Reviews are bullshit. I know that sounds hypocritical considering that at its core this article is a review of reviews, but cast that thought aside for a second.
People have gotten themselves into an interesting situation in which a review of a piece of media can often hold more weight for an individual than the piece of media itself. A viewer will already form their opinion on something based on a review before actually seeing the final product themselves. Whether it is literature, film, or music, a review from a “professional” critic or even one that is considered amateur can persuade a consumer one way or the other.
What happens when everyone becomes a critic, when anyone can leave a review on anything? How does this change us as people and how does it change the pieces of visual media that some of us hold so near and dear to our hearts?
The Early Years
Consider the following. In 2001 The Wall Street Journal cited that more than one third of American moviegoers actively sought the critical opinions of film reviewers in order to decide what films they would watch. Moreover one in every three film-goers said they would actively go and watch a film just because it held favourable reviews.
This was in 2001, a time when the internet was still relatively fresh, not everyone had a smartphone and Netflix wasn’t conceived. To think that now, in the first quarter of 2017 Netflix has a recorded 94 million paid streaming subscribers. That many people watching film and TV on one service alone, means a lot more people now able to review a huge number of these shows and films that are being provided.
Everybody’s a Critic
We now face an over saturation of reviews. There are too many of them and some are less than desirable. You know the term “everyone’s a critic”, well the problem is now that everyone IS a critic as long as they have a smartphone or PC.
94 million Netflix subscribers, means potentially, 94 million people that can say “I hate this film because it’s bad”. Even just 100 reviews of that nature on a single film can be damming, especially if you multiply that in the echo-chamber setting of a Netflix review page. While on paper the idea that giving everyone the opportunity to voice their opinion of media is great, things can go a little off centre when there are just way too many reviews and none of them are being curated.
How can people not want to be a critic when being one is so accessible? Not only that, but the more customer-based review options that appear the more users are encouraged to become critics by businesses.
Overall, a business encouraging users to leave a review is a positive for the business itself. For products especially an influx of reviews both positive and negative increases the chances of them appearing according to Google algorithms, as well as increasing the conversation rate for the product.
It works the same for media, especially film. Remember the wave of seething distaste when Sony’s The Emoji Movie was released? The conversation and surge of reviews that followed the film was massive and arguably more entertaining than the film itself. Popular film and TV sites like Rotten Tomatoes had a field day tearing this film to shreds.
User Ratings: 21, 708. That is not an insignificant number of people giving insight into what makes The Emoji Movie good or bad. But when you look at this number critically, what percentage actually went and saw the film? How many of these reviews actually provide a critical and well-rounded comprehensive analysis of the film, and how many just followed the pack taking thirty seconds to smack their keyboards and type “It is bad movie, 1.5/10”.
Thinking critically and rationally in order to formulate your own opinion when the option to write a review is given to you is a pretty big undertaking. This is something which seems to be lost on a lot of people. Two very important points that have been identified to come to a critical opinion is being able to look at your own biases and be honest with them, and to also be able asses the evidence and ask: “What are they basing their opinion on?”.
The image above shows some front page reviews for a medium that shares the same importance for user reviews as film, video games. Seemingly, these reviews seem to throw out the idea of critical thinking structure. How do these reviews tell you ANYTHING about why you should invest $30-$40 in buying this game? For someone who is going on on this purchase completely blind these provide almost no helping hand or compelling arguments for either side. Again, these are FRONT PAGE for the game in question, yet they say almost nothing as to what is ACTUALLY good about this game. There is zero evidence presented, there are zero negatives addressed, no critical analysis, nothing.
THESE ARE FRONT PAGE. FRONT. PAGE. Jesus Christ…
Roundup on Reviewing Reviews
An excellent little anecdotal article on Wired describes a writer’s plight of having to decide on what kind of grill he wants to purchase when there are simply too many reviews for too many different grills. The article here highlights a huge problem that review mediums face when there are simply too many cooks in the kitchen. He writes that each person is the key variable when it comes to their review, where something may suit one individual it may not for another. So then you create a bloat, and when you factor in those who may be disingenuous or have simply lacked critical thinking in their review than the effect is increased ten-fold.
Where this idea differs from a product like a grill to a visual medium like film is that film has an incredible amount of subjectivity attached to it, as well as depth in theory and technical elements which classify something as a ‘good film’. Of course when it comes to any review there’s no escaping that personal preference and bias is always going to be in the way of a completely objective analysis, which is fine. It’s not fine when it becomes hundreds of thousands, even millions of personal preferences clouding other people’s choices before they can make their own.
Next time you’re looking to watch a film or start on a TV show, or even buy a game, don’t start with a review. Keep in mind that what you’re reading is probably bullshit and most likely comes from someone whose taste and preferences is completely different from yours. Watch the damn thing for yourself and form your own opinion on why you like it or not, and hey if that opinion is good enough you may find yourself writing your own review.
… For the love of God though if you do please make sure your reviews is, you know, good.