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Matthew Freeman is a Brooklyn based playwright with a BFA from Emerson College. His plays include THE DEATH OF KING ARTHUR, REASONS FOR MOVING, THE GREAT ESCAPE, THE AMERICANS, THE WHITE SWALLOW, AN INTERVIEW WITH THE AUTHOR, THE MOST WONDERFUL LOVE, WHEN IS A CLOCK, GLEE CLUB, THAT OLD SOFT SHOE and BRANDYWINE DISTILLERY FIRE. He served as Assistant Producer and Senior Writer for the live webcast from Times Square on New Year's Eve 2010-2012. As a freelance writer, he has contributed to Gamespy, Premiere, Complex Magazine, Maxim Online, and MTV Magazine. His plays have been published by Playscripts, Inc., New York Theatre Experience, and Samuel French.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Christopher Shinn on Blogging

"I don't blog much, but I think that's important to have a presence online these days. I put most of my energy into my work and my personal relationships and frankly find that the internet inspires a pretty regressive and limited dialogue. But it's enough a part of our lives that one can't ignore it completely. Still, what interests me most is live interaction among real human beings."

- Shinn

Not exactly a ringing endorsement of the bloggers that seem to so support Shinn's work, is it? Ah well. One can't ignore the internet completely, try as one might.


I got a very fair e-mail from Christopher Shinn, explaining that while he stood by his statements that live experiences, real life and "deep reading" are far more valuable to discourse than is the internet; he was thinking more about political blogs than theatre blogging, and meant no disrespect to bloggers that support (and don't support) his work. He was intending to speak more to "electronic media" than the day-to-day discourse we may find here.

I appreciate his explanation. It's more than I deserve, to be honest. He didn't ask for an apology, bu I owe him one. My first instinct, upon waking up this morning, was to remove this post.

On second thought, I'd like to explain a little bit about why I think this posting was wrong-headed and maybe, instead of "deleting" or getting defensive, act like a grown-up about why I was just acting like a child.

What's unique about this medium is its immediacy. If I read something, I can speak to it. I can interact with it. I can interact with other bloggers, and the news media, and my artistic work. There's no substantive process that takes place between my typing this and you reading it. The only thing that controls what I say and when I say it and how I say it is...me. Purely. I play this game alone, and other people get to watch, and we, as a community, sort of self-regulate. What's good about me can be carefully presented and constructed, and used to promote my ideas and my work. What's bad about me, what is careless, thoughtless or self-aggrandizing, can be highlighted and distributed pretty quickly too.

What I just did to Christopher Shinn, therefore, was irresponsible for a few reasons. First of all, it's precisely the sort of limited conversation he's criticizing. It's shrill, it's glib, and it lacks substance or context. It doesn't actually respond to what he's saying. If I disagree, or I don't understand his statement, I think it's perfectly acceptable to use public space for it. Just to give him heat, though, is school yard silliness.

Second of all, it's bullying. Christopher Shinn writes something I disagree with, and I use my forum to force him to explain himself. Why should he feel it necessary to send me an explanation? I don't personally know the man, and my statement was unfair. I demanded (in a roundabout way) some sort of response. Bullying, in a sense, as opposed to public discourse.

The essential question that should be asked, when using spaces like this is...what am I hoping to accomplish? Will this further discussion? Will this alienate, needlessly, another artist? Will this create debate, or just create a sense of snippy superiority. "Here," I say, "I think Shinn misspoke and I'm not going to let him get away with it!"

If I were to act this way to him in person, it wouldn't be any better. The fact that I'm doing it from the safety of my office, or the computer I use it work, makes it worse. It assumes a moral authority that is granted to me by...whom? Blogger.com?

In short... I don't think that all posting needs to be carefully constructed, or an essay, or a news article. Part of the fun of blogs can be the glib humor and the quick jabs and the playfulness. But the jab I just took at Christopher Shinn was unneccessary, inaccurate and pretty much confirms the worst part of the immediacy of the medium. Instead of deleting it, I'd rather leave this up as reminder to check in with myself before criticizing someone else publically.

Is it really that big a deal? On the surface, no. It is to me, I think, because my own behavior is one of the few things I can control. If I want to see gentility and fairness, the first thing I can do is act with gentility and fairness. If I'd like to see, for example, another blogger or commenter occasionally say "My mistake" I should be willing to do so myself.

So...I apologize for using this space to give Christopher a hard time. I certainly hope to be a bit more careful about it in the future.


Zack said...

I find that ironic, because everytime someone gave him a glowing review, including bloggers, he posted it on his myspace blog.

Art said...

Hi Matt,

I really, really don't mean to stoke any fires, but reading the interview made me think your apologies might be a little over the top.

Christopher Shinn was asked specifically about the impact of the internet on theatre:

"8) In addition to your myspace page, you’ve got your own website, www.christophershinn.com, and blog. What role do you see the internet and electronic media playing in the future of theatre?"

The answer Christopher gives is the lede of your post.

And, to make your original point even more relevant, the first half of the interview is spent talking about the NYTW/Rachel Corrie dustup, which some would argue was driven mostly by bloggers and internet traffic, including the proliferation of statements by Christopher which were circulated and kept afloat by members of the blogosphere.

I am not saying that Christopher Shinn does not mean what he says in his e-mail to you. But at the same time I am saying that your query about the statement is more than understandable.

Interviews can be frustrating things. For instance, a person in Boston who has long championed new and emerging playwrights was recently misqouted by one of our local papers as saying something to the effect of: "It is a shame that nobody in Boston is writing good plays." When really he had actually said that it is a shame that good work being done can't get produced.

Freeman said...


I think the sort of thing you just said, in fact, is more along the lines of what a substantive post might be on the subject. It's fair to take issue with his points in the interview in a reasonable way, as you do below. That's what an interview invites.

What I wrote, though, was just a quick poke in the eye. There's been a fair amount of complaint about negativity in the blogosphere, so I wanted to be sure I addressed it.

david said...

Christopher Shinn hates you. But not nearly as much as Sarah Ruhl.

Art said...

I understand.

I think we all go through a kind of epiphany when we realize that we are not just writing something that nobody is looking at.

Yikes, that negative comment I made about so and so comes up on the first Google page results for their name!

It always helps, from time to time, to remember that the people we are writing about are...well...people.

Anonymous said...

Are you going to do the same for your Isherwood posting ?

You should be happy that Sarah Ruhl is getting a good review. Hopefully more theatre administrations will listen to the "development hell" stories and maybe this successful production reviewed by the NYTimes will push things a bit more.

Freeman said...

Boy oh Boy.

The Sarah Ruhl thing is a bit of an in-joke from "An Interview with the Author." Read the post. I'm clearly kidding.

Scott Walters said...

Been there, done that. Deleted my share, but probably not often enough, or quick enough. A very graceful post. Well done.