Dear Hecklers and Haters: Your Folly’s Not Funny

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Hecklers Statler and WaldorfIn the arts and entertainment world, you often heard it said, “If you can’t take criticism, you shouldn’t be in the business.” This is largely true, but is often abused or misconstrued as a means of justifying outright mean behavior.

To clarify, insightful critical analysis delivered in a *nonthreatening environment, generally as a feature of an ongoing dialogue with one’s mentors, peers, qualified journalists and audience (though in these last two cases the dialogue is often more figurative than literal), can be a vital, essential part of the development of an artist’s craft and creative vision. Conversely, yelling “you suck” at a show or writing “eat shit and die” at a message board is just being an asshole, and in many cases has the opposite effect of insightful criticism.

But, such assholery does exist, and it does seem that many artists have no choice but to get out of the business or learn to deal. However, the only reason performers need to be able to handle asshole behavior is because of the existence of assholes. If this seems obvious, it should. It is, by extension, equally obvious that when you write “eat shit and die” or “she looks like a retarded baby” at a message board, and then find out that it hurt the actor, writer, director, comedian, or musician’s feelings and you feel bad about it and try to justify it by saying, “if she can’t take it she shouldn’t be in the business,” what you really should be saying is, “yes, I’m an inexcusable asshole and it’s people like me who make the world a harder place to live in; I should apologize and never do it again.”

If that doesn’t convince you, keep the following in mind. Even if you feel that the person you are heckling is terrible at his craft and deserves to be berated publicly, the prevalence of this sort of behavior keeps a lot of especially sensitive performers, some of whom you might actually like, from even trying to get into the business. By contributing to an environment of meanness, you are creating a Darwinian situation in which the only performers who are able to thrive are those who are able to dish it back (especially in comedy) and those who are able to withdraw from general public contact, sticking as closely as possible to their adoring fan base and professional colleagues. These attitudes become part of the cultural fabric and substantially contribute our collective zeitgeist, unfortunately.

So, don’t be mean to your performers, generally even if they themselves are deluded jerks (you’ll have to use your judgment in this regard, but keep in mind that the consequences of that judgment are your responsibility, not the performer’s; for example, if you feel someone’s work is in the service of an ideology you wouldn’t be able to live with yourself for ignoring, attack the ideology, not the person, and not at a staged performance if at all possible). People working in the arts and entertainment industries are struggling through their lives and careers just like everyone else, and by launching insults at them you’re only adding more misery to the world.

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*Yes, sometimes insightful criticism is itself brutal, and there are differing opinions about just how nonthreatening venues for evaluative criticism should be, but that’s a different – and very long – conversation.

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Dan Jacob Wallace

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