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Criticism proves a hard pill to swallow

Erin McGinn | Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Criticism is a dangerous dish – it’s easy to serve, but hard to digest.

The biggest element of writing for Scene is being a critic – making personal judgments and assessments and conveying those to the readers. As with any subjective opinion, there are a lot of people who disagree with our views. We frequently run multiple reviews of a single movie since we recognize divergence of opinion, even within our staff.

One of the biggest lessons that I have learned in working as a staff member is how to deal with criticism and backlash regarding stories I have written. Generally speaking, the most feedback that I have received has been through e-mail (and once, Viewpoint). These tend to directly address specific problems or debate a point within an article.

It’s amazing though how often – and how easily – criticism can transform from a constructed argument against a piece of writing and into a personal attack. We’ve all seen it happen on the grade school playground where arguments quickly devolved into scathing attacks of “well, you’re fat!” or “so, you’re stupid!”

A quick and easy Google search will lead to one of American Idol Kellie Pickler’s fansites, on whose message boards one of my reviews has been quite unpopular. Although I positively reviewed her album, the uber-fans misunderstood many comments in my review and retorted with lots of negative feedback. A few are legitimate comments, while the rest have simply mocked me for my apparent lack of understanding about the music industry, or that the article came from a student newspaper. These insults don’t actually solve anything, nor do they address any actual problems with the article.

As college students at Notre Dame, it’s nice to think that kind of childish behavior would have ceased by now.

The hardest events to review are those that take place on campus, since negative criticism can be taken personally and not objectively. The difference between reviewing a campus event and reviewing a movie, however, is that the makers of “Robin Hood” aren’t likely to read my review at all – let alone take it as a personal attack. When it’s a campus event that you’ve taken part in, however, it’s easy to take the smallest amount of criticism personally.

But this should not happen. Much like the rabid Kellie Pickler fans, calling someone a “slow-witted numbskull” doesn’t actually address complaints against an individual article.

So as we seniors go out and enter the world, there’s one lesson that I would like to make sure all Notre Dame graduates carry with them – gracefully accept criticism. If a boss or a co-worker doesn’t like your report, that doesn’t mean that you should go and write graffiti in the bathroom.

Instead, learn, listen and respect the opinions of others – even if they aren’t the same as your own. And if you disagree, then find constructive ways to make your own voice heard – without resorting to attacking another person.

After all, we are heading out into the real world – not to recess.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

Contact Erin McGinn at

emcginn@nd.edu