Mariah & Peter Pan: Social Media Meanies or Public Discourse?

The other week, I posted the following status on my Facebook timeline:

“Dear Mariah [Carey]: thank you for reminding us that training is incredibly important.”

I followed that with this link of Ms. Carey’s isolated vocals from her performance at this year’s Rockefeller Tree Lighting Ceremony:

As a voice teacher, I find this performance horrifying. It’s a great (and obviously sad) example of why no one should simply rely on their talent and, I think, how notoriety can warp one’s ability to be honest with themselves as a performer.

Many people agreed with my post, including several of my voice teacher colleagues. But there were folks who blamed me for hating on Mariah:

“Hasn’t she been through enough?”

“She had just signed her divorce papers that day – give her a break!”

I’m sorry to hear of Ms. Carey’s personal issues, but none of those were the reason her performance on national television was so deplorable. She clearly has vocal damage.

I apologized to my FB readers, explaining I wasn’t trying to “hate” on Mimi, but simply use it as a teaching moment for my students. I followed that up with two videos of Ms. Carey singing “I’ll Be There” with Trey Lorenz: the first from MTV Unplugged in 1992 and again at Michael Jackson’s memorial service in 2009.

Notice that the latter version is a step down. Notice how Ms. Carey attempts to hide her vocal dysfunction with riffs and hand movements. Notice also that Mr. Lorenz sounds almost exactly the same.

Like it or not, these videos tell a clear story of someone who has not cared for their instrument. If she had proper training, chances are her voice wouldn’t have eroded like this. End of story.

I generally try to keep my FB posts and Tweets light and breezy, almost always staying apolitical. So, maybe I overstepped a line with Mariah. Maybe the limitation of 100 or so characters made my post seem flip. Maybe I should find better outlets for my “teaching moments” (like, ummm, this blog…).

Obviously, we’re seeing a lot of hate mongering on social media nowadays. Jimmy Kimmel has even made hate something to be celebrated with his late-night segment, “Mean Tweets.” But it’s a problem, especially for creative and performing artists, who can easily be decimated by a complete stranger.

NBC’s recent live production of PETER PAN is another example. After last year’s oft-bashed SOUND OF MUSIC, I could literally hear people stretching their thumbs in preparation for a live tweetathon of the likes and (mostly) dislikes of the show (“I can see Peter Pan’s wire rigging!” Really?!?!).

In a preliminary effort to put the kibosh on it, I noticed several musical theatre writers and performers – some involved with the production and others merely supporters – asking their Facebook and Twitter followers not to post disparaging comments. Some pleaded, saying this would be the only theatre some people would see all year. Others sternly wagged a finger, making it clear: we’ve got a lot of friends in this production. You mess with them, you’re messing with us!

I’m all for people protecting their friends, but some of these warnings were a little J. Edgar Hooverish for my taste. It seems to me there should be some sort of middle ground.

Having missed the live performance, I recently sat down and watched PETER PAN. I have to say that, overall, I really enjoyed it (not that anyone is looking to me for an informed opinion). The fact that I had a former Marymount Manhattan College student in the production did not unduly sway me. Were there things that made me go hmmm?? Yes, yes there were. Did I post that on Facebook? Nope.

Which brings me to my own personal rules for posting on social media:

  • Most obviously, post praise. If there’s a writer whose work I admire, a production I loved, a singer I’m obsessed with… I put it out there. Why not spread the love, right?
  • Promote your friends’ stuff. It costs me nothing to tell other folks about things my friends are doing. I only do this if I’m also attending. If I love my friend but don’t think their work is everyone’s bag, I might offer support in a different way.
  • Ask questions and engage others in conversation. The more problematic posts are definitive (i.e. – “This sucked because so-and-so is a horrible actor.”). What would it be like if I asked my friends, “Hey, did anyone else see this show? Thoughts? PM (private message) me!”? Take these conversations off-line – it will make for more fruitful discussion.
  • Don’t spread hate. This is such a small industry. Follow mom’s advice (say it with me): “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say it at all.” If there’s something I don’t like, I’ll talk very candidly to my collaborators Tom Gualtieri and Laura Josepher, but they’re my inner circle. Most folks don’t get that level of detail. And I’m certainly not going to post it online. Better to say nothing than insult the work of someone I know (or a friend may know). Oh, and if you’re going to be silly enough to go rogue, don’t tag the person you’re bashing. That’s just rude.
  • Take a negative and make it positive. Given the grand jury results to Michael Brown and Eric Garner and the shooting of two cops here in New York, social media has been a pretty angry place as of late. I do not feel qualified to comment and, even if I did, I’m pretty sure anything I’d say would only antagonize someone else. But here’s what I can say (and certainly believe): every soul is worthy of equal treatment and rights, no matter what their background. That’s something I can post on social media and feel good about.

One final rule of engagement: if you post, be prepared to respond. You have no control over how someone will read what you’ve written.

Just the other day a friend of mine made a comment about one of my other friend’s names, to which she took great offense. There was a miscommunication because of semantics, which finally got resolved (after a couple aggressive lobs back and forth, anyway). If you start a fire, put it out. Apologize and be that much more careful next time.

Though it’s beyond my understanding, there’s room for everything in the theatre.

Even STARLIGHT EXPRESS [blinks].

Sometimes we’ll want to talk about what we saw or heard on social media. Like some, I won’t tell you never to post anything negative. But be aware there can be serious repercussions for hating on a production or person. And this business is hard enough as it is. Why would you want to set yourself up for failure? Mind your thumbs and keep critical conversations offline.

Something to keep in mind later this week (INTO THE WOODS opens in theaters on Christmas Day)!

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One thought on “Mariah & Peter Pan: Social Media Meanies or Public Discourse?

  1. Right on, David. You are entitled to your opinion, and others to theirs. Honestly your feedback was quite mild compared to some of the typical vitriol being slung online post-MariahGate. In short, she is a performer, and chose to put herself in a position for the world to see, and criticize. Let’s hope she takes some of the feedback to heart, and takes steps to regain her former glory! In the meantime, you keep doing what you do.

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