CAMBRIDGE MA — Sometimes it's hard being a critic.
I know, I know: you're sitting there, mouths agape, eyes wide, shaking your heads in disbelief: "Why," you say, "how could he possibly complain about the life of a critic? What about the fame and the fortune that goes with the position? What about the rubbing shoulders with the crowned heads of Europe, the créme de la créme of the entertainment elite, the hobnobbing with the jet set? What about the mobs of cheering, frenzied fans who make it impossible for you even to go down to the corner video store to rent the first season of 'The Office' (now on DVD, and well worth the price of the rental)?"
Yes, yes, it's all true; but it comes at a terrible price.
I don't mean the eyestrain, or the aching hindquarters, or even all the classes I've had to take to learn how to properly program all of the various devices now used to record my favorite and less favorite shows; I take that as just part of the bargain.
I'm talking about tone.
No, not the rapper of almost the same name known both for his popularization both of the phrase "wild thing" and for his participation in the woefully brief John Stamos-Melissa George drama "Thieves"; no, I mean the literary device which refers to a kind of style, a register of speech, that characterizes a certain type of speaking or writing.
Critics are supposed to strike a certain tone. It's hard precisely to put your finger on, but it's probably aloof, disengaged, objective. Not rabid, dogmatic, or doctrinaire. As a critic, you want to take the high road; you want to discuss your subject bringing all your reason and intelligence to bear on the questions you pose. You want to consider the facts from all perspectives, and only then venture an elegantly phrased, constructively suggested set of opinions.
A critic, then, faced with the news that one of his favorite shows, "Angel," is being cancelled at the end of the year, should not fall to the virtual ground in a virtual fetal position, clutching his head and keening softly to himself.
A critic should not opine that the network executives responsible for such a decision are, at best, craven slaves to the almighty dollar and at worst a group of empty Armani suits with heads full of a material which is neither brains nor sawdust.
A critic should not prostrate himself humbly before those same network executives and beg-and-beg for them to change their minds, only to point out that in the last paragraph he was just kidding around, that he didn't mean anything he said, and besides, his brother sneaked onto his computer and wrote it and sent it off before he had the chance to look it over.
A critic should not, realizing that the executives are not going to change their minds, consult with his lawyers as to the definition of "mayhem".
And finally, a critic should never, under any circumstances, hold a candlelight vigil outside of the home of series creator Joss Whedon, singing outtakes from the Buffy the Vampire Slayer musical episode and shouting "I feel your pain, Joss!" at regular intervals. Nor, for that matter, should anybody else.
So, you see, being a critic isn't all that it's cracked up to be. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to put on my disguise; my "Pirates of the Caribbean" DVD is two weeks overdue.