In 2005 A.O. Scott was very critical of Sarah Silverman’s Jesus Is Magic for its reliance on ironic, deliberately offensive jokes about topics such as race and gender. The unexpected result is that the criticism deeply affected both parties.
Silverman, while rightly pushing back on several of Scott’s points, underwent a period of self-reflection that brought about a fundamental change in approach:
But the thing you wrote that kind of changed me on a molecular level, which is what, I think, you were kind of onto at the time was completely what I was abusing — and you saw that before anyone else, and you made me see it — which is I’m liberal, so I’m not racist, so I can say the N-word, because I’m illuminating racism.
Scott acknowledges the projection on to Silverman of his wider complaints about a specific type of comedy, popular at the time, and his own involvement in his criticism:
Of course, and I think when you said I was projecting, you were right in a few different ways. For one thing, probably projecting my own comic tastes and ambivalence. I also like Steve Martin. I think the first comedy record I ever bought was “Let’s Get Small.” But I think one reason I wrote about the show the way I did was that I recognized a problem that I had, too. One of the things I would change or take back about the review is not implicating myself, judging you but not making it clear that also there was a self-critique in it: that is, I think that the problem you just described as “I’m liberal, so what I say is OK,” I’m saying it in quotation marks. I have these oven mitts of irony on that, so no one’s here going to get burned, and also not just [me], but everyone in this room. We all know.
It’s unusual for a piece of criticism to have such an effect on both critic and subject and for both to come out all the better for it.