Haters Everywhere: Black Gay Men and Artists Can’t Accept Criticism Of Any Kind
Back in 2011, I decided to start blogging for only two reasons.
The first was to stop complaining about other websites and provide an online voice for masculine gay men of color on a variety of issues. A voice that didn’t discuss topics from the perspective of a fabulous flamboyant caricature or sex-starved stereotype.
The second reason was to do what every other mainstream (aka heterosexual) entertainment website did but no black gay website had done, provide detailed reviews of the creative media produced by talented gay men of color. To give honest opinions about the quantity of the content, not just share links of give out participation trophies that children get just for showing up.
Both goals were (and continue to be) met. Cypher Avenue, flaws and all, is still the only website to provide an unfiltered, uniquely masculine gay point of view. And by masculine I mean “traditionally masculine”, not some newly redefined hybrid of masculinity propagated by gay feminists on the web. Here on the Ave, we may not be hyper-masculine prison thugs, but we’re still clearly “Guy’s Guys.”
We never pretend to represent ALL masculine homosexual men, however we undeniably demonstrate that all gay men do not think alike, talk alike, nor do we have the same interests.
Over the years we’ve written many “tough love” articles that not only criticize the black gay community, but we also offer advice on how to improve.
The response by some is to call us “haters.”
Many gay men don’t like when you hold the mirror up to them and tell them something they’re doing may be wrong…especially when it comes to art created by black gay men.
Cypher Avenue is still the only black gay leaning website to feature full reviews of books, music, web series, movies and even other websites created by gay men.
Oh sure, other sites highlight “works of gay art” by providing a link or video embed with a brief paragraph stating how much the blogger loved the project.
That is not a review, its a blurb.
At least it’s not the type of in-depth critique that helps or informs the artists on what specifically they’d done right or wrong. It’s also not the type of reporting that informs the audience if the work of art or project will be worth the time to support or view.
Although I’d never consider myself a professional critic, I was inspired to push for full reviews on our site by seeing what other entertainment news sources such as The New York Times, Variety, Roger Ebert, Rolling Stone, The Source Magazine, etc were posting.
Those media hubs drop real reviews, not just short press release notices.
To put things into perspective:
The New York Times Review of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes clocks in at over 950 words.
The Hollywood Reporter review of FX’s new horror series The Strain is over 700 words long.
The Billboard track-by-track review of Pharrell Williams’ album “Girl” is 1100 words long.
These kind of numbers are commonplace for Cypher Avenue reviews. Even this essay will be longer and more in-depth than any seen on other black gay blogs and websites.
True, longer articles are not necessarily better articles, but when it comes to reviewing and critiquing black gay content that doesn’t get much attention elsewhere, size does matter….details matter.
Cypher Avenue is the same website that published a well-researched 6,000-word article on the lack of financial support for content creators in the black gay community. Where else will you see that kind of information and content?
We even spend weeks selecting and summarizing our BEST OF THE YEAR selections in a time-consuming detailed list that we drop every January. No other black gay website does this for its readers.
This is not to say that Cypher Avenue is better than the black gay sites that only copy and paste a paragraph or two of the content creators’ Facebook fan page summaries and call it a “review.”
Well, actually I guess it is to say that.
We ARE better than those other black gay websites.
Regular readers know that the editors of Cypher Avenue are first and foremost two masculine-identifying gay men raised in the braggadocios culture of Hip Hop and Sports.
No matter how many more page views, link backs or social media “Likes” and “Followers” another gay website may have, we still know that our site is better than theirs. Hands down. And we’re not afraid to say it.
We’re not afraid to die on a treadmill and we will not be out-worked.
BLOGGERS “HATE ON” EACH OTHER TOO
As new bloggers (who had no aspirations to become bloggers), we celebrated like a mofo when third-party web ranking websites (Online retail giant Amazon’s Alexa.com and Similarweb.com) first reported that our site was one of the top non-pornographic black gay websites in the world. Some other black gay bloggers took offense to this.
One day, the rising black gay personality and creator of the G-List Society (a site we’ve promoted in the past) went ballistic (out of no where) and attacked Cypher Avenue calling us the “dregs of the black gay community” merely because we agreed with someone who disagreed with him, we bragged about our Alexa web rankings (his site was listed far below ours) and we told the truth about most popular gay black bloggers giving more attention to Divas and reality show stars yet little attention to the work of black gay content creators.
In the middle of his rant he stated:
He added more on Facebook and Twitter but you get the gist of it. This is the same blogger that celebrates “reading” and “throwing shade” towards people that were once his friends
with the use of strike-through text on his site , yet we were the dregs of the black gay community.
This is also the same professional blogger whose had multiple major top-menu pages “under construction” for well over 2 years now.
Instead of posting our own attack blog post directed towards him (adding fuel to an odd one-sided beef), this was our response:
I only mention it now because it helps to prove my overall point about self-perceived haters and criticism.
All of those other websites he claimed that we “took jabs at” in his rant are online friends of ours…having said that, we’re also players in the same sport…and in the spirit of friendly competition, Cypher Avenue will always openly celebrate our accomplishments. No matter how envious they may make others feel.
We may be fellow black gay bloggers and online friends but “if we get on the treadmill together, you’re getting off first or I’m gonna die.”
Also, family and friends can tell each other when they need to step their game. We’ve repeatedly stated that we’d like to see more black gay bloggers promote black gay content creators more often and more consistently.
We want to see more black gay websites posting substantive “articles” longer 2 or 3 short paragraphs.
We’d rather see a “logo or blurry photo” than see a prominent & respected black gay activist/journalist posing topless or in a tight wife-beater in his main photo avatar on Facebook or Twitter.
This is not jabs or “shade” or “hate.” This is valid criticism.
But criticism is a two-way street. Even our website has been criticized.
CYPHER AVENUE’S OWN RESPONSE TO CRITICISM
Over the years we’ve strived to make the Cypher Ave experience not only one-of-a-kind but also a quality, entertaining and worthwhile experience. That work has been paying off.
People may disagree with our opinions, but they can’t say we’re not running a quality website that is clearly unique.
But we’re not perfect. Even our site has received criticism, namely for our typos and proofreading errors. Over the years we’ve worked hard to get better at keeping these grammatical mistakes down to a minimum but even the major mainstream sites have bugs slip through the cracks.
Even this article might have a few errors that I’ve missed (if so, give me a shout and I’ll fix them, lol).
Another criticism we’ve received was the notion that we discussed “Masculinity” way too much. Initially we were taken aback by this because only 10% of our over 650 articles have even mentioned masculinity or femininity.
In response, we changed our direction by going out of our way to highlight even more films, video games, music and universal topics that had NOTHING to do with gender or homosexuality. This led to an even greater criticism that we were self-hating and anti-fem since we refused to talk about Beyonce, reality show stars or embrace American Horror Story Coven (topics we have zero interest in but are favored by many gay black men).
We heard that our podcast audio quality was super shitty. So to improve, we purchased two new microphones to enhance the listener experience.
Another criticism that we heard was we were too negative and too hard on creative gay men of color and their work. They said we were never positive about anything.
This is another one that confused us because we’ve gone out of our way to praise artists such as Lasto, Deondray and Quincy Gossfield, DJ Baker, Kaoz, Earthtone, Sean Anthony, Lamont Pierre and Seek the Poet. Not to mention our aforementioned annual BEST OF THE YEAR list that features specific categories for our favorite gay content creators.
Here’s a fan critique interaction that I had with a Cypher Avenue reader/podcast listener on YouTube:
Eventually, we realized that this criticism was not about the work itself but about certain people wanting Cypher Avenue to be something it was not.
They wanted the masculine leaning website to celebrate and praise the same topics and personalities that the feminine leaning gay websites did. They wanted us to not discuss masculinity unless we were doing so to celebrate femininity. They wanted us to ONLY praise the work created by black gay men, not be critical of them at all because that would “tear down the community.”
We’re adults, not children. No topics should be off limits…this includes masculinity, femininity and honest critiques of the creative works of gay men of color.
One observation: In all of the criticism we’ve seen, no one has ever stated that Cypher Avenue wasn’t a quality website. No one has stated that our photos were distorted or that the text was formatted sloppily on web pages.
From what we’ve seen, most of the dislike of the site comes from a disagreement with the opinions shared and/or the overall mannish, chest-out vibe that the site projects.
IF YOU CAN’T SAY ANYTHING NICE…
There once was a time when for many professional filmmakers, novelists, musicians and theater playwrights when the official New York Times Reviews were the only reviews that mattered. These reviews were either highly praising of the work or totally unforgiving. These became the reviews of record, sometimes even killing ticket sales after opening night.
The gay community needs more of this type of blind criticism.
There seems to be this notion that just because Patrick-Ian Polk is one of the rare black gay filmmakers providing film content that makes his work immune to criticism. Or that we can’t criticize Trey Melvin’s coming out video merely because he was “brave” enough to do it.
The problem with stating your honest opinion in the black gay community: you’re labeled a “Hater.”
Just because someone is “doing it”, that doesn’t mean that what they did is perfect in every way. Here’s a comment from a reader on our website that was spot on:
Once we started posting our in-depth reviews, I realized we were the only ones reviewing black gay content by Google searching for other reviews. Zero results. Our site was always the only website with a review longer that was more substantive than a couple brief dick-riding paragraphs.
I knew then that Cypher Avenue would have to be The New York Times Reviews for the black gay community. I wanted content creators to want a positive review on Cypher Avenue just for the bragging rights alone. Not because they thought they would get more exposure or page views or album sales…I wanted this because they would know that we actually critiqued the work. We didn’t just give them a gold star for trying, like a kindergartner.
ALWAYS BUSINESS, NEVER PERSONAL
For the most part, I’m a nice guy…but I can be very snarky and sarcastic. There’s a certain Jerry Seinfeld and Jon Stewart vibe to me, especially in my writing. I like to point out and make light of obvious quirks that most people generally ignore. This is evident in my essays as well as my film, music and web series reviews.
When I give a negative review, it’s very clear that the impetus is not because I don’t like the creator or their team. Even through snark and satire, I give SPECIFIC well-articulated reasons why I didn’t like the work.
It’s not quite the same as “throwing shade” because I rarely ever get personal with my critiques. You’ll never see me making fun of the artist for their weight, financial status, appearance or clothing (or lack thereof) UNLESS the artist inserts themselves into the art itself.
For example: If the respected creator of a black gay interview web series is conducting interviews with men while half naked in a hotel room bed, they’ve given me permission to add their on-screen persona to my critique of their show.
However, I’d never try to dig up irrelevant personal dirt on creators to “throw shade” or “expose them”, so to speak. I stick to the work presented for consumption and/or relevant information that already exists in the public domain.
We’ve stated MANY times that we’re sure the content creators of all of these works are likely very great guys in person…but that doesn’t mean we can’t honestly critique the work they create.
Are we always right? No, but we at least will state our honest opinions.
Even still, what I’ve said isn’t NEARLY as bad as what mainstream sites say about mainstream shows and films. There was once a popular snarky daily review website literally called ‘Television Without Pity.”
If you’re an artist with honest people in your circle (not yes-men), they should have already told you everything a negative review has said and more.
“I have friends who will critique me much harder than any review.” – Wynton Marsalis
ALL BLACK GAY MUSICIANS ARE NOT TALENTED
If acclaimed musician Wynton Marsalis says his friends are hard on him then many of the black openly gay musicians that submit music to our site must not have any honest friends at all.
Regularly we get submissions from awful gay singers and rappers requesting to be featured on Cypher Avenue and we often have to make the decision to ignore them or give them what they were asking for, critically ripping their work to shreds.
Like it or not, Cypher Avenue has developed a brand. Our brand is that we shout from the rooftops when we love something but (unlike other gay sites) we also make it VERY clear when we think something is gah’bidge!!!
Most of the music submissions we receive are garbage. Point blank, period. Either the production sucks, the rapping sucks or the singing sucks. And to be honest, some of the more effeminate gay artists are just not making the kind of music that caters to us and our audience. Why would we even consider highlighting them on our site?
So as reviewers on one of the most visited black gay websites in the world, do we keep posting negative reviews of these young, hopeful aspiring gay artists, potentially crushing their spirits?
Many would say “yes, they need reality checks and Cypher Ave is the only site that will actually give it to them.”
Part of me agrees with that.
But what could evolve from that stance instead is a perception issue not for the artist but for Cypher Avenue. We’d become the “Haters” website even more.
We’d also tarnish our own brand by having poorly produced gay music videos and low quality web series littered all over our web pages. If you see something posted on Cypher Avenue, that means we somewhat vouch for it, even if the review is negative. We don’t just post about anything just because its “gay.”
Speaking of web series…
ATTACK OF THE BLACK GAY WEB SERIES CREATORS
Initially I started writing my reviews very straightforward. Here’s what I liked, here’s what I didn’t. That got boring.
Slowly I started adding sarcasm to the text (like many other professional reviewers) and found that not only was I developing a specific voice, I was also gaining more readers.
Many people became new Cypher Avenue fans just because of our reviews. I was getting direct emails from people asking me to review web series and gay films that they themselves had already seen but they wanted to hear our unique, witty opinions on them.
One day I came upon a site called “Video Gum” which, like many other pop culture websites, had posted weekly “recap reviews” of new episodes of popular television shows. The difference, they turned the sarcasm meter to TEN! And it was hilarious!
Check out one of their reviews of an episode of The Walking Dead HERE.
Their use of photo memes, word balloons and animated gifs made me not only want to read more of their reviews, it motivated me to watch the shows being discussed just so that I could get all of the jokes and references.
What a great idea for black gay web series, I thought. Not only would it bring new readers to our site, it would also serve to promote new episodes of the series as they were released online…and possibly give the artists some real feedback instead of merely the constant praises seen in the YouTube comments.
I started with what was going to be a list of the BEST BLACK GAY WEB SERIES. It wasn’t until I started to actually to watch these shows that I realized most of them weren’t very good at all…at least not in my opinion. Either the lighting was bad or the audio was horrible or the acting was unwatchable or the writing was uninspired.
How do I discuss these awful shows while still making the reviews entertaining? I decided to follow Video Gum’s lead and make the reviews fun and humorous. The result was one of our most visited review post in the history of our website.
After that, I released a lukewarm, snark-heavy review of a new episode of FREEFALL. That became one of our most commented on reviews in the history of the site.
As a matter of fact, FREEFALL has always been a polarizing, highly discussed series on Cypher Avenue. It’s also the most prolific, already on its third season in less than 2 years. We’ve covered this show more than any other black gay series since we began the site in late 2011.
We were even told by the creator Lamont Pierre that the web series was partially inspired by our blog and articles on masculinity in the media.
The problem: The show wasn’t very good to us. It was too slow, too dark, too boring, too convoluted and too poorly acted. And we really WANTED to like it.
Most of our readers also decided that they didn’t like FREEFALL after its poorly produced 4-episode first season hit the scene, they repeatedly voiced their displeasure in the comments section of episodes posted.
We even brought creator Lamont Pierre on our podcast for an interview where he admitted there were flaws but defended the overall vision.
We’ve gushed over Pierre’s previous web series work My Brother’s Keeper (even naming it Best Gay Web Series of 2012), so our dislike of the show has never been a personal attack of the filmmaker. Our reviews satirically pointed out our issues with the writing, directing, editing and acting in an entertaining way for our readers.
That’s another key thing that is lost in the mix. Content creators forget that critics are content creators themselves too. As a writer, I have to entertain my readers. Merely repeating in each review that the lighting, acting and writing in a web series was low quality can get repetitive to an audience. So I add humor and satire. Not unlike “Black Twitter” does during an episode of a TV Show or Live Awards Show.
Highly popular mainstream websites do the same. The geek site, io9.com, started recapping the horrible CBS show “Under The Dome” by writing the reviews from the snarky POV of the Dome itself, regularly pointing out the show’s inconsistencies and corniness.
Admittedly, I may have gone overboard at times. My sarcastic review of the awful web series “Finding Me – The Series” was particularly harsh…but every snarky joke was rooted in honest criticism.
Even the Freefall team eventually got tired of the negative Cypher Avenue attention, posting this on Twitter.
Were we upset by this? Nope. They have just as much right to respond to our criticism as we have a right to critique them in the first place.
I would only like to fact-check their criticism a little though. Our site doesn’t get our hundreds of thousands of monthly views and podcast downloads just because FREEFALL is “in season” and posted on our site. Our extensive dating and relationship articles are actually Cypher Avenue’s bread & butter. Gays are obsessed with finding a man!
Eventually I stopped writing reviews of these web series once I realized the shows weren’t getting any better and that our negative reviews were becoming their top Google search results.
WITH GREAT POWER COMES GREAT RESPONSIBILITY
If you Google “Tre Melvin”, my snarky criticism of his coming-out video is listed on the first page.
If you Google “Web Series Freefall”, my snarky reviews of the show come up multiple times on the first page.
If you Google “Gay Web Series Finding Me”, my negative review of the show is one of the top search results.
However, I did realize that the reason that I got into blogging in the first place was having an impact in another way.
Contrary to what The G-List Society stated above, when we started blogging in 2011 most black gay websites rarely covered black gay content. My own Google searches proved that. At the time (and to this day), most of them merely posted a link or video embed with sprinkled screenshots of the shirtless men in the films and kept it moving…back to blogging about male eye candy, divas and homophobic hate crimes.
As popular in the black gay media community as The DL Chronicles, FREEFALL and No Shade are, reviews, updates and interviews about their work have never been featured on the pages of white gay websites like OUT.com, TheAdvocate.com and Towleroad.com.
So now, our reviews have become top search results for many of the black gay artists we cover not only because we’re actively utilizing Metadata and SEO, but we’re also the only site to regularly post updates and reviews of their work when no other website does.
Thanks to the example set by our site, some black gay bloggers are starting to step it up…however, most sites are still not as in-depth, critical or informative of the work as we need them to be.
THE ROOT OF IT ALL
In all honesty, I know the reasons why black gay bloggers often phone their critical reviews in:
1.) This shit is hard, time consuming work. Cypher Avenue co-founder Ocky Williams and I put in a lot of time and sleepless nights on reviews, interviews and opinion essays posted on the site.
Even this article, clocking in at over 4,500 words, has taken more time to write and assemble with supplemental videos and photos than most bloggers are willing to sacrifice.
2.) You make more friends if you stay positive and keep your negative opinions to yourself. The black gay community, especially as it exists online, is not that large. If your goal is to be a black gay celebrity and/or socialite, playing nice is the way to go. Fortunately, we don’t care about being gaylebrities. We care more about being honest and making Cypher Ave as dope as possible.
3.) Many gay men feel that you’re a “crab in a barrel” if we criticize our own, so to speak. I feel the opposite. You’re not only helping the artist get better by giving them valid feedback, you’re also preparing them for the harsher criticism they’ll receive from mainstream critics and websites.
How about the black gay artists themselves? Why can’t they accept criticism?
In my opinion, this answer is two-fold:
1.) The “haters” theme in the black community in general has been engraved into our DNA. There is this meme amongst blacks that if someone says ANYTHING critical about you or your work, they are automatically a Hater. Some black people even revel in the idea that if they have haters, that must mean they’re doing something right.
2.) The black gay community is melded with the concept of “reading” and “throwing shade”. So when criticism is displayed, it’s instinctively seen as an attack. Usually the worst offenders of “throwing shade” themselves are the people who get the most defensive of benign criticism directed their way.
There has to be a middle ground. How can black gay men develop thicker skin when it comes to being critiqued?
As a black gay man myself, I’ve had my own creative endeavors (outside of Cypher Avenue) put on display for the world and subsequently ripped to shreds by critics. My response was to not “fuck them haters!” It was the opposite. I was the guy grabbing 10 copies of the newspaper because I was that excited to even get the exposure and have work out there able to be reviewed in the first place.
Having said that, I’ve slowly become sensitive to the reaction from gays getting overly defensive when criticized. As a result, I’ve refrained from reviewing submissions that I know will be critically skewered by our readers and myself.
This includes the entire third season of FREEFALL.
Why do I keep mentioning Freefall?
FREEFALL is currently the most popular black gay web series on YouTube and we’re the most popular black gay website on the Internet that covers black gay web series.
The question should actually be, why haven’t we been talking about Freefall MORE on Cypher Avenue.
I wish the show was better. I want to be the guy posting casting updates, reporting on set visits and interviewing the cast and crew like you see on so many websites like Shadow & Act and Entertainment Weekly. Especially since they film the show in our home base city, Atlanta.
But I genuinely don’t like the show. True the models are attractive but its painfully boring to watch.
While we haven’t posted about that web series since October of 2013 (and I haven’t actually watched an episode since September 2013), I had a recent exchange with the producer of FREEFALL on twitter regarding this very topic of our criticism of the series.
I post this conversation here, not only because it was a public discussion and is already available for anyone to access (I would NEVER reprint a private conversation without permission), but also because it shows that artists and their critics can have amicable discussions without resorting to name-calling and insults.
The key thing that stood out for me in this exchange was, “Support doesn’t mean y’all have to like us.”
That statement epitomized how I think many black gays seem to feel. You don’t have to like my work or my lifestyle, just blindly support and/or praise it.
This also made me remember the idiom, “You can’t see the forest for the trees.” Which basically means you get so caught up in the details that you fail to see the bigger picture.
Many black gay men (including myself occasionally) are so caught up in specific criticisms and the notion that they aren’t being praised that they miss the fact that someone cares enough to acknowledge them and/or give a detailed critique of their work in the first place.
This is the “big picture” that I’d seen when I grabbed those 10 copies of the newspaper featuring the negative review of my own creative work.
When they stop talking about you altogether, then you should really worry.
Let’s take off the kids gloves.
Black gay men need to be criticized…especially by each other…and especially when it comes to the art and images put on display for the world to see.
Embrace the hate.
“There’s no such thing as bad publicity.” – Anonymous
“There is only one thing worse than being talked about and that is NOT being talked about.” – Oscar Wilde
“I don’t care what they say about me as long as they spell my name right.” – P.T. Barnum
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