Cannibalism, journalism and auto-erotic asphyxiation

[Note: I had this post written and ready to publish when WordPress decided to log me out and lose my work. Below is my best recreation of the original message. Enjoy.]

Over drinks this evening, a colleague asked which of our group we would eat last if plane-wrecked and forced to resort to cannibalism. Each of us listed who we would spare, with everyone else saving their closest friends until the end. Ever the pragmatist, however, I named those who I thought would be most useful (and least tasty) as the ones I would eat last.

My reasoning, naturally, was met with groans, yet I’ve always considered my ability to remain emotionally detached as both my greatest strength and my greatest weakness (cliche noted). It wasn’t until yesterday, however, that I directly applied such detachment to my work as a journalist.

At an alumni event last night,  Michael Kimmelman, architecture critic for the New York Times, discussed the role of the critic in an ever-changing media environment. When asked about what makes a good critic, he cited, first and foremost, detachment from ones subject of criticism.

Kimmelman’s comment struck me, because most aspiring arts critics once sought to be a player in their field of criticism. Many are artists, dancers, musicians or actors who chose criticism either because they preferred journalism or, more likely, because they couldn’t hack it as an artist. Regardless of the critic’s intent, it is natural to want to be an insider in one’s field.

According to Kimmelman, however, an insider’s opinion differs from that of a critic. A critic must maintain a level of detachment in order to avoid creating friendships, connections and ties to the people whom they are required to critique. As a critic, I don’t want to know if you’re a god-fearing, church-going individual who spends weekends volunteering at a soup kitchen or if you like to choke yourself with a belt and tickle midgets while you jerk off. While that may make for great entertainment news, it’s irrelevant to criticism. I want to know if you produce worthwhile art.

Kimmelman is right: journalism requires an extraordinary level of detachment from one’s subject. Perhaps this is the reason so many exceptional writers are pricks who are depressed and lonely. Personally, I hope to achieve some sort of balance between greatness and happiness. Until then, however, let’s hope we’re never stranded together on a remote mountaintop. And if we are, let’s hope you taste like shit.

Advertisements