Subjective Criticism in an Objective World

When you put yourself out there, you are opening yourself up to criticism.

You are putting your product and passion up for the scrutiny of others. Others that may not be aware of what you were trying to do, may have different tastes, and may just be cruel with their words. This is the game of being a creative, of producing anything. There will be critics.

I am a critic. I have a food and movie review blog. I like talking about my feelings on things for my benefit and for the benefit of the creative. There have been movies and TV shows that I simple don’t like and that didn’t fit my tastes. I don’t usually review them. I say I don’t like them casually, but I don’t write long reviews hating on them. It feels wrong to tear into something out of a fit of angry passion when I know my words mean something to someone. I have torn into movies, but I have positives to balance it out.

That’s what a criticism should be. A thought out explanation of where the critic comes from, any prejudices or bias, what they experienced, what they liked and didn’t like, and whether they would recommend it coming from their position. And it better be more than a few sentences unless the material itself is short. This does not always happen for time constraints or just having trouble finding the words, but if you put the effort into reading something does it not make sense to put the effort into explaining your feelings on it?

There is someone on the other end, who put the love and work into creating that product. You should respect that. It’s hard sometimes. I know. But we can try to overcome passion and be coherent in our explanations of our feelings.

They may be negative. Or they may be positive. But they are feelings.

Hence subjective.

Reviews are opinions coming from a particular perspective. The experience you get from a book or movie is as dependent on the content as yourself. Experience = critic + product. No one is going to have exactly the same feelings on something. That is natural and that is expected. That is reality.

Yet in this reality of subjective opinions, we typically assign objective ratings to a product. Stars. Thumbs up. X/10. Standardized scales that are rated according to something that is highly personal and highly variable. An 8/10 is not consistent across the population. Neither is two stars or five stars. We all have our own internal scales yet we aggregate those varying scales to create a score to determine ‘this movie is good’ or ‘this book is worth my time.’

It doesn’t make sense to me. Unless I’m on some site that requires a star review, I don’t give hard ratings any more. I say whether I’d recommend it. What I liked. What I didn’t. And why that might be. Personal feelings are not helpful to another if they don’t have reasons attached to them.

And concrete ratings are even less helpful if there is not any words attached to them. In an ideal world, I would get rid of star ratings and anything on an objective scale. They are misleading and highly subject to brigading for reasons not at all attached to the film. Amazon has ‘helpful’ votes. Perhaps only text reviews over a certain minimum word limit and then people, people looking for opinions that help them better understand the product, can determine whether it helped them to either get it or not.

What is the point of a review? It seems it has two functions: assisting others choose to do something with their time/money or giving criticism to the creators. These two functions can have overlap but you can have a review that only really is useful and effective in one function. Maybe there should be two ways to review. A public outlet and a more private way. For others and for the creator.

Obviously, this has a lot of problems to it, but for the world of indie authors, it could work.

But there is a better way to review. I’m trying to figure it out. If there are any critics or creatives that feel the same way I do, I’d love to talk about it more and I’d love to read the thoughts of others on this subject. As there are highly varying opinions on a particular product, everyone has their own thoughts and ways of reviewing and of consuming. But we can come together to find a better way for both artists and critics. I’m optimistic.