Arsenio. Really excited about this~
Last month, Isaac Fitzgerald, the newly hired editor of BuzzFeed’s newly created books section, made a remarkable but not entirely surprising announcement: He was not interested in publishing negative book reviews. In place of “the scathing takedown rip,” Fitzgerald said, he desired to promote a positive community experience.
I’m going to embarrass myself right here and right now and admit that I have not read this entire article, because gosh it is long and comprehensive and it digs deep into political smarm which is a field I know very little about. I SHOULD finish it right now and save face cuz really I don’t know what I am talking about, but there has been some talk in this article and elsewhere about: negative reviews, and whether or not they are an OK thing, the best thing ever, or overly cynical and outdated. It tends to be either the second or the third thing, and rarely the first, which is not too surprising.
I feel like talking about this because the (very few) people who really enjoy my writing like to focus on the fact that: I write mostly positive reviews. This is true, and there’s not much more to it than I enjoy writing about things I like the most. This is true for most people I believe. If you’re reviewing a record, you would much rather spend a lot of time listening to and writing about a record you love than a record you hate. This is logic. Spending time with an album you hate is unpleasant, and having to think about it and write about it is even worse. Writing is, at its best, language from the heart, and if you’re writing about music there is no easier way to connect with the heart than to write about music you love. It is that simple!
But I will say this: I am CERTAINLY NOT against negative reviews. Oh no! Not at all. I’ve written many myself! Most of the reviews of rock movies I’ve posted here are, well, negative. In that I thought they were flawed movies and I focused on their flaws. Flaws are interesting. Flaws are fascinating. They’re not fun to deal with, but honing in on flaws, talking about them, and giving them attention will do nothing but highlight the things you love. Language of the heart, you see. Good “negative” reviews come from a place of love, from a writer that gives a shit about the art form. These are the negative reviews that are important, that should be highlighted and celebrated.
I was not aware of BuzzFeed’s new books editor not allowing negative reviews. I don’t think that’s a good idea, but I understand why he’s doing it: the internet is an unfortunate breeding ground for the BAD kind of negative reviews. The thoughtless ones. The dismissive ones. The - forgive my possibly inaccurate use of the word - snarky ones.
Let me go ahead and give you my personal definition of “snark,” which is not a word I use often but one that seems to fit here. Snark, to me, is dismissal. It is holier-than-thou. It is anti-constructive. It is unintelligent. And - worst of all - it doesn’t care. It doesn’t care. I can’t imagine anything worse than that.
The best example I can think of is the way most folks will talk about teen pop. Immediate, jerky dismissal. This is oh too common. Pop music in general, too. The entire reason I started Digital Get Down was to alleviate myself, personally, from anti-teen snark garbage. I can’t speak to the actual quality of the blog too much (I’m proud of my work so far but, y’know, it’s my own work) but I can say, without a shadow of a doubt, that I write about teen pop because I love it. Believe me, there have been plenty of negative reviews on DGD, but they come from a place of love. I love that shit.
So I understand what BuzzFeed is trying to do. It’s a knee-jerk reaction to the potential of pointless negativity in their writers, something they recognize that the internet often welcomes. Negative hater shit is POPULAR, and it is not hard to see why. It’s interesting to see someone take a big dump on a movie or a record, especially when 1) it’s something popular and 2) when most of that writer’s audience already dislikes it. Key example: The AV Club’s “HateSong” feature (sorry to bring this up again haha) in which comedians take easy shots at songs lots of people don’t like. It is not hard to see why those are so popular, as bereft of any redeeming value as they are in my opinion.
So BuzzFeed can do that I guess, but yeah I think it’s a mistake. It’s, ah, not something that I would do. Not allowing ANY negative reviews - that is, dismissing ALL negative reviews as - to quote the new BuzzFeed books editor Isaac Fitzgerald - a “scathing takedown rip.” And to continue: “Why waste breath talking smack about something?”
Well, gosh, because it’s not all smack! Nobody is going to like everything! And that is just fine!
What matters is, again, where it comes from. If you ask me, the most important element here is respect. If you’re writing a negative review, you need to respect: the people behind the thing you’re reviewing. The artist or artists. You need to respect them, attempt to understand where they’re coming from, even when you don’t like it. You have to take a step outside of yourself and understand why you don’t like it, on a personal level, without treating the artist in question like garbage because you personally do not like what they’ve created. You need to write a negative review with the full belief that this artist has the capacity to create something good, or something you like.
Even if you don’t like a work of art, you need to understand that the artist behind it (more likely than not) really gave a shit about it and put real work into it. It may even be their passion project. This does not mean you need to dull your criticism, or be overly nice, or treat them like a child and pretend that what they made is great so you don’t hurt their feelings. But it DOES mean that you can’t be an asshole for no reason. Because that’s what makes you bad.
Cutting out negative reviews - I know you want to keep things positive, and that’s cool and nice, but you’re cutting out some important voices. Ya I know it’s easy to turn to Roger here, but read his review of The Green Berets again. That’s a “negative” review, yes, but not “talking smack” or a “scathing takedown rip.” It’s a prescient, smart, engaged, important criticism. It’s a springboard for social commentary. It’s excellent. It’s everything a great negative review can be.
I’m just saying - I wouldn’t disallow that. I wouldn’t ban any and all negative reviews. Just the ones that are pointless! The ones that don’t care! They are not hard to spot, if you ask me.
If you’ve missed it, I’m posting a song a day through the month of December and writing a bit about some of my favorite albums of 2013. Here’s what I’ve shared lately:
follow Collector’s Edition’s tumblr! Rick is posting some awesome stuff
hey guys, ron burgundy is hanging around my hometown today, this is so totally weird
One of the students allegedly asked professor Shannon Gibney, “Why do we have to talk about this?” VIDEO
i cant believe this fucking garbage
Kurt Vile - Wakin On A Pretty Day
Three days in and I already messed up the order of the albums! That is okay.
As a matter of practicality, always save room in your heart and on your mobile device for weather-appropriate music. ”Wakin’ On A Pretty Day” moves at such a strolling pace and and is so warm and breezy that you just wish it would keep walking on forever, and the song’s already nine fuckin’ minutes long.
But it has to stop eventually, because there’s an entire album of songs after this one, and they’re all just as nice and laid back and thoughtful. I liked Wakin’ On A Pretty Daze so much I bought it twice - one LP copy so I could really give it a close listen (and because it comes with stickers that you can put all over the cover), and one CD copy for when I’m too lazy to even flip a record.
See that shirt? That’s the record store where I buy my records at! That’s where I bought this record at. Thanks, Kurt Vile.
RIck’s countin down his favorite albums of the year for Collector’s Edition, check it out!!