Tuesday, 25 March 2014


Towards the end of Auslander's book on Liveness, he describes how the dominant medium (at the time of publication, it was TV) impacts on the remains of the previous dominant culture (that was theatre, more or less). The minority medium imitates the style of the dominant - in the case of performance, it tried to incorporate bits of video and whatever into the live performance.

A good example of this is that time that Scottish Opera tried to turn An Italian Girl in Algiers into a soap opera. Auslander gets into how MTV was shaping rock culture's obsession with authenticity. Sadly, less than a decade after its publication, Liveness has become a relic: the Internet is now dominant, and TV is trying to copy it (i-player, anyone?). Auslander also missed a trick, citing Eric Clapton as an example of how MTV tried to rescue itself after Milli Vanilli made everyone look stupid.  

Clapton was not a serious artist after about 1977, and MTV's attempt to rebrand by giving him a load of awards was another mistake, part of its descent to abandoning music videos for an endless stream of publicity pieces for artists with more cash than taste, or bad reality shows.

Still, the idea holds: the dominant medium dictates the pace, and sets up plenty of tropes for the minor arts to borrow. In the case of theatre, this has led to a bunch of poor plays about social media, or the occasional invitation by artists that the audience 'leave their phones on, please.'

In criticism, it gets worse. The professional critic worries about the tweets and status updates that challenge their authority - either joining in or churning out press releases to up their numbers (I am talking about myself, yes). Opinion is mistaken for criticism - a situation not helped by criticism's failure to decide decisively on its actual function.

It is generally assumed that criticism is parasitic. The host is the event, the critic feeds on the art and passes the waste onto the public. A symbiotic relationship is just as valid a reading, but lacks the possibility of making a joke about faeces. But allowing the performance to be dominant poses a question: in what ways can criticism ape its form? Is there time for a change in speak?

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