Tuesday, October 13, 2009

metaDRAMA: Disclaimers

Chris Caggiano has a great post over at Everything I Know I Learned From Musicals about the new FTC policy coming into effect in December that requires bloggers who write reviews to fully disclose any "material connection" they have to the product--in our case, that we received free tickets to the show that we're reviewing. Apparently, there's an $11,000 fine for not doing so.

I don't understand the logic behind this policy. Producers and publicists don't have to disclose the nature of their pull-quotes. Newspapers and magazines, which employ freelancers like myself, don't have to note at the bottom of every review that they've gotten free tickets. Why am I being forced both to defend my right to an educated opinion and my work as a critic, simply because I self-publish? That's blogcrimination, if you ask me--it's an accusation that I have been bought off. (I mean, I don't even run ads--and I have been asked.) Sure, if a publicist offered me an envelope with cash instead of tickets, I'd need to write that--but do I also need to disclose tickets that, say, my mother gave me for my birthday? (You never know, she might have an agenda.) When I get free tickets in exchange for ushering, or house managing, do I need to shout that from the rooftops?

Worse, it accuses my readers of being brain-dead. Assume that I did lie about a show in exchange for money, and further assume that that convinced an innocent reader to go and pay for something I actually think is awful. What are the odds that that reader, after The Worst Night of Their Lives, is going to come back to my site and actually trust me? Because, sirs and madams of the FTC, that's essentially what I "market" here--and I know this might come as a shock to those of you buried neck-high in government--I market my own trustworthiness. The moment I stop doing so, the moment my site shuts down.

Chris makes a good point that because bloggers aren't as insulated as John Simon and Ben Brantley, there may be the fear that they'll be more likely to pull punches, in the interests of keeping their doors and options open with all the publicists. So here's a disclaimer--to publicists (and artists): I won't be pulling my punches. If I don't like your show, I'm going to say so, albeit as constructively as I can. I'm not really worried about being pulled off a press list: the sort of shows likely to be represented by someone with a distaste for honesty are probably the sort of shows that cannot survive without a healthy slathering of lies.

Chris leaves us with a question: "Is complete objectivity even possible in a task that is, almost by definition, subjective?" My answer: no. If the FTC's going to go after anything, it might as well be the hyperlogic of capitalism, because if I've learned anything from the last three years of running this blog, is that on stage, objective facts are often lies, but subjective emotions always speak the truth.

1 comment:

Esther said...

Hey Aaron, I agree that all we have as writers is our reputation for trustworthiness.

We all come at this from different perspectives. I don't pretend to have any special expertise and if someone sang off-key, I'd never know it!

I'm not really qualified to judge the artistic merit of a piece. I'm purely a fan who has a very personal idea of what she likes and what she doesn't like. And I'm not all that tough to please - as long as you don't bore me!

Anyway, I appreciate your vote of confidence!

I really do think the FTC is going after bigger fish. But I think newspapers and magazines have First Amendment protections that bloggers, as of now, don't have.