It’s Called Contextomy…

..and it is one of the many reasons I have a rule against quoting review blurbs provided in press packets. Contextomy is the practice of quoting people out of context. (The term caught my eye while I was brushing up on logical fallacies.) It has found applications in many arenas, but is widely practiced with movie and theatre reviews as noted in this Wikipedia article.

If you don’t like Wikipedia as a source (though most of that article is footnoted and cited pretty well) here is an article from Gelf Magazine on the subject with many amusing examples of the lengths publicists go to in order to make a dud sound great.
(Added: This article is actually the inaugural entry for a continuing series where the magazine tracks misleading quotes. Didn’t realize that when I first posted.)

I have a suspicion that this practice which is already being recognized by an increasingly skeptical audience may be approaching its final days. The difference is that in the past audiences were suspicious. Now they can access information on the web via their cell phones. As people walk out of movies and performances thinking “Geez, that was godawful, how could she say it was a cinematic tour de force?” they are going go online with their cell phones and search (reviewer) (show name) and discover that the reviewer said the show made Teletubbies look like a cinematic tour de force.

Without the drive home with a stop at Starbucks to buffer the disgust that will inspire them to go online and check things out, the distrust level could skyrocket. That is assuming people weren’t skeptical enough to check things out in advance.

And hey, if I am wrong and the practice flourishes for years to come, at least you have a fancy vocabulary word with which to impress your friends as you mutter “‘Superb and invigorating?’ Bah, it is probably just another case of contextomy..”

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker ( website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (

My most recent role was as Executive Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


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