April 17, 2008, by Peter Kirwan

Blogging away the soul

I spent a while today reading, with some fascination, a series of incidents flagged up by Chris Wilkinson on his Noises Off blog over at the Guardian. The story is of the playwright David Eldridge, who has announced that he is quitting blogging for various reasons outlined on his blog, and the debate on an earlier Noises Off blog that provided a catalyst for his decision.

They’re both very interesting posts/discussions, in terms of both content and tone, and a lot of what’s been said has resonated with me. The part which most fascinates me is the talk of the contempt and bitterness with which contributors often treat each other. Even on this little review blog, well away from the London theatregoing community and from contentious debates about theatre policies and so on, I myself have triggered some surprisingly violent reactions from readers, and I absolutely get what David says about ‘dread’. It’s a horrible feeling to find yourself editing yourself and choosing your words carefully in order to minimise the risk of anyone taking offence.

Part of this is just the risk that anyone fulfilling a critic-esque role, amateur or professional, takes. You can’t please everyone, and if you did then what’s the point in being a critic anyway? So you harden yourself, stay true to your own convictions and take an attitude that doesn’t care if people disagree with you. As I’ve said in previous blogs, when it comes to reviewing a play I don’t think it’s possible for a person’s opinion and experience to be ‘wrong’, it’s just different, and one of the values of disagreement – constructive disagreement – is that it highlights the multiplicity of experiences when it comes to theatregoing, which is one of the medium’s most important aspects.

David’s right though, in that the blogosphere is peculiarly vitriolic. I don’t agree with his comments on anonymous users per se (I think writing with an assumed name is perfectly fine, and I don’t think people should have to be accountable for what they say or have it impact on what they spend the rest of their life doing- if someone’s out of order, they can just be deleted), but I do acknowledge that it makes it so much easier for people to be offensive.

It does, at certain levels, upset me when people can’t engage in a discussion politely. Reading long discussions on blogs with people slagging each other off is a deeply depressing experience. The slagging off isn’t always hugely abusive, but it gets condescending, presumptuous, arrogant and extremely disrespectful.

I suppose, with all that said, that I’m coming from an academic background where (in theory, at least!) you don’t disagree with someone by shouting abuse at them, but by putting your own view and showing that it’s more correct. While many academics do descend to name-calling, I’ve always thought that there’s no reason a debate (particularly on a subject like theatre) should need to become such an unpleasant experience. On the contrary, it should be an educational, stimulating and rewarding endeavour, a sharing of ideas and information.

Now I sound like an idealist. I am, a bit, I suppose. It’s a shame that some people can’t play nicely with others.

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