Alex Pareene showed up on my radar for the second time this week. A staff writer for Salon, Pareene has just penned the quintessential libel of a public figure, barely covered by the “willful and malicious” test that makes it almost impossible for any public figure to sue. (Although I wouldn’t lay bets that said suit won’t be filed.)
In 36.76 years as a professional critic, I have seldom seen a piece as execrable, as intellectually bankrupt and clueless as Pareene’s attempted takedown of Aaron Sorkin, writer of “The Newsroom” — who you might also know from “The West Wing,” “Sports Night,” “The Social Network,” and/or “Moneyball.”
Aaron Sorkin is why people hate liberals. He’s a smug, condescending know-it-all who isn’t as smart as he thinks he is. His feints toward open-mindedness are transparently phony, he mistakes his opinion for common sense, and he’s preachy. Sorkin has spent years fueling the delusional self-regard of well-educated liberals. He might be more responsible than anyone else for the anti-democratic “everyone would agree with us if they weren’t all so stupid” attitude of the contemporary progressive movement. And age is not improving him.
Sorkin is … not as popular as he once was …. (Note: initial ellipsis is Pareene’s. STET.)
That’s just the opening salvo. OK, Mr. “Critic,” that’s your thesis statement. Care to back it up, or is this just a personal attack on a writer who’s much more popular and successful than Mr. Pareene?
Ah, there’s the stub.
I have been a professional critic for 13,052 Julian Days and have written for major papers from coast to coast — and Canada. That’s all the gilding you need for this lily. This is a critique OF criticism, because critics never have their own critics, and sometimes the stones themselves scream out for it.
Let’s get SORKIN!!!
Because this is simply a character assassination, with occasional naked assertions and “criticism” like this:
I have never been a fan. “Sports Night” had its moments — it helped that it was incredibly low-stakes, making its characters’ self-importance seem like character traits instead of extensions of the author’s self-importance — but I never cared for “The West Wing.” (I agree, more or less, with what Chris Lehmann wrote about it back in March 2001, especially his point that Bartlet’s administration was fixated on petty cultural inanities and “symbolic posturings.”) But I understand the appeal of “The West Wing.” I can acknowledge that it was good TV.
“The Newsroom” is phenomenally bad good TV. Sam Waterston and Jeff Daniels and Emily Mortimer are all terrific! So is the production, and the direction, and even the editing! The show looks great. (Sorkin’s always been gifted with incredibly talented directors to help paper over his limitations …
Ah, that “auteur” theory — which I categorically reject. You can no more separate the screenwriter and the star than you can neatly bifurcate the grip and gaffer. I spent twenty years in Hollywood, on and off, making movies and videos. I saw the inside of every major studio, and I was on sets as exalted as “Blade Runner” and “Thelma and Louise” and as cheeseball as “Corporal Cabaret” (a “spanking” movie). I have the chops to tell you, if there’s any “author” of a film, it’s more with the producer than the writer or the director or the stars. But that’s a by the by. I just wish to hell our “media criticism” was ever informed by actually knowing HOW movies are made. Oh well.
The point here is that Pareese does not understand the synergy, else he would not neatly attempt to separate actors from production team (not differentiating twixt transportation captain and art director, as though it were just the cinematographer and the director and the food services people, and the script continuity person, the editor, the foley artists, the sound mixer, the music composer and, often, orchestrator, orchestra and conductor were mere afterthoughts). The notion that he can singlehandedly and singlemindedly separate Aaron Sorkin from this goulash of a collaborationist art form is as absurd as his approach — which is the point, and proves mine.
There is no intelligent criticism here: there is merely a personal attack on another writer — which is the most vicious of all art attacks. Because we writers listen to our inner voices, and a particularly vicious linguistic attack wreaks hell on that writer who actually tries to be sensitive to the world. And the attacker well KNOWS that.
Critique means setting up a “standard” and then comparing the piece in question to that standard, whether it be Soup Cans or Erotic Fiction, or paintings of ducks and bunny rabbits. Or operas or computer games or software or aftermarket car parts. This is entirely lacking in said piece. Pareene merely attacks the PERSON and says .. well, hell, go back up and read the opening paragraph, which pretty much says all that needs be said about Pareene’s approach. Or, better yet, imagine that he’s saying the same thing about your grandmother. The nice one, I mean.
It is unprofessional and unbecoming Joan Walsh’s editorship at Salon, no matter which subeditor reins in (or DOESN’T, in this case) Mr. Pareese after he’s seemingly staggered to his keyboard with a particularly nasty migrane from too much mind-altering liquid, powder, pill or smoke. No matter how the language is handled — and here might I note how deft the verbs, how stately the nouns, how adamantine the punctuation. The typing is impeccable, the forum noble and the author fluidly auctorial.
I am speaking here ONLY of Pareese’s Id, which forced all those other parts to pen this poisoned memorandum.
How absurd it would be to attempt to praise all other aspects of Mr. Pareese’s keypadsmanship and psyche, in order to focus solely on how AWFUL that Aaron Sorkin is. … er, I mean Parese’s Shadow self solely as the “author” of this piece.
Were he to inject his acid-tongue anywhere else other than endless ad hominem, there might be some faint professional justification for this hit piece on “The Newsroom,” which he is opinion-entitled to dislike. But he mistakes the art for the artist and attacks the artist as a person, as an artist, as an aside from doing his job as a critic, which, Ralph Waldo Emerson reminds us, “should be a star-finder, and not a fault finder.”
This is a wholly unprofessional personal attack without any backing justification in the way of example, analysis or synopsis.*
[* OK: he DOES kind of synopsize several plots all twisted into a pretzel that I defy the reader to unravel. Even here, Pareene is confused about where he is, what he's doing and what he'd like to accomplish -- other than somehow triggering a fatal bout of apoplexy in Mr. Sorkin when he reads the Olympian Thunderbolt that one imagines Pareese imagines this to be. Alas: no.]
He just don’t lak thet there “The Newsroom.”
Except for all the actors and all the production people, and probably HBO, and his local cable provider.
He just hates Sorkin.
Which he is evidently given license to do.
But it has no place in professional criticism*, and Salon needs to take a moment to reflect that in publication, professionalism and professional standards MUST be a matter of self-policing, because, generally, the First Amendment gives us license to engage in the kind of amateur tantrum that Pareese throws here, as a personal attack on another human being and that human being’s life’s work and body of work.
[* And if you require the form, I suggest you follow the AP stylebook. This has the additional advantage of proving that you did YOUR job on an assignment and that you are owed a "kill fee" for the editor's pique at the piece. After all, you did the work in a professional manner, and that's worth hard cash.]
And that is outside the purview of criticism in any but the most fannish sense in the most amateur of fora, say, junior high school bathroom stalls and the comments section of every unmoderated e-publication in the land, our Gestalt Id, our Collective Obnoxious.
It is legitimate not to like the piece and say so. It is NOT legitimate to hate the artist and turn the critique of the piece into a critique of the person. Sorry, that’s professionally out of bounds and all the linking to somebody else’s critique and praise of peripherals cannot mask the bared fangs slavering to take a chunk out of Aaron Sorkin’s hide.
Stop for a moment, Sir Lilliputian and consider what a shot you’ll have challenging Lemuel Gulliver to the writers’ version of an arm-wrestling contest. I know it’s “cool” to make your name by attacking someone far more accomplished than yourself, but it almost never works, detracts not at all from their career and leaves you looking the Foole.
As here. And it’s not just an embarrassment for YOU, personally and professionally, but it’s an embarrassment to Salon professionally. I hope to ghod Joan Walsh understands that, but I’ll bet she does. Were I your editor now, I’d fire you. Had I been your editor then, I’d have spiked the piece.
Note that I have not opined in any wise whatsoever as to what I think of “The Newsroom.” Nor will I here. Because this is about YOUR form, and lack of substance. Not about the object of your misdirected scorn.
So, remember in future, Mr. Pareese, we now require that you NOT show us your Id, before you are allowed to wrote.
Now, go and sin no more.
And see if you can be interesting in an intelligent way, and not merely as a crypto-hater with an internet connection. Lord knows, He must have loved such trolls, because He made so many of them, to paraphrase some olden times guy with a stovepipe hat.