This week, it was Salon, via writer Andrew O’Hehir, requiring 2,106 words to explain how and why the “New York entertainment media has gotten its collective panties in a bundle over the question of whether New York Press critic Armond White had or had not been banned from press screenings of Greenberg, the new film from director Noam Baumbach.”
Actually, that’s slightly unfair: O’Hehir acknowledged “the furor is only partly about White and Baumbach. It’s also about the uneasy symbiosis between film critics and the movie business, two organisms that feed off each other in an awkward dance of privilege, access and manipulation…. It suggests, in the face of all available economic evidence, that what we do still matters.”
And that’s enough. In fact, the timing of the topic is apt, what with the dismissal of Variety chief film critic Todd McCarthy and chief theater critic David Rooney and what it all means for the future of reviews and critical writing.
Where I gingerly step off the locution locomotive is at the point anyone thinks it’s a net plus to expel so much air on a topic that even the writer admits is irrelevant to normal mortals:
…calling this kerfuffle a tempest in a teapot might be demeaning to teapots. Neither Baumbach nor White is famous enough for anyone outside the self-regarding media bubble to care, and there were no First Amendment issues involved. (Getting to see movies for free is a perk, not a right.)
O’Hehir then spends the literary equivalent of Finnegan’s Wake walking the increasingly befogged reader through the litany of ethical, moral and critical issues that have surrounded White since, I guess, the betrayal of Judas. He makes sure we know the back-story on White’s previous blasts at Baumbach (it’s all about Baumbach’s mother, it turns out) and why the most recent “White-Baumbach contretemps sparked such a Twitterific uproar.” He even reaches all the back to 1963, when the legendary Judith Crist began writing for the long-defunct Herald-Tribune, to illustrate just how antagonistic the relationship can be between critics and, in this case, the studios. (Um, was the banning of New York Times theater critic Alexander Woollcott by the Shubert brothers in 1915 — which went to litigation — too obscure?)
Media is media and the media beat is the media beat, so there is reason for some coverage. Just not this much of it. If White was banned from a screening, then the matter is clearly that of a studio (or a studio’s PR flack, O’Hehir explains) playing aesthetic chicken with the First Amendment, not a game the studio is likely to win.
True, in terms of arts, culture and entertainment coverage, Salon is in a better position to Slate to throw stones. But if you’re not film-obsessed (or more precisely, film critic obsessed), could it do better? Of course it could. It could start by incorporating more live theater into its culture coverage.
If it wants a writer to explain why such a move would be in its interest, I’m available.