Natasha Franks, our Events Editor, shares her thoughts on the St Andrews media and the trouble with honest reviews. 

I wrote a negative review of Starfields.

Just to recap: The venue, while wonderfully decorated, rapidly devolved into a mass of queues as hundreds of students flocked to the tiny entrance at precisely 9pm. Sure, this could have been avoided had they arrived earlier, but no one should be penalised for arriving on time to an event. As I suggested in my review, time-sensitive wristbands could have forced people to arrive at sensible hours. Annoying, yes, but not as annoying as nearly being trampled in Butts Wynd.

Even entering the venue did not spare the guests from the queuing madness: food, bars, toilets, etc, could barely be accessed for the sheer amount of people. Understaffed bars led to longer wait times, and the repetitive music (some variety in the chosen acts could have prevented the monotonous beat) did not offer much respite from the boredom that permeated the evening.

Plenty of people enjoyed Starfields. Some of those people even wrote reviews. I, on the other hand, did not enjoy the event, and as a result my review was negative. It is a very simple concept.

The concept of a negative review, however, seems alien within St Andrean media. Truth be told, I don’t recall ever reading (or writing) another negative review. While I’d like to think this can be attributed to the sheer quality of most events, the reality is more grim: It’s far more difficult to write a negative review than it is to write a positive one.

Showering an event with praise is safe. You ensure that your review will then be shared by satisfied committee members throughout Facebook. You guarantee press passes to their next event. You garner the goodwill of “important” people. Benefits aside, it is worth noting that in a town as small as St Andrews, social circles tend to overlap. A reviewer may very well be flatmates with members of the committee they are meant to be evaluating, establishing a conflict of loyalties as they attempt to support their friends while remaining honest for the sake of journalism.

Criticising a committee, particularly one as large as FS, tends to attract attention due to the fact that it is done so infrequently. People are more than willing to post anonymous comments on Yik Yak or talk amongst themselves, but they balk at publicly admitting their disappointment in one of our largest institutions, that of the charity fashion show.

Personally, I’m a fan of FS: I worked as a dresser at last year’s show, and (as most of my friends know, since I still not have not shut up about it) it was by far the best experience I’ve ever had. I respect the elegant brand that FS has curated, the image of the quintessential fashion show. I admire their charitable endeavours, I admire their passion, and I admire the ambitious scope of the events that they throw. When I referred to Starfields as a failure, I can promise you that it was not accompanied by evil laughter, but by disappointment in having to censure a brand that I’ve otherwise had nothing but good things to say about.

There was fallout. In the time following the review’s publication, I’ve found myself on the defensive more than I expected, and in the strangest of situations. While I bartended one night, a committee member observed that I looked familiar and asked if I had written a review of Starfields; he explained that he had Facebook stalked me as soon as it was posted. That marked the second time an FS committee member had suspiciously asked for my name, and then for confirmation that I was the one who had written the review.

Another highlight includes a committee member drunkenly approaching me at a party and telling me that I’m a rude, bitter person who will never have any friends.

I understand their anger. To invest so much time and effort into an event only to have it described as a shambles must be brutal. I attempted to make my review as constructive as possible, not wanting to come across as an ultracrepidarian. I criticised, but did so while offering constructive feedback. This has not prevented the backlash: I’ve been asked why I hate FS (I don’t), why I prefer DONT WALK (I don’t), and why, exactly, did I dislike Starfields (I don’t know how I could have been clearer on that subject).

To their credit, I’ve found the majority of the committee to be nothing but gracious. I wouldn’t seek to paint them all with the same brush. Unfortunately, the few uncomfortable encounters that I’ve had in these past few weeks have left a marked impression, to the point where I felt it necessary to make some sort of statement. My apologies go out to the more decorous committee members. As stated above, I thoroughly enjoy FS; I just don’t enjoy it to the extent where I can condone what is essentially bullying.

It’s been a month since my article came out, and I’ve come to understand why there are so few negative reviews spread across our town’s many publications. People here aren’t anonymous faces in the crowd, but very real entities liable to be seen everywhere from Tesco to the Lizard. Publishing any sort of critical article requires constant vigilance, as you may be asked to explain yourself at work, in class, or between shots of tequila. It is the sort of stress that most students could do without, myself included.

That said, I don’t regret being honest in my review. A committee member informed me that “anyone can criticise.” I disagree. I think that anyone can regurgitate the committee-sanctioned press releases, their priority being a free ticket rather than assessing the event with a critical eye. With the high price tag of most St Andrean events, it is understandable that many reviewers may only seek to take advantage of the system by obtaining press passes. I won’t lie: It is certainly a major selling point when it comes to writer recruitment. However, our goal as journalists should be to inform the public. If the FS committee hopes to be as professional as their own brand, they would do well to take that in stride.

Natasha Franks

Featured image courtesy of The Sinner.