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On Critics, On Outcry And Dead Horses

Source- NYT's.

Source- NYT's.

Alastair Macaulay’s review of George Balanchine’s Nutcracker catalyzed a furor in recent weeks, over an off-hand remark over Ballerina Jennifer Ringer’s weight.  As a result, the internet basically had a hissy-fit.

For those unfamiliar with the term, ‘hissy-fit’ is synonymous with a temper tantrum. A small wailing and gnashing of teeth that goes nowhere, does nothing.  Macaulay’s review sparked exactly this, in what passes for controversy these days.

What sets this brouhaha apart from other so-called scandals in recent memory is that the respective parties acted like adults.  There were no gross over-reactions, no hasty retractions.   The people that lashed out did so in comments and emails to the critic. They were commentators (like myself), not the parties involved.

You want to know how Ms. Ringer responded? Here’s how:

    “It’s a physical profession. We’re dancing all day long…. But if you’re too thin, you can’t do the job. That’s where people run into trouble. When I went through my eating disorders, I went through anorexia; when you’re weak, you can’t do the job, and you can’t perform it well.
    As a dancer, I do put myself out there to be criticized, and my body is part of my art form. At the same time, I’m not overweight. I do have, I guess, a more womanly body type than the stereotypical ballerina, but that’s one of the wonderful things about the New York City Ballet. We have every body type you can imagine. We have tall, we have petite, we have athletic, we have womanly, we have waif-like. We have every body type out there. They can all dance like crazy. They are all gorgeous, and I think dance should be more of a celebration of that — seeing these beautiful women with these different bodies all dancing to this gorgeous music, and that’s what should be celebrated.”

She answered like a ballet dancer: with poise, fairness, and precision.  I thought this was charming, and I also thought I would get a kick out of lambasting the big, bad critic with well-honed sarcasm and completely unjustified hauteur.

Then I read his article. I also read his reply to the aforementioned furor. And you know what?  I can find no fault with his arguments.  None.

Not only does he speak of ballet as a true admirer, but also as one who knows what he’s talking about.   The best part? Macaulay calls his readers on their bulls#!t.

    “Notably, the fuss has been about Ms. Ringer’s appearance. No one took issue with what might be considered a much more severe criticism, that the two danced “without adult depth or complexity.” And though I was much harder on Mr. Angle’s appearance, scarcely a reader objected. When I described Nilas Martins as “portly” in The New York Times and Mark Morris as “obese” in the Times Literary Supplement, those remarks were also greeted with silence. Fat, apparently, is not so much a feminist issue as a sexist one. Sauce for the goose? Scandal. Sauce for the gander? No problem.”

It’s beautiful! Macaulay is keenly aware of his medium, and of his readers. And no-where is there anything resembling an apology. Largely because it’s not necessary.

Do I agree with his initial criticism? No. Ms. Ringer is quite svelte, in my opinion. This is not the point.

The point is that suppliers of news like the New York Times are reporting on reactions to their own press as if this is actually news. It isn’t news.  It’s pot-stirring. (And yes, I’m aware that I’m culpable here as well.)  But do people recognize this?

A critic wrote a criticism. Gasp. The subject of his criticism replied. Double gasp! The critic replied to the reply. Triple gasp!!

In what way is this important? Do people not have more important things to do?

If we’re going to be vultures (and I think that we are), let’s at least find something fresher to peck. Before you know it, some other photogenic person you’ve never met will commit a faux pas or say something vapid or wear something atrocious and remit themselves (whether they like it or not) to no shortage of scrutiny, commentary and above all, attention.  Rest assured we will let you know about it.

Moving on.