The Man in the Arena VS The Critic

Kevin Smith’s recent dust-up with Nikki Finke got me thinking about the old battle. This applies to sports, entertainment, politics and any field in which there’s a person who Teddy Roosevelt described as the “man in the arena.” In these cases, it seems that people fall into two main groups, based on how they view the conflict between professionals and critics. Ignoring partisans (whose stated views on whether another acts morally are determined by whether they agree with the individual on other issues), purists (who apply the same standards to everyone) and entertainers (who don’t really care about the issue either way, but just want to say something witty) there seems to be one central division in outlook whenever conflicts arise regarding the relationship between the man in the arena and the detractor.

The man in the arena is just a term for the individual involved in a public undertaking, such as a sports figure, politician, or comic book writer/ editor.

The detractor is the guy criticizing the man in the arena. He can vary from an anonymous Monday Morning Quarterback to someone who can be considered a Man in the Arena himself, when his stature and reach is such that he is discussed in a way the anonymous masses of critics are not. See Paul Krugman or Roger Ebert.

The division (although it could also be seen as more of a spectrum than anything binary) is whether you’ll side with the man in the arena or the detractor, when disputes arise over whether the former acted civilly.

You could argue that the man in the arena has chosen a high-profile position (be it Governor, Baseball Coach, Hollywood Director or whatever) where he is to be held to a higher standard. His words carry more weight, so he must be careful and sensitive lest anything be construed as an insult. Patience and understanding is an absolute requirement, even when dealing with the worst fans, critics and detractors. The extreme of this is to suggest that those he interacts with can be thin-skinned jerks, while the professionals must walk on eggshells.

Or you could argue that the man in the arena has done a lot of work to get to where he is. Analysis of what he does for a living is fine, but it must be civil. And the complainer has to be correct, when it comes to objective details. It is not the responsibility of the man in the arena to waste his time when the backseat driver is careless with facts. There’s nothing wrong with patience, but there’s also nothing wrong with humiliating a particularly stupid heckler.

Of these groups, the one that bugs me the most is the partisans. In comics, these would be the guys who will criticize the creators they don’t like (and often don’t follow) for things that are also done by their favorite writers and artists, sometimes to a greater degree.  But I do generally side with the man in the arena, in that an honest mistake or boorish behavior is more understandable.

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About Thomas Mets

I’m a comic book fan, wannabe writer, politics buff and New Yorker. I don’t actually follow baseball. In the Estonian language, “Mets” simply means forest, or lousy sports team. Currently, I’m writing a few comic books about my grandparents’ experiences in Soviet Estonia for Grayhaven comics. You can email me at mistermets@gmail.com
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