It is pretty widely known that the blogger is an Ottawa musician named Andrew Burn.
Yet as a critic and blogger, I feel that I have a stake in some of the issues that Mallon raised in his detailed response to the review. I should perhaps also say that I’ve met Mallon a few times – and know him to be a heart-on-sleeve kind of guy. And I’ve seen him criticize a critic before, so I’m not entirely surprised by his response to Burn on this occasion.
In Mallon’s final paragraph, the conductor/violinist dives into some deep and murky waters surrounding the nature of criticism itself. Opening with the accusation that Burn is “young and arrogant and offensive,” he boasts of his own credentials while questioning Burn’s accomplishments and his right to criticize. Finally, Mallon threatens to attend one of Burn’s concerts and publicly tear it apart.
As for what gives Burn the right to criticize, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms is quite explicit on this point. All Canadians are guaranteed “freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication.”
Yet in Mallon’s ideal world, nobody would ever criticize anyone else unless they are a] more qualified than whomever they are criticizing, and b] could and would be prepared to do a better job.
So I can only presume that Mallon has never criticized the actions of any politician or government official without first contemplating whether he could do a better job of running a country – and whether he would be willing to step up and actually do so. Does he hold his tongue because he has no degree in law or political science?
And, as Mallon exits a cinema with friends, I’m sure he is always careful to refrain from offering any opinion about the film he’s just seen. After all, what does he know of filmmaking? What films has he made?
Furthermore, when Mallon is auditioning singers for his various orchestras, I have no doubt that he asks himself the question “But could I do it better?” whenever he hears someone he doesn’t much like. If the answer is no, that singer is immediately hired.
The charge that a critic shouldn’t criticize unless he or she could do it better is surely the reddest herring in the sea. So what if the critic could or couldn’t do better? How does that change whether or not the performance was worthy?
In a healthy society it’s entirely appropriate for people to express opinions about the things they see and hear going on around them. Mallon seems to want to reorganize human society along the lines of chickens – where it’s all about pecking orders.
If Mallon wants to get into criticism himself, that’s fine with me. I’m sure his efforts would be colourful, to say the least. But I hope he does not begin his critical career with a bad-faith retaliation against Burn. Surely even he would agree that this would be criticism at its worst.
It’s often said that criticism should be “balanced.” So in the interests of balance, let me offer some advice to Burn. Although anonymous criticism can lay claim to a lengthy tradition, it’s time to set that tradition aside. People who criticize others in public, and in print, should have the courage to sign a (real) name to their comments. To adopt a pen name is to give an appearance of dilettantism and cowardice.
© Colin Eatock 2012
PostScript: Mr. Burn has written to tell me that his biography is usually posted on his website, clearly identifying him as the blogger, but the bio has been temporarily taken down for revision. He assures me it will soon be re-posted.