The day is still somewhat young, and I’ve already been engaged in an online debate with someone. This person saw an article I shared on Facebook about a German choreographer named Marco Goecke who was in the news because he smeared dog shit on Wiebke Hüster, a German dance critic. Ms. Hüster had been watching a ballet on Saturday night, and was taking a break from the performance, when Mr. Goecke suddenly appeared in front of her and did the disgusting deed.
Just that morning, Ms. Hüster’s negative review of Goecke’s latest dance, “In the Dutch Mountains”, was published in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. Mr. Goecke, who is the ballet director of the Hanover State Opera, is 50 years old and has a pet dachshund named Gustav. He confronted the dance critic, asking her why she had written such a negative review of his work. Then he pulled out a bag of excrement– presumably from Gustav– and smeared some of it on Hüster’s face.
Ms. Hüster, naturally, was shocked and started to scream. She has reported the incident to the police, and said that although she will still be a dance critic, her days of watching and reviewing Marco Goecke’s dances are over. Many people in the German dance world are left bewildered. From the article:
…much of Germany’s dance world is trying to understand why a respected choreographer would attack a critic, and whether it represented a sign of a damaging shift in how artists view criticism.
Prior to this incident, Goecke was a very highly respected choreographer. According to the article:
Manuel Brug, a critic for the German newspaper Die Welt, said in an interview that Mr. Goecke was “the most important ballet choreographer in Germany.” His signature style, Mr. Brug added, involving rapid arm movements, makes dancers look “like flying birds.”
I suspect Mr. Goecke will face some shitty consequences for his stunt. He has already been suspended from his job with the Hanover State Opera. In addition, Mr. Goecke is the associate choreographer at the Nederlands Dans Theater. Representatives from the Nederlands Dans Theater have stated that Goecke’s actions are contrary to their values. They have not yet decided what repercussions, if any, he will face for his antics. I doubt he will go to prison for smearing shit on a critic, but he’ll probably face fines and other unpleasant sanctions. We’ll see.
My position is that Mr. Goecke was absolutely wrong to physically attack Ms. Hüster over her review of his work. My friend’s position is that Ms. Hüster “had it coming”. So we had a bit of a back and forth about that. My friend’s take is that critics make a living “tearing down other people’s work.” My friend wondered how critics can sleep at night, earning money expressing negative views of people’s art.
I vehemently disagree that all critics make a living tearing down people’s work. In fact, given that critics are usually writers, I would say that what they do is also artistic. It takes talent and skill to write well constructed and reasoned opinions that interest other people. Moreover, no one is forced to read or heed the critic’s opinions. I have read plenty of opinions with which I disagreed. I have never felt it would be appropriate to physically attack the person with whom I disagreed, even if I was extremely opposed their views.
I used to write a lot of product reviews. I tried hard to be fair and balanced when I shared my opinions. It was very rare occasion that I couldn’t find something positive to include in my reviews, even if I really didn’t like something. I knew that my reviews helped people make buying decisions, but it certainly wasn’t the deciding factor. I’ve enjoyed entertainment that a whole lot of critics didn’t like. Their opinions didn’t stop me from enjoying things. They just offered a perspective. I am very opposed to the idea of squelching opinions, even if they’re negative.
My friend doesn’t like James Taylor’s music. I have never known this person to hold back opinions, so they were very comfortable letting me know that James Taylor isn’t their cup of tea. A few months ago, this friend also stated that they thought the beautifully prepared trout I was enjoying for lunch looked like someone had vomited on the plate. Personally, I disagreed with both of those opinions and actually felt a little hurt regarding the trout. It was delicious and beautifully presented, in my view. It’s not nice to yuck on other people’s yum, you know. But the idea that expressing negative opinions might be hurtful to me didn’t stop my friend from commenting.
What’s the difference? A talented newspaper journalist makes a living writing reviews. Some people care about their opinions, but a lot of people don’t. It’s a living. What they do is also creative.
As someone who makes his living in the arts, it should have been very obvious to him that alienating critics is not the best move for a choreographer. At the very least, it was completely unprofessional and embarrassing for the dance company, which is competing for audiences against a lot of other companies. At the worst, it was psychologically damaging and humiliating for Ms. Hüster, not to mention unsanitary and potentially unsafe.
It’s been said that all publicity is positive publicity. One might not like reading a negative review about one’s own work, but I think when it comes to the arts, a negative review is better than being ignored. Ms. Hüster is a respected dance critic who works for a major newspaper. She has said she won’t give Marco Goecke another chance. That means less publicity for Goecke AND the dancers, who are already in a tough business. Less publicity means less money. We all know that money is very important. Indeed, it makes the world go around. 😉
What Marco Goecke did may also have a “chilling effect” on other critics, which isn’t a good thing. It’s never a good thing to make people afraid to share their opinions. Sometimes, someone’s well-considered and constructive opinion leads to better and nicer things for everyone. In a free society, people should be free to express themselves and share ideas and opinions. If the opinion is that poorly considered, I would expect that Ms. Hüster would face consequences in the form of a demotion or job loss. She shouldn’t have to worry about her physical safety for practicing her craft as a journalist.
I would have been much more impressed by Marco Goecke if his response to Ms. Hüster’s criticism of his dance had been more like Tim Minchin’s. Tim once got a bad review by a journalist at The Guardian named Phil Daoust. Did Tim smear shit on Mr. Daoust for sharing his views? No… Instead, he used that review as fuel for another project. Behold:
You see, I think the sign of a true artist is channeling what they feel into something else. There’s nothing creative or artistic about Marco Goecke smearing shit on a woman’s face while she’s in public. There is no excuse for that conduct, even if some people think it was a funny thing to do (and it really isn’t– people laughing at this would NOT be laughing if it happened to them).
Marco Goecke should use his considerable artistic abilities to be constructive, stop dumping on his own reputation, and save the dog shit for the gray bin. That’s my critical opinion. 😉