I once received a very kind note from a reader who thanked me for helping nudge comments in a productive direction. Even among disagreeing adults, there should be no need for name calling and character assassinations. We can use facts and debate to discuss and compare different views, and in the process we can better understand each other's perspective.
Our beliefs come from our experiences. As we all come from varied backgrounds and levels of access to opportunity, it's natural that some of us will disagree with each other. These differences should not hinder our ability to empathize with other views.
Of course there will be heated arguments from time to time, as the American political scene has always been particularly polarized. But there's no reason we can't be civil to each other.
Marketplace.org (the Web site for the American Public Media radio program), as preface to its comment boxes, bears the admonition, "Please be civil, brief and relevant." That just seems to sum it up for me.
Be polite. Even if you think someone is a jerk, by sticking to objective points about their argument or yours, you come out ahead by being fair and not calling names.
When you're weighing in on a subject, you should be able to sum up your views in a few sentences. By forcing yourself to be succinct, you're ensuring each phrase carries an equal part of the load of getting your message across.
Limit yourself to the topic at hand. It's aggravating to have a discussion about health care and find someone start in on JEDDs. If you can't contribute something relevant to the subject, go start your own blog.
This all brings me to an e-mail I got this morning. There's been a lot of heavy breathing over at the review of The Music Man at Powers Auditorium this weekend. The writer, Milan Paurich, is developing a reputation for controversial reviews. Of course reviews, particularly of community shows, are going to be deeply affecting for those involved in the shows and those who are supporters of the theaters or companies themselves.
I disagreed with the approach taken in this particular review, so I wrote a letter to the editor in response:
Milan Paurich's Sunday review of The Music Man did a disservice to the local theater community, not to mention the tradition of critical review. Traditionally, "large, appreciative audiences" are a measure of a theater company's success. Apparently, they are beneath Mr. Paurich, who merely uses his ink to serve some kind of grudge against Easy Street founders Todd Hancock and Maureen Collins who, instead of being billed as co-owners, are mocked as "king and queen."
Easy Street has been putting on quality, popular productions in Youngstown for a generation, providing reliable opportunities for amateurs and gigs for professional actors and musicians. They are one of the few, and now perhaps the only, local theater companies putting on large-scale, Broadway-style musical productions.
Yet the reviewer suggests Easy Street's use of professional sets and costumes from Broadway and touring show productions is some kind of physical manifestation of the production's collective ego. With an affair as big as Meredith Willson's beloved, Tony Award-winning show, one might only expect criticism if Easy Street and its partner the Youngstown Symphony Society had succumbed to economic fears and put up a few hand-painted, cardboard cutouts as opposed to the terrific depictions of turn-of-the-century River City, Iowa they rented.
Reviewers can help audiences know what to attend and how to appreciate it. Instead, this reviewer merely shows how to insult and how to pit community theaters against each other. How else to explain a recommendation of the three-weekend run of the Oakland's Reefer Madness as a valid alternative to the family-friendly Music Man, which ran for one weekend?
Mr. Paurich apparently never met a metaphor he didn't like. From the worst oil spill on North American soil to Disney theme parks to American Idol, the writer doesn't bother sticking to a coherent theme that can effectively critique the production, instead reaching for any device that will help him heap scorn on the proceedings.
It's customary for theater reviews to comment on featured players, and few are more visible than the school board quartet, an important ingredient for a successful Music Man production. The quartet, however, was never mentioned (full disclosure: I was a member of the quartet). Consistency is also a casualty of the writer, who talks about the production being over the top and then praises the featured roles of Mayor Shinn and Charlie Cowell, the show's two most outsized roles.
Perhaps the reviewer should sit a bit closer to the stage, where he's not bothered by the stage manager giving instructions in the back of the auditorium, and where he can appreciate the quality of the effort put forward by the diverse and accomplished cast of The Music Man.
I didn't call anyone names. I merely critiqued the substance and style of the review. In return, I received the following e-mail this morning from an anonymous user:
Leave the theater criticism to professionals, "Mr. Software Consultant."
Your blog is a disgrace.
At least it was brief.