I've been mulling over Geoffrey Long's series about transmedia criticism, How to Ride a Lion. I feel like it deserves some thoughtful response, but it's been hard for me to formulate anything that isn't self-aggrandizing (Geoffrey is very flattering toward me indeed) or a sort of nodding-my-head-along that is so empty of content I might as well not say anything at all.
So I've been thinking about why I personally don't write more criticism-as-such. As with many things, it comes down to fear. I'm often afraid to be truly candid about the failings I perceive in many transmedia projects (except sometimes in snark-laden IM form) because the community is so very, very small. Odds are good I'd be saying something mean about someone I know and like, or someone I'd love to work with one day. Talking about how truly awful Big Film Project's latest effort is could be a serious career-limiting move, and it's hard to be diplomatic and truthful at the same time.
So most efforts at criticism -- including my own -- have cautiously remained focused only on projects toward which we could be laudatory. That's not a great way to collectively improve our art.
A Creator's Guide, when it comes out some dozen weeks from now, might actually stand as a work of criticism disguised as a how-to guide, trying to define the best practices and shared vocabulary Geoffrey refers to in his second installment. And in fact the specific excerpt that Geoffrey quotes from my blog in the third part of his article has made it (in altered form) into the book. What I do here, and what I've done in my book, is an ongoing act of trying to explain to myself what works, what doesn't, and why. (I sometimes think I never know what's in my brain until I try to explain it to somebody else.) Does that count as criticism? I really couldn't say.
But to paraphrase Christy Dena, there's a sense that we're all kind of fumbling around doing our best right now. Criticism including truly negative feedback is avoided out of a sort of unspoken gentlemen's agreement: You overlook it when my slip shows, and I'll politely not remark when yours does.
This probably goes a long way toward explaining why the creator's community is so warm, so welcoming, so very wonderful to be a part of. It's inevitable, though, that it can't last like that. So maybe what we need is a public acknowledgement that the gentlemen's agreement has outlasted its time.
I'll start by volunteering myself: if anyone out there feels so inclined to criticize my work, however harshly, you're more than welcome to. I won't take it personally, I won't let anyone else take it personally on my account if I can help it, and in fact I'd respect the hell out of you for standing up and voicing an opinion. (OK, to be a little more honest, I'd take it the way I take a lot of feedback; privately sulk and pout for a brief time, and then get on with gratefully fixing the things that I couldn't see were broken on my own.)
So go on, tell me what you really think. Be brutally honest. I can't get better if you don't tell me what I'm doing wrong. And I'll try a little harder to do the same for you.