Manifesto for a Slow Review
The pace of life, our burgeoning technology and the cultures we experience between these are accelerating. The rates of change and the new strata of information we have to absorb have conversely fostered a media and promotion industry which generate rapid-turnover cultural trends, each promotion more hip and important than the one before it (even though very little truly new and original material is actually being marketed). We are never allowed to rest, bide our time or make personally informed decisions about which art, music or film to buy into before the next big thing claims our dwindling attention and finances. In a way we are the willing subjects of trend and hype. We are attracted to the social kudos of being culturally informed and up to date, so we (as reviewers and consumers) keep buying into that hype. The hype is where it all happens, culturally speaking — the eternal present of the promotional Now.
But cultural history is never written by those with the most money to spend on promotion. The truly memorable art is the original, relevant and communicative work that usually dismays promoters and marketers and slips by the mainstream channels to become first an underground classic, then a cashed-in re-promoted classic and only later a part of our general cultural reference. All of which of course doesn’t do anything to dismantle the system of hype and promotion that can afford to spurn such occasional slow burning dark horses. The next big hype is always just around the corner, and the temporal distance to that corner is getting ever shorter.
Contemporary cultural promotion reflects the most profitable ventures. So we’re seeing the same kinds of formulaic films, bands and artists pushed again and again. Consumer’s culture dollars are limited — especially when there’s a flood of culture to choose from. Also, the sheer scale of cultural variety and access has increased rapidly thanks to technologies like the internet, so that every precious marketing minute matters more than ever. All of which compounds into the modern wave of advertising and similitude, with the highly anticipated but indifferent products floating on top, and all the other cultural dross often sinking to obscurity. Despite the fact that so much of our future cultural heritage starts out as this dross. Despite the resultant ennui and jaded media fatigue.
The really significant criticism and force of cultural review should concentrate on this flotsam, separating it from the other mediocre dross that washes on our attentive shores. With a nearly limitless amount of culture being produced and the promotional calendar so crowded, urgency and hype should be the least important concerns in judging a work’s true cultural or artistic value, if any. A reviewer should pick up on things that mightn’t have been fully appreciated at the time, or which didn’t make the promotional grade or whose timing missed the mainstream cultural boat. Reviewers need more time to compare, contrast and savour, rather than being at the compliant beck and call of every slick PR assistant with a bulging filofax. Their modus should be: if it’s really that good, then it’ll still be around in several months, or even several years from now. Because to fully appreciate a work it needs to be unshackled from its hype and promotional or contextual usurpation — the work will always stand up for and answer to its own worth outside of time. The promotional here and now of hype is not real
— and it never mattered in the long scale. Great art, says the cliché, is timeless — an not without reason. Like the slow food movement, cultural review and analysis should also be slow and measured, indifferent to hurry and fads, and thereby its enjoyment will be increased.
I propose a Review which will evaluate nothing less than six months old. I propose a Review with a goodly proportion of prose and due consideration. I propose a Review without Hype or Promotional deadline.
I propose The Slow Review