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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, July 14, 2009

Garvey, Sands (and Butler)

Isaac takes umbrage with this post by Thomas Garvey, which pugnaciously plays a game of 'gotcha' with Emily Glassberg Sands.

I, personally, don't have much problem with Garvey's approach here. It's uncouth and ugly, but I'll be honest: I find it refreshing. If there's anything I've found a bit dull in the blogosphere lately, it's the lack of real argument or criticism. Sands has been showered with attention for her paper, and the report makes some bold claims. That's fair game. If Sands believes she's being lied about, or falsely represented, then she can answer it. Or she can choose, with her far greater reach, to ignore it and let her paper stand on its own. I've no urge to defend her character. Not because I'm heartless, but because the role she has assumed is one of authority. Authority has to be earned, sometimes under fire.

I took utterly mild, entirely ineffectual note of one small problem I could see here, from a layman's perspective. I admire Garvey's honesty and his fearlessness. Do I think he might be unfair at times? It's likely. But Sands has received the benefit of the doubt elsewhere. He doesn't give it to her, and there's nothing at all wrong with that.

We are often distracted by the nature of an argument, as a manner of dismissing the argument itself. We are also are incredibly disengaged from argument in the blogosphere as of late. It's not only on the blogosphere. The US is a place of enforced rules of public conversation. The media asked pre-approved questions. The harshest debates are often sound bite factories, with no blood drawn and not an honest moment to be found. When we see someone actually questioned, even in a mild and harmless way (see Katie Couric and Sarah Palin) we are practically in shock. It's an event all by itself.

I know for me (and this is why my blogging has been remarkably insubstantial at times) that it doesn't behoove me to criticize major news outlets or colleagues or even people I hope to work with someday in this space. Why would I do that? I am not an aspiring journalist: I'm a playwright. It's bluntly foolish for me, in the midst of establishing a career for myself, to make mock of the people whom I hope will review my work, risk offending fellow writers, or other professionals. That's why I often don't review what I've seen here, or write much at length about the work of others. Even if I like it very much, it can come off as overly kind and disingenuous. If I'm tough on another artist... to what end?

It's a conundrum, and I hope to be as transparent as possible about it. My name is on this site, and I don't use a pseudonym. I'm attaching my posts and thoughts to the public record. I am, therefore, cautious.

Here, we have essentially a report by an undergraduate, and still, the urge is to be careful of her, as if she's made of glass. I don't really understand it. I don't see what benefit there is to calling for unilateral disarmament of edgy, even tough, criticism. Garvey isn't cautious. Which is what makes it, for me, so unusual.

More please. Not less.


Thomas Garvey said...

Thanks, Matthew, for a fair-minded post. Although I don't really see what in my writing on Emily Glassberg Sands is "uncouth" or "ugly," or even "pugnacious." I have been skeptical of her, that's all, and made a few jokes at her expense once I realized that she was a kind of statistical emperor with no clothes. If she's tough enough to be on "The Colbert Report," I think she should be tough enough to handle that.

And I'm afraid I have, contrary to your impression, been quite cautious. I read Sands's study carefully, in its entirety, including its appendices, with my old statistics textbook by my side and even a copy of Freakonomics by the bed. I looked up and reviewed stuff on regressions and probit analyses whenever I got confused. It took me nearly a week.

But I could immediately perceive that there were weird gaps and fudges in the final chapter. I spoke to Emily Glassberg Sands about them. She could offer no explanation. I took frenzied notes during our conversation, which proved, in her words, "contentious." I promised to send her an email in which she could respond in full to my questions, or even direct me to texts or techniques which could explain her methods, and I did so the next day. She did not respond. I waited for a week.

Finally, after thinking about her study for nearly two weeks, and dipping into my statistics textbook again, I published a post in which I revealed what I felt was undeniable: that Sands's chapter on Broadway was "a charade" of dummy variables and proxies, because she lacked hard data on her central questions. And that she had disguised this in her public interviews and presentations, as had her various backers, via rhetorical sins of omission. And I printed a description of our telephone conversation, which I rendered as close to verbatim as I could manage.

To Isaac, this is character assassination and speculation, but of course it isn't. It's simply an unembellished accounting of the genesis of the study, of the study itself, and its subsequent promotion and reception. (And it's worth saying again that almost every point I've made about Sands's analyses she makes herself, within her study, but somehow "forgets" once she's showing her slides or talking to reporters.)

But I think you put your finger on something that explains Isaac's hysterical reaction rather well: like you, he is deeply embedded in the theatre profession, and must maintain political alliances with the powers that be. I am far more independent; I don't expect to have another print job as a critic, nor do I expect to ever be hired by a theatre for any job whatsoever. Thus I let the chips fall where they may, because I am not concerned about offending people with whom I may have to work in the future.

And in the end, I think it's worth pointing out that Isaac has absolutely no argument with any of my data, or logic, or conclusions. Indeed, he doesn't even attempt an argument. He's just discomfited by my confidence. In this I'm sure he is not alone. But it doesn't make his ill-considered attack any less foolish.

Freeman said...

I think that my words like pugnacious and ugly have to do with the jokes at her expense, as you noted.

I appreciate your comments, and I do think we agree: it's hard for those of us with a state in the profession to be critical in the way that a journalist can be.

On that matter, I can only speak for myself. Isaac's motivations are his own. I don't know if he has the same concerns I do about offending people. I just know that I envy, at times, the ability to be unfiltered.

Thomas Garvey said...

Not to draw this out unduly, but I also think your use of words like "ugly" and "pugnacious" is evidence of a kind of cognitive dissonance that a lot of bloggers (like Isaac Butler) are maintaining around this issue. It's true that my jokes at Emily Glassberg Sands's expense would be objectionable - if I hadn't discovered a complex deception at the end of her paper. And by ancient agreement, deceptive people are considered worthy of ridicule. This is what makes Isaac's comments about this point so telling ("Okay. Good to know," I think he said). He has to minimize his awareness of the central issue to maintain his vision of Sands and her mentors, and thus imagine that I'm guilty of "character assassination."

Tony Adams said...

Thom, isn't it also a bit deceptive to ignore the wealth of other studies on the issue of gender bias and two thirds of Sand's report? This is far from the first study on the subject.

I get your contention with the final part. Does that automatically negate everything else?

Essentially you are arguing that since the final portion of one undergrad thesis is fatally flawed, there is no such thing as gender bias--and anyone who thinks otherwise (while you are ignoring multiple other studies) is an idiot as well.

Is it that impossible that institutional bias does actually exist even among good little liberals and academics?

Is it possible that your methodology could be just as flawed?

Troubador said...

Tony, I'm Australian and haven't been following this issue all that closely. Thomas' piece was the first I've read on this subject and it seemed clear to me that he was taking issue with some of Sands' conclusions in the third part of her thesis, and not every aspect of it. I didn't read into it any suggestion that gender bias doesn't exit. If the first two parts of Sands' study have been tainted by shonky work in part 3, that is Sands' fault.

Freeman said...


To be very clear (after reading these comments) that I didn't mean to imply that you weren't cautious in your reasoning. More that you felt free to be openly critical without equivocation. I am, often, more cautious in my own rhetoric.

Thomas Garvey said...

Tony Adams writes:

"Thom, isn't it also a bit deceptive to ignore the wealth of other studies on the issue of gender bias and two thirds of Sand's report?"

No, it's not deceptive, because there actually isn't much to ignore; Sands's study is the first to go in depth into the theatrical world - because, as she found out, there's just not much hard data out there about the theatrical world. Also, I'm not ignoring two thirds of Sands' report - I'm going to publish the third part of my series this weekend. There will probably be two more installments. (I really wonder at the motive behind your comment, btw.; did you actually read my article?)

"Essentially you are arguing that since the final portion of one undergrad thesis is fatally flawed, there is no such thing as gender bias--and anyone who thinks otherwise (while you are ignoring multiple other studies) is an idiot as well."

Uh - what? I said no such thing, Mr. Straw Man! Where, exactly, do I argue that "there is no such thing as gender bias, and if you think so, you're an idiot"? Jesus. (Did you actually read, etc.)

"Is it that impossible that institutional bias does actually exist even among good little liberals and academics?"

Yes, could be! It could also be that a reverse-sexism exists among good little liberals and academics. We have to find what data we can and think about it hard to find out!

"Is it possible that your methodology could be just as flawed?"

Sure, it's possible - but given your questions so far, I somehow don't think you're the guy to go about analyzing my methodology!