clap clap blog: we have moved

Tuesday, June 17, 2003
Looks like Brent hasn't been reading the blog (and why would he?) because, once again, he's responded to some legitimate reader mail in a pretty wack-ass way. The letter writer, one Eric Jensen, makes a fairly reasonable objection to Brent's Metallica review, i.e. that maybe a publication like Pitchfork shouldn't be wasting space on telling its readers the unsurprising fact that Metallica sucks now.

Hey Brent, leading off a Monday morning issue with a blast on Metallica was brilliant. Who's next on the mainstream chopping block, Puddle of Mud? PepsiCo? Wal Mart? Adam Sandler?...So Metallica sucks, huh? Thanks for yelling fire in a building that burnt down 15 years ago.

A bit harsh, maybe, but respectful, too, and making some reasonable points. Brent's response? Well, it's just weird. You should go read it in its entirety, but let me take it point-by-point.

1) Brent initially defends himself by saying that Metallica is worth covering because they're an important band. This is true. However, the letter was not criticizing the publishing of a review of Metallica; it was criticizing the writing and publishing of a Captain Obvious pan of Metallica. So the point is sort of moot.

2) Brent gives the following reason for writing the 0.8 dis:

It was entirely possible, in theory, that Metallica did make a return to their thrash years. After all, that's what literally EVERYONE has been saying. If Metallica is such an obvious low target, I hope you're writing Spin, NME, Entertainment Weekly, Blender, AMG, Rolling Stone, Dotmusic, Amazon, et al to complain of their raving over the album. I believe AC/DC reviewed the album for E! Online, as it claims St. Anger to be "all balls." The reviews have been so obnoxiously positive, that, as a writer with an outlet, I felt there was a need to offer another opinion.

So, in other words, he wrote a reactive review, and like he told me about his White Stripes review, he skewed it lower because it was too high elsewhere, he felt. But in giving this justification he seems to be willfully ignoring the main complaint in the original letter, i.e. that it was a pan published in Pitchfork. The people who read PF probably don't get their opinions from any of the sources he lists above (except maybe the NME, and you can never trust them about mainstream white American stuff anyway), so if he wanted to counteract those reviews, he would have been far better off publishing it, well, almost anywhere else. Publishing it in Pitchfork simply reifies the standards of the community, i.e. that Metallica sucks, and it becomes just more indie-rock circle jerking. While it's true that, say, Rolling Stone probably wouldn't publish a negative Metallica review due to its, um, "relaxed" upmarket critical standards (i.e. "selling good = sounding good") but hopefully Brent grasps that trashing Metallica in Pitchfork isn't a whole lot more noble than praising it in Entertainment Weekly.

3) In the same paragraph that he says "I felt there was a need to offer another opinion" he says "I wasn't commissioned to hate the album." This is mostly not true; he admits as much. Pitchfork didn't have to run the review, and he says he set out to write a negative one. So there you go. If he wanted to do a debunking or response to some of the other reviews, he was free to do that; indeed, if Pitchfork published response reviews regularly, this might be way more honest as a critical technique. But nope.

4) Brent says the writer "can't call us elitist," but the writer did no such thing. If anything, he's praising Pitchfork's normally high standards, and criticizing this review for not living up to them. Certainly the word "elitist" appears nowhere in the letter, unless my eyes are broken again.

5) Brent finishes with the accusation, "I don't remember you writing in response to my Destiny's Child review." This is misplaced for a whole host of reasons, but here are a few:
- It's the equivalent of one of the dumbass reader mail folks who write in saying "Well Pitchfork liked X but not Y so why are your standards inconsistent?" Dismissing a reader's opinion because you did not know his opinion in the past is just as logically silly as complaining about a review written by X by comparing it to one written by Y and accusing someone of inconsistency. There's no inconsistency there, just a facile comparison.
- It asks for the kind of constant indie-snob sellout policing that presumably Brent despises (although I'm beginning to have my doubts), since according to this scheme the only way a critic could take you seriously is if you constantly criticize him. Clearly not true.
- Metallica and Destiny's Child are apples and oranges. Metallica has been around for 20 years or so; Destiny's Child for 4ish. (I am too lazy to check dates.) Metallica's old stuff is loved by indie kids but their new stuff is ignored; Destiny's Child still maintains a reputation skewing good among Pitchfork's likely readers. So the complaint the letter voiced would not, in fact, apply to Beyonce.

Sounds like Brent read the letter like he wanted it to read ("you guys sold out!") rather than like it actually read ("your standards seem to be declining as you seem overeager to publish some rather easy and obvious pans purely for entertainment value").

The point of all this (besides complaining about Brent and Pitchfork's editorial decisions some more) is to point out why I no longer actually write letters in to the site: they treat their letters page like the "hate mail" section of Bonzai Kitten. Clearly they get a lot of dumb illiterate wackos writing in, but I bet most publications do, quite frankly, and they don't publish 'em, by and large. If Pitchfork wants to take that tack, as they clearly do, they can't then publish the intelligent, well-written criticisms side-by-side as if they were the same thing. Harper's gets some pretty intelligent criticisms of their articles, for instance, and they don't publish them all with insulting banners and snotty responses, because, quite frankly, sometimes their articles are wrong. It would be nice to see Pitchfork admit this.

But I'm not holding my breath.