Opinions and Assholes

Critics are assholes. You know this, I know this, but for some reason, we keep going back to them, desperate for a fresh round of abuse. We keep looking for other people’s opinions to justify or even inform our own.

You listen to a new song in isolation and you love it. You go online to find that everyone’s trashing it, and suddenly, you start to doubt yourself. You might even start insisting you never liked it to begin with.

You watch the trailer for a movie that has you ready to buy a ticket and put in a preorder on the DVD; then you check out Rotten Tomatoes and see it’s at twenty-eight percent, and you don’t even bother watching it when it hits Netflix.

On the other hand, a novel by an author you typically dislike has just been lauded by all the critics, so you pick it up, try to decipher it, and feel guilty for thinking it’s a pretentious, smarmy piece of crap.

Why does the homogenized, communal mainstream opinion discourage us from our own natural perceptions and beliefs? Why do we feel shame for not loving something that everybody else does? Why are we persecuted for finding value in something that is otherwise universally derided?

Art is both a very personal, private thing between the artist and the audience of one–you, me, him and her–and this communal experience that demands we all come to the same conclusion about its merits or faults. Each of us perceives a work of art differently, picks out individual ideas and notions that either win our affections or suffer our disdain. But it is our way of sharing our individual, personal perceptions with others that confounds and aggravates me most.

If you hate something, why bother wasting your words on it? Why spend time with something that angers or offends you or that you just find to be a waste of time? Alternatively, if you love something, why attack someone who can’t appreciate it as you have, who doesn’t get out of it what you have?

My theory is that many of us are consciously unaware of our own bias, our own subjectivity. In our minds, everything is objective. Things are either good or they’re bad, and we all agree on that. Except when someone doesn’t. And then the only rationale explanation is that person is a fucking idiot.

Where does this mentality originate? Part of it is the way we’re wired to think; there is a constant competition going on in our minds, comparing and contrasting, ranking and filing. Why else would we be so enamored with awards shows and top ten lists? How else do you explain that feeling you get when your favorite movie of the year wins the Oscar for Best Film, or alternatively, when something else far inferior wins instead?

We feel good when other people agree with us, and we’re angry when they don’t, and it doesn’t matter how many times we’re exposed to contrasting opinions; our natural inclination is to believe that our subjectivities are in accord with everyone else’s.

Let me give you an example: I bartend a couple nights a week, and typically I’ll get customers who ask me for the best beer on the menu, or they might frame it into the question of what I would drink, or what is my favorite beer? When I point out to them that my tastes may not be the same as theirs, they wave away my warning as if I’m just trying to dodge the question. I’m not. I’m fully aware that what they might enjoy from a beer might not be the same things I enjoy.

Some people prefer things that are sweet and syrupy. Others want bitter and dry. Some folks like dark, chewy, chocolatey malts. Others want fruity and puckering. Some people want to taste the malts; others don’t like anything but hops. Some people say they like it all, but even if that’s true, there must be some things they prefer, either in general or at least in that particular moment. I like all kinds of beers, but I’m not always in the mood for every type, and although I might be able to appreciate every style if it’s done a certain way, there are some styles that I’m more likely to appreciate than others.

There is no objective right or wrong when it comes to personal taste. And so when I see critics not acknowledging their own bias, but merely leaning into a particular work, dismantling it with words, I view their actions as irresponsible and their “informed opinion” as irrelevant.

I hate slasher/horror/torture-porn films, so it’s probably not very useful to someone who enjoys that kind of thing to read my review of Saw or Hostel, is it?

My intention with reviewing material here is to focus firstly on the positive, which is not to say that I’m looking to just make this site an advertisement for things you ought to go out and buy. Instead, the goal is take a particular work and a) introduce it to an audience that may be unfamiliar with it, b) influence an audience that might have initially dismissed the work to reassess its merits, and c) constructively analyze it, mining it for patterns and clues that will help us better understand how to craft innovative and exciting work. And while I’ll tend to pick things that I really enjoy, from time-to-time I might pick something that I find flawed, just to work through my own biases and discover whether the fault lies in the work itself or in the audience viewing it, and hopefully, in the process, discover some merit to it.

Because I’m a human being with opinions and biases and because I tend to like certain kinds of things more than others, you’ll probably start to see a pattern in the kinds of media that I review. I tend to think of myself as having a fairly eclectic range of interests, so I might review a classic novel one week and a comic book the next, blockbuster films at particular times and little known indie gems at others, but there will be certain genres and types of works that won’t get my attention at all, and that’s kind of a shame. I’ll keep pushing my boundaries to expand my interests, but at the end of the day, we don’t all like everything and we don’t all agree on what is worthy of our individual interests.

The Internet is full of people who think a good review is all about snarky takedowns, nitpicky attempts to point out fallacies and plot holes, and venomous, spittle-flying rants about the stupidity of the work and the idiocy of any audience who would enjoy it. The goal of this site is to offer an alternative to that kind of mentality and hopefully to build a better review and in the process both a better reviewer and audience.

We’ll see how it goes next week, with my inaugural review covering Cameron Stewart’s brilliant webcomic, Sin Titulo.

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