Ringing response

January 8, 2009

Academics can often reveal so much when they believe they have to respond to a review of their book. Having been a book reviews editor for two academic journals, I have witnessed the insecurities of academics who cannot accept a fair review.

Martin Barker's response (Letters, 11 December) to my review of his co-edited collection, Watching the Lord of the Rings (Books, 4 December), alas shows that he did not properly read my review or one of the chapters that he had edited.

From the book, I had quoted Giselinde Kuipers and Jeroen De Kloet's conclusion that comments on the production intentions of the films, which they saw as "deliberately detached from national and local contexts". Barker's misjudged response was to defend the quote with audience questionnaires that showed New Zealand was not a major part of the film's appeal. This was a strange position for Barker to take as Kuipers and De Kloet were not presenting the questionnaires within this part of their argument.

He also bizarrely claims that there is a "slight sneer" in my comment that the co-editors "proclaim their project the largest and most complex attempt to date to study audience responses to a film".

Well, I am not sure where the sneer resides, and I've conducted my own audience survey and others are at a similar loss. In my dictionary, "proclaim" can mean to present publicly, which is what the co-editors do in their introduction.

The comment was entirely innocent, simply quoting to agree with their view of the scale of the project. It was wrong of Barker to see anything else in it. I had aimed to be fair in my review of the book, but it is a shame that this was clearly not enough.

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