The famous escalating-insult crescendo of Waiting for Godot goes like this: “Moron!” “Vermin!” “Abortion!” “Morpion!” “Sewer-rat!” “Curate!” “Cretin!” “Crritic!” — the last spoken “with finality.” Some might argue that the cretin/critic thing is redundant, but many would agree with Beckett regarding the ultimate epithet. Our pockets leaking free tickets, our shelves piled with free CDs, our hearts filled with bile, and our thumbs pulled downward as if by gravity, we critics live to berate, deride, and put artists out on the street with all their furniture.
But is that really so? Without Shaw, would Ibsen’s “quintessence” have seeped into Victorian England? Without Harold Bloom, would Falstaff have garnered more respect than Rodney Dangerfield? Without Pauline Kael, would Last Tango in Paris have gotten squeezed into the same sentence with Le Sacre du Printemps? Without Jon Landau, would Bruce Springsteen have been the future of rock-and-roll? Without Variety, would anything be boffo?
The truth is that critics, though about as beloved as botulism (actually less, since reviewers do nothing to paralyze wrinkles), are as often advocates as attack dogs. Most of us love the arts we write about. I mean, who would want to spend a career enduring torture just to torture it back in print or on air? You could get lofty and regard critics as martyrs of sorts, suffering the sins of others — Barry Manilow, Chris Columbus, Neil Simon, Mitch Albom, Nunsense franchiser Dan Goggin — so that you can proceed straight to a prime seat in artistic heaven, without wasting time in the hit-or-miss, mediocrity-saturated purgatory in which we ply our trade. Or you could just think of reviews as the artistic equivalent of screening your calls.
— Carolyn Clay