小器的「文化」人 The thin-skinned “culture” community

我預咗可能有人睇完呢篇嘢之後會好憎我。

但我都要講。

今日跟某行家朋友閒談,大家都有同一個疑問:為何在香港寫藝術文化評論的空間會少得那麼可憐?

除了是主流媒體現在覺得這些文章「收視率」低,不給 column inches 予記者或評論人發揮,又或是現在有學養而又懂得寫評論的人買少見少之外,好有可能是跟香港人(又或者中國人)愛面子的性格累事。

不知是否因為長期在父權社會的壓力下,香港人的面皮比其他地方的人都更要薄。我們不敢挑戰長輩, 不想跟人辯駁,令願背後說他人的壞話,也不敢正面告訴對方他的不是。到我們做了長輩、權威人士,老板,我們也可能不喜歡聽到批評或質詢,覺得對方何得何能去批評我們。

這種風氣也瀰漫於部份香港的文化界。很多藝評,劇評,影評,whatever 評都不會寫得太 negative,那因為是有麻煩的。

很久很久以前,我在 《Young Post》寫過一篇影評,是那部電影我已忘得一乾二淨,內容大概都是說該電影不好看,然後解釋吓點解套戲唔好睇。出版以後,該電影發行公司的公關致電給我,問我為何要寫到他們的電影咁衰。我回話說那是我的 honest opinion,然後對方說:「你寫到咁衰,我寧願你唔好出囉!」然後我好似再沒有收到該公司的媒體招待場的戲票了。

類似的情況其實多不勝數,據聞有一位幾出名下的評論人,寫過一篇某劇團的舞台劇評論,那當然是「彈」人家台戲做得不好,結果該劇團的話事人跟評論人嘈交,然後blacklist了該評論人,講明以後唔歡迎佢。現在沒有很多人寫樂評,因為如果你寫那唱片怎樣不好,唱片公司不會再派新碟給你。最恐怖的是他們的信徒不分青紅皂白,齊齊惡言聲討評論人。

當然我明白他們都是緊張他們的票房銷量,但這風氣久而久之,我們讀到的都只是讚好的文章,因為不好的批評都不會寫,又或是費事寫,免得麻煩;有的甚至用筆名了事。

你可能會問:為甚麼不自行購買電影或表演門票,音樂CD等?如不倚賴公關的 「comp飛」,你寫乜人家都無聲出。

理想當然是這樣,但現實又是另一回事。首先,不是每間媒體公司管數那位會明白這道理,有很多公司都沒有這個 budget;有很多寫評論的是自由人,要他們自己淘荷包,但稿費又少得可憐,七除八扣,分分鐘要倒貼,那叫人如何生活?除非那評論人只當寫評論文章為消遣,不用靠那稿費開飯。

除了是錢的問題,media 有一樣守則叫 timeliness,就是要在合時間的時候提供資訊予 audience。難道你想知明天的天氣,你要電視台明晚才報導嗎?文化評論也一樣。電影、表演、展覽等要讓記者 critics 先睹為快,是要趕及在該節目「出街」之前出版,讓audience 知道有甚麼 event 可選擇,有或是當節目仍在進行中有coverage,讓讀者知道 what's going on in the city。如果要買票,可能就會 miss 了 該星期的 deadline,難道讀者會等你寫上星期上畫但本週已落畫的電影嗎?唔通你叫讀者等出 DVD?再者,如果sold out 咁點算?即係唔使寫啦?但不要忘記,有很多買不到票又或者付不起錢的讀者其實都好有興趣知道該節目好不好看,或是有甚麼精彩的地方,記者評論人是為讀者服務的。

情況跟新聞報導一樣,政府大公司當然不喜歡負面新聞,但如果記者因為唔想得罪它們只懂唱好,那是自我審查,新聞自由蕩然無存。如果「文化」人連一些 grounded 又 fair 的批評也容不下,請不要叫自己做「文化」人,因為你連「狼振英」都不如。

當然,有邊個一出生就喜歡給人家批評?但換個角度想,人家給你有理據的批評,都是因為覺得你有 potential 下一次會做得更好,也絕對希望你下一次會做得更好,如果唔係人家都費事徙氣睬你。Thick skin 一點可以嗎?況且,這也是 audience building 工作的一部份,高質素的觀眾才可有更多高質素的文化節目,唔係將來搵鬼嚟睇你台戲。面子不是世上最重要的東西。

話雖如此,有些評論又確係無厘頭,在此不作討論,香港除了有很多面皮薄的人,也有很多癡線的人。


I knew that some people will probably hate me after reading this, but I'm still going to say it.

During a casual conversation with a fellow writer today, we both have the same question: Why is there such little room for cultural criticisms?

Other than the fact that local mainstream media does not see cultural critique – reviews and critiques of film, theatre, music, art, etc – as something that deserves column inches, or the fact that there are less and less knowledgeable people blessed with a sharp pen, it might have a lot to do with the thin-skinned nature of Hongkongers [or Chinese people].

I don't know if this is the result of living under the pressure of a patriarchal society for far too long. Hong Kong people's tolerance for criticisms is probably among the world's lowest. We do not challenge our parents or authorities. We don't want to engage into debate and get ourselves into trouble. If someone has done something wrong, we would rather bitch about it behind that person instead of telling that person in his or her face what has gone wrong. And by the time we become parents, authorities, or bosses, we might not want to hear criticisms, thinking that who the hell do you think you are to criticise me?

I feel that such way of thinking does not limit to our household or workplace, but also a part of Hong Kong's culture community, which explains why you seldom see reviews of films, theatres, music, or whatever, that are too negative in the local press.

Long long time ago, I wrote a film review in Young Post (It's a publication for kids for Christ's sake). I have no memory of which film I reviewed, but it was a negative review. After it was published, I received a call from that film's publicist. The publicist questioned me why I wrote such a bad review. I explained that it was my honest opinion based on blah blah blah. But the response I got was that: “If you are writing such a shit review, I'd rather you not publish it.” After that, I think I no longer received media preview tickets from that film distributor.

It was not an isolated incident. One story I've heard was that a local critic, quite well-known, wrote a negative review on a stage play. The theatre group's chief complained about the negative review, and then the two got into this fight which resulted the critic getting himself blacklisted. We don't get many decent and critical music reviews these days. A lot of it because if you criticise a record, the record company will stop sending you CDs for reviews.

I can understand that film distributors, theatre companies and record companies are very concerned about their box office and sales, but years after years, this kind of manner results in a very unhealthy situation – we only get to read reviews that praise a work. Some writers just avoid writing anything that's negative to save themselves from trouble. Some critical ones would stay critical, but only use a pseudonym.

You might ask: Why not purchase those film, theatre tickets or music CDs with our own money? If you don't rely on those complimentary tickets or CDs, you can write whatever you like and no one can challenge you.

Ideally, yes; but realistically, no.

First, not every financial controller at every media company can comprehend this, so there might not be a budget for this kind of expenses (some media companies don't even allow their reporters to take taxis). Second, a lot of critics and writers work on freelance basis. If they have to pay for the tickets themselves, they aren't going to be able to make a living, as the word rate among most media in Hong Kong is extremely low. Unless that critic writes only for a hobby and s/he doesn't need the cash at all.

Other than the money issue, there's this media principle called timeliness, which means that information should be provided to the audience at an appropriate time. For example, you want to know if tomorrow will rain, and you would smash the TV if the newscast only gives you tomorrow's weather report tomorrow night. Same principle applies to cultural events and programmes reviews or reports. The press need to see a show or a film before they release so that they can catch the earliest possible deadline to bring the latest information to the readers, informing them what's going on in the city. Do you want to read a review about a film that's no longer showing in the cinema? Or you are asking the readers to wait till the DVD comes out? And what if the show is sold out? Does it mean we don't have to review it? No. Don't forget that a lot of readers who can't get tickets or who can't afford tickets would still be interested to find out the details about a show. Readers' needs are on the top priority.

It's just like news reporting. The government or those big corporations hate negative news. But if we only report positive news just to avoid pissing them off, it is called self-censorship. It's against the principle of press freedom. If those members of the culture community cannot take criticisms that are grounded and fair, please, do not call yourself coming from the culture circle, because you are no better than Hong Kong's new chief executive Leung Chun-ying.

Of course, no one likes to be criticised. But look at it from a different perspective: people offer you reasonable criticisms simply because they believe that you have the potential to do a better job next time. They still have faith in you. Otherwise no one would be bothered to waste their energy on you. Moreover, this is a task for audience building. Only a well-informed and critical audience can drive the creative minds to do a better job. Losing face is not going to kill you. Be more thick skin.

Having said that, malicious criticisms are around, and I'm not going to discuss that here. It's true that there are many thin-skinned people in Hong Kong, but there are just as many crazy people in this town. 


Comments

  1. Let me at the outset make a complete disclosure that I am a "foreigner". That is, a "non-Chinese" who has lived many years in Hong Kong. That said, my other disclosure is that I appreciate your commentary. BUT, your commentary gets slightly off track in the specifics of Hong Kong. It always has to be SPECIFICALLY about Hong Kong, which just goes to show Hong Kong IS NOT (at this point in time) a "world city" (or however the line goes). This city has its entrenched and utterly banal localized hang-ups about what its is. Why fucking care? A solid identity is what we all surrender in order to freely speak our minds when we find ourselves situated on the shaky foundation of the ever present void. From my perspective, what you are referring to, in a specific cultural context is "face". That fake politeness that, as you acknowledged, will be betrayed behind your back (or out of ear shot). It's a new world, Hong Kong, and you should not rely on a cultural trope when the critic is assigned to criticize.

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