July 1, 2016, marks the end of forty-two years of a radio show unlike any other still running. Forewarning: I can't avoid sentimentality, having just watched the bittersweet encore to A Prairie Home Companion's penultimate show.
For those who don't know, A Prairie Home Companion is one of those old-school style radio shows with live stories, sound effects, witty humor, improvisation, and, of course, music once a week for two hours. And all that on public radio without advertising, unless you count The Catchup Advisory Board and Bebop-a-Reebop Rhubard Pie. Now I wasn't drawn to this show by myself; I'm twenty-two (sometimes forgetting that and telling people twenty-one, because, really, nobody cares after that), technology-minded, and as detached from the dying radio as most my generation seems to be. I suppose I can thank a self-proclaimed luddite, facebook-hater, and old-timer—apparently also my dad—for introducing this show to our home. And it was as if romantic Americana streamed through the radio out of Grapes of Wrath with all the heart of It's a Wonderful Life. Old-timey folk and blues, the same stuff from O Brother Where Art Thou (I can't promise this is the last movie reference), peppered with comedic half-improvised stories of a private eye and cowboys and Lake Wobegon and, fittingly, a failed writer.
The art of criticism, true and honest feedback, is dead. Nowadays we cannot criticize; we must give constructive comments. If we dare breach the walls of true criticism, we risk being the asshole who missed the memo about being polite to everyone because everyone is a winner. Before you say amen and move on, though, take a look at these two definitions of the same word:
1. criticize: discuss critically (work, or abs.).
2. criticize: express disapproval of.
Both definitions stem from Oxford dictionaries, the major difference being that the first was published in 1977, the second in 2010. In those years, readers, writers, listeners, and the general public have learned the word to mean something negative, something innately bad. So we invented constructive criticism. According to my dictionary, constructive can also mean inferred, not directly expressed—we are now stuck giving helpful feedback while inferring what we really mean; we cloak the truth because the proud presenter is too soft-skinned to face some honest commentary. Quoting David Foster Wallace, if you're worried that criticize will seem too deprecatory, you can say evaluate, explicate, analyze, judge . . . (taken from the Oxford English Dictionary).