Almond, no joy
I've never had a thoroughly worthwhile or even vaguely enjoyable reading experience on those rare occasions when I've been compelled to look at the work of Steve Almond, and his entirely inane piece in today's Boston Globe--in which he posits that "negative" music criticism maybe sorta ought to be abolished on account of the fact that it might hurt certain fans' feelings, or something--proved no exception to this rule. The sole point of interest of the piece is what it does not engage--the fact that critical practice relative to popular audience taste has been, in fact, a very hot topic among critics for some time now, ranging back to the early "anti-rockist" arguments of...well, whenever they were, and right up to and beyond Carl Wilson's 2007 consideration of Celine Dion, Let's Talk About Love: A Journey To The End Of Taste. Apparently, in Almond's philosophy--and I suppose, by extension, the Boston Globe's--none of these discussions have ever taken place. I understand that this condition mostly speaks to the fact that Almond's an uninformed moron, albeit a well-connected uninformed moron with a resourceful agent who can place uninformed and insubstantial pieces on the op-ed page of the Boston Globe. But it also speaks to many other things, such as the fact that an increasing number of self-proclaimed critics not only don't read other criticism but actually don't know what criticism is, as a form. Another, perhaps even more disturbing current it points to is the reflexive notion of criticism as a bad-faith enterprise. "Criticizing a particular band or song might make you, and some of your readers, feel smart and sophisticated," tsk-tsks Almond. (Yeah, take that, George Bernard Shaw.) In a recent review of Martin Scorsese's film Shutter Island, the much- much-smarter-than-Almond New York Times film critic A.O. Scott made an aside saying that the film's good notices, were it to get any, could be ascribed to "loyalty to Mr. Scorsese" on the part of some "otherwise hard headed critics [who] are inclined to extend [the filmmaker] the benefit of the doubt." Because clearly there's no other way anybody could find any artistic worth in this work that Scott so disdains. I don't think that Scott is necessarily entirely wrong in his speculation. But the fact that he's willing to make it at all, let alone that he's willing to make it without citing specific examples, and the imperious, above-it-all pose he strikes in making it, counts for more, in this case, than whether he's got an actual point or not. And that's troubling.
Whereas in the case of Almond it's kind of funny, particularly if you enjoy really dumb jokes.
With that, I ask the readership and my fellow bloggers what they think.