|The Simon Old Issues
The Simon Staff Knows How To Do It
By The Simon Editors
Jan 1, 2000
There's an old saying: "Those who cannot do, teach."
This little phrase has always perplexed me. Even as a kid, I thought, "What about the people who just want to do teaching?" I mean, is my history teacher teaching history just because he failed to be alive during the French Revolution? Or did my German teacher fall into the profession after she failed to properly order a pastry in Munich or something? I mean, I can't do a good impression of Jack Nicholson to save my life - if I taught a class on it, I'd probably hurt somebody.
Also, if those who cannot do, teach, then what about those people who are no good at teaching? What do they do - go teach people how to teach? Well, they can't do that because it's been proven already that they're totally unqualified to teach anything. You see why this bothers me?
But instead of getting behind the saying "Those who cannot do, teach," I have in the past amended it to "Those who cannot do, criticize."
Take, for instance, Roger Ebert, the Pulitzer Prize-winning critic, who judges films with the devastating simplicity of a Roman emperor at the coliseum. Thumbs up, the film lives; thumbs down, it is thrown to the lions. Ebert has contributed to actual films before - he provided the story for 1970's Beyond the Valley of the Dolls - otherwise known as "a big crap sandwich of a movie." How can you respect this guy's opinion when he can't even make a good film himself?
But it's not only the negative criticisms that bug me - what about all that flowery stuff they tack on to the covers of books and movies? My favorite blurb ever appeared on the cover of Anne Rice's The Witching Hour. Some pretentious reviewer wrote that Rice's text "unfolds like a poisonous lotus blossom, redolent with luxurious evil." This review is so overdone, it must have been written either by Rice's publicist or the vampire Lestat himself.
But, hey — look what I'm doing. I'm criticizing critics. The same problem exists here that exists when teachers teach teaching. If those who cannot do, criticize, then how am I able to criticize the work of critics? I'll tell you: because criticism is something one can do — an art form just like any other — and one that can be done poorly, as in these last examples, or done well.
And that's why I like The Simon.
The writers at The Simon do criticism. They remind me of the good experiences I've had with criticism.
I remember reading a review by Herman Melville of Nathaniel Hawthorne's Mosses from an Old Manse. Melville began the review by intelligently praising various literary aspects of the story collection, but he then continued on to offer an opinion about the state of American literature. He lamented the fact that American authors as skilled as Hawthorne were writing brilliantly, and yet American schools continued to offer only courses on British literature. Melville pointed out that American society would never be truly great until we embraced our own artists and celebrated our own American Shakespeares.
The review filled me with a sense of patriotism and excitement, and that's the sort of thing that the writers at The Simon hope to do — and what theyve been doing for four years now. They hope to cause positive change in politics and art by pointing out the bad and praising the good. And they want to entertain their readers by being funny and self-effacing while they do it.
I'll also never forget another review I recently enjoyed, this one of Ed Wood's abysmal film, Plan 9 from Outer Space. The reviewer pointed out that when Bela Lugosi's vampire character is incinerated during the film's climax, all that is left is his cape and the skeleton underneath. The beam that incinerated him destroyed only his flesh, leaving the cape intact. Logically, this leads the viewer to believe that the beam does not destroy fabric. Therefore, during the whole movie, Bela was naked underneath his cape!
That shit made me laugh for about two hours straight, and that's also the sort of thing that the writers at The Simon hope to do - and what they've been doing for four years now.
There are many, many examples of this kind of great criticism in The Simon, but I'll leave it to you to look around the Web site and find them. The Simon; is published weekly, so you've got to check in often to have a look at all the good new stuff. I'll have some articles in there for you to read, and they won't be nearly as long-winded, schizophrenic, or self-serving as this one. Most of them, in fact, will be thinly veiled cries for help.
Because, after all, those who cannot do, drink.
- by Chad Fifer
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