Can’t We All Get Along: Shuttlecock vs. Center of The City

I feel like a child listening to his parents argue in the next room. Shuttlecock Magazine‘s contributing editor-in-chief, Aaron Rhodes, caught some heat from Kansas City punks for criticizing The Center of the City Festival. Which makes me wonder if Kansas City needs to learn to take negative criticism better.

It seems in all of the arts manifestations in the city there is a shortage of actual criticism. Most of what is written (be it about music, visual arts, performing arts, etc.) is generally positive and shows a familiarity with the artists being reviewed. I know I’m guilty for mainly writing positive reviews. One of the reasons this happens, I think, is because writing (constructively) negative reviews takes time and effort, and it takes a special kind of masochist to spend that amount of time with something one doesn’t like.

Another reason (one we’re seeing with Shuttlecock and Center of the City) is that artists in Kansas City can (and often) react poorly to such criticism and work to discredit the author thereof. In a small arts community, it’s easy to take criticism personally and to lash out–because, well, everyone knows everyone else.

All that said, and in interest of full disclosure, there are ways to criticize and ways not to criticize. One of the ways to criticize is by writing thoughtful and constructive reviews and op-eds that offer ways to improve (thinking specifically of William Logan’s scathing yet insightful poetry reviews). A way not to criticize is by offhandedly saying two of the 49 bands playing the festival are worth catching and none of other bands on the lineup are “good.” 

Criticism itself, whether negative or positive, should, I think, move away from such binaries as “good” and “bad.” A good critic should go to wherever the music is and try to describe it–something Rhodes does time and time again in his concert and album reviews. In this way, the review moves away from simply classifying a piece of art in a generic binary.

But the road runs both ways. There are ways to take criticism and ways not to take criticism. A way to take criticism is to consider the source and to consider the content. If it is valid/insightful, changing to improve one’s craft is really the only correct reaction. If it isn’t, then ignore it.

A way not to take criticism is to threaten the critic with violence (while displaying a disturbing amount of transphobia). A way not to take criticism is to draw an arbitrary line about groups that can and cannot be criticized. These, unfortunately, are the reactions that happen more often than not.

I want to end this by saying I love the Kansas City arts scene and I love the Kansas City critic scene. I have friends on both sides. I love what Shuttlecock Magazine does (both as a review and as an event coordinator), and I love what Center of the City is doing (as a showcase for Kansas City’s punk scene). I think this sort of internet scuffle shows Kansas City at a crossroads so to speak. Are we ready to move beyond sycophantic reviews? Are we ready to hear negative feedback? Is this the next step in becoming a better arts community? I think yes to all those.

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