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Wednesday, February 27, 2008

To Criticise the Critics

Tarkan criticised in the Turkish columns

The December 2007 domestic release of Tarkan's Metamorfoz has brought the artist more than his fair share of criticism. While some critics feel he has failed to deliver on his promise of a musical "metamorphosis" and simply re-produced the same (albeit winning they'll admit) formula, others are lambasting him for opposite reasons, suggesting he has turned his back on what they define as "Turkish music" by moving in a new musical direction.

Although his home audience seem to block their ears to everything but his music, such contrary criticisms lock the artist's image in a no-win situation and reveal a personal bias at the heart of his domestic naysayers. When the topic is Tarkan, it seems that everyone is a critic.

Personal Tastes Differ

The general theory is that critics should educate on taste, they should not criticise people for their taste. In regards to Tarkan and his music - as the artist has commented himself - there is no universal edict commanding everyone to like Tarkan's songs or what he stands for. There comes a point in any discussion (be it music or otherwise) where there is no right or wrong view, just a personal one. Personal tastes will always have people disagreeing, and notions of right and wrong only come into play in the way those views are expressed and justified.

A somewhat utopian ideal, but how each individual chooses their own tastes should be a careful amalgamation of differing views and an analysis of whether the reasoning given behind any critiques stand up to scrutiny, so in turn questioning the critics' - and their own - bias, too. We are all going to be influenced in one way or another by those critics whom we trust to help us sift through the tasteful and the tasteless, but at the end of the day we should also know what we like. Importantly, discussing different points of view with due consideration gives a more balanced understanding about the issue at hand, so we are sure to have made an informed opinion for the right reasons.

Freedom of Expression

For artist and critic alike, expression is the core nature of their jobFor artist and critic alike, expression is the core nature of their job, and freedom of expression is a necessary tool, but in the right hands. I will usually defend the right to free expression (of words and peaceful action) both in the hands of the "right and the wrong", as long as that same platform allows an equal measure of freedom for opposing views to respond. However, out of the general public and in professional terms, the more the ethical codes of conduct that hold this freedom to a high standard slip, the more that right is deteriorated and eventually disregarded. The reason the right to freedom of expression comes with a responsibility not to abuse that freedom is to safeguard everyone from abuse. It would be interesting to ask Tarkan's critics in the press how they would appreciate the same treatment they show the artist in their columns, and equally interesting to note how many would say it's their job.

If expressing our point of view is our job, then surely we must be professional in the way we choose to express it? For example, if we are going to criticise a music artist for his work, the critique should be about the music. When music critics de-construct an artist's character rather than his or her music it achieves nothing. Criticisms should offer a positive (or at least a balanced) tone, not an injurious one etched out of some personal bias unknown to the general reader - or worse still - to pleasure a core readership. If our readers expect an acidic tone scarred with libellous gossip and continual regurgitation of malicious speculation in the hope it will eventually be picked up by enough people to be turned it into a news "fact", then what does our readership say about us, or our writing?

Recognising Bias

Sadly, we are nurtured to be biased, but it is also in our power to keep it in check. People will host their prejudices in their expression, but the best critics are those that recognise them. In their attempt to put aside personal bias - or at least try to highlight their bias in their writing so readers can make up their own minds - they strengthen the validity of their personal opinion. If domestic music critics tried to aim for this high standard, then Tarkan could start heeding such criticism to better himself, and if he failed to do so, force him to evaluate his own sensitivities towards the media.

In critical argument, we shouldn't confuse blind biased belief for passion and sincerity, either. A healthy passion for our beliefs is important, but it will never override a greater passion for the truth. Our convictions (if not overdone) can help in a critical argument, but bias plays to closed-minded beliefs that drown the mind in its own stagnation having learnt nothing. Those that cannot learn new things, will close their ears to new sounds as well.

If we feel our bias might infect any public platforms we work on, there should be a conscious decision to consider keeping our personal views private. We should do this, so as not to lose sight of the reason behind posting our views in the first place: A communication of promotion and celebration that as humans we have the right to speak our minds. A critique shouldn't impose its opinion, it should simply honestly present it.

The wish to express ourselves critically shouldn't be to force others to change their opinion or to influence them to think like we do. Rather than having a group of people that simply echo each other's views, having a platform where differing criticisms can co-exist respectfully will lend weight to what is being said. It would be a nightmare scenario if everyone had to have the same uniform thought. How would we communicate, share and express different ideas? We can like and respect people even if we do not necessarily share their tastes from the myriad the world has to offer.

Moreover, if we take care over (in)forming our opinions, if we put aside any bias and take the time to research and analyse before hurriedly coming to a conclusion, we would be so steadfast in our opinion we wouldn't feel the urgency to have others agree to give it validity. Its strength would not come from a majority view; but from the fact that it came from an educated one.

End of part one | Part two | Part three

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