Does J. Jonah Jameson run the theater scene or what?

Is J. Jonah Jameson calling the shots on the theater scene, or what? An article in The New York Times reports that the producers of the Broadway musical, Spider Man: Turn Off The Dark, recently held focus groups to figure out why critics had largely panned the show.

I’m no fan of focus groups, but how anyone could expect to learn anything of value by letting participants only get to see Act I or Act II, fill out a questionnaire and then join a 15 minute discussion is beyond me.

What’s even more beyond me is that focus groups are, according to the Times article, not unheard of on Broadway. That’s sad. While I do have a populist streak to my view on culture, the idea that the collective expertise, experience and creativity brought to the stage by writers, producers, directors, actors and all could be tossed aside by the opinion of a sample of a supposed audience makes you wonder what’s next: Christian fundamentalists helping revise the next English translation of the Quran to make it more in-line with U.S. readership? Registered voters getting a first pass at the next Obama speech? Anime fans making over the Sistene Chapel? Movie goers getting to call the shots on the next Hollywood blockbuster?

Oh yeah, they already do that one.

In response to the news, Steve Portigal asks an interesting question on his blog: “Do we admire producers for being user-centered or do we decry them for being desperate?”

This isn’t a case of being user-centered. If the producers of the show were at all user-centered, they would have listened to the Spidey sense of Marvel fans and critics long before beginning production. That would have told them they were way off on the zeitgeist, that Broadway had already crossed the line on cannibalizing pop culture and that swing, not sing, is the leitmotif of Peter Parker.

Creativity by consensus kills the arts. Focus groups are little more than an abdication of responsibility and executional wisdom. The answer, Steve, is desperate. Forget Dr. Octopus – let’s hope the focus group participants pummeled this Spider Man senseless.