It is accompanied by a photo of a happy-looking Marcel Möring, although his smile would have faded quickly on reading what Arie Storm had to say about his latest novel on behalf of Het Parool. ‘Actually, you can’t believe your eyes when you read one of his novels’, writes Storm. ‘Amateurs write with this sort of fake profoundness’. According to Storm, the use of language is ‘ugly, as well as continually extremely cliché’ and in a ‘terrible style’, and the story is ‘bewildering’ and ‘incredibly boring’. Storm illustrates his argument with a series of examples of – in his eyes – ‘hoo-ha’, ‘coquettishness’ and ‘characters only thought up in order to underline his (MM, ed.) brilliance’. And so it goes on. When the novel has been completely destroyed, Storm still has a trump card up his sleeve. ‘I think if you deal with children like that in a novel, then not only are you a bad writer, but also a bad person’. It’s there in black and white.
I don’t know Arie Storm (fortunately!) And I must confess that I’ve never even read a book by Marcel Möring. So maybe we really are talking about the worst writer in the Netherlands. But the character assassination committed on this author in the name of Het Parool is so aggressive, personal and offensive that Möring must surely have run off with Storm’s partner or inflicted insufferable torment on him somehow or other. Poor Arie must have seen no other course than to share his sweet revenge with the Parool readers. And the arts editor-in-chief must have had so much sympathy with his colleague that for once he let through a review that is so totally unprofessional and incredible in every respect.
If only it were true.
Critics can write what they like. After all, they’re not journalists – of whom a certain degree of objectivity can be expected. Critics are paid (although badly) precisely to give their opinion. And who’s to say whether that opinion is reasonably correct? The arts editor-in-chief wasn’t at the performance, so he couldn’t be expected to know. And anyway, what one person likes isn’t to everyone’s taste. So the fact that a review arouses indignation doesn’t necessarily mean anything. “The audience, too, has its boo-ers and bravo-ers, doesn’t it?” It’s difficult for the subjects by whom the critics earn their keep – actors, dancers, writers and choreographers – to defend themselves if they are wronged. Arie Storm has his newspaper to rant and rave in, but what platform is open to Marcel Möring to show up Arie Storm, in turn? And anyway, how many people take an artist seriously when he defends his own work by claiming the newspaper misunderstood it? Furthermore, most artists are wary of telling critics the whole truth, as you can then predict what their next article will be like.
So the critic can go his own way without reprimand. Fortunately, they are – practically without exception – experts in their fields, and often prepare intensively for their job. Most of them also work with great integrity, with respect for the people whose work they are judging. If they are not so enthusiastic about a performance, or extremely critical of it, they don’t disguise the fact. But they are also always on the lookout for positive points, and they avoid unnecessary cynicism or negativity with a personal edge. Unfortunately though, there are also one or two like Arie Storm.
We come up against them in the dance world, as well. So who am I talking about? I’d love to mention names and numbers here – really let my judgement fly for once. That would be great! To write away all that frustration about years of cynical pieces, sly digs and biased negativity. But I’m careful. Because the critics have the power. They can destroy you systematically – and the ‘Arie Storm type’ wouldn’t hesitate to do so. There’s nobody around to reprimand them. And even though newspapers are used next day for wrapping fish, everyone still knows that bad reviews have an influence on image and even on ticket sales. Especially when one critic systematically hurls equal amounts of vitriol at all Dutch dance. For the newspaper reader, this automatically generates the idea that none of the dance in this country is of leading international quality. And that’s the most bizarre thing – that the Arie Storms of this world don’t realise they’re helping to break down precisely what they believe their judgements of quality to be safeguarding: good art.