Preconceived Notions

>> Friday, July 9, 2010

It occurs to me that being a reviewer is has a large number of pitfalls, especially when dealing with something that is remarkably popular. On the one hand, gushing about what people already love or a book/film/whatever so much anticipated that it's unlikely to be unsuccessful looks like pandering especially if said book/film/whatever doesn't fit the critical definition of a "classic." Especially given that the classic elements of many book/films/whatever that get critics all hot and bothered frequently equate to unpopularity.

But panning it to preserve one's "critical integrity," can not only alienate often rabid fans, it can also demonstrate the weaknesses in how "experts" judge things. I'm sure I'm not the only out there who no longer pays any attention to reviewers because they seem too far detached from what I'm looking for. And that, boys and girls, is the only reason to read/watch reviews: to find out those books/films/whatever that will turn out to be something we want to read/watch/whatever.

And that might explain the frequent disparity between what the critics think of as "great" creative works and what is successful: while there are people who go to films involving clearly insane sadomasochists who are unable to communicate or have a healthy relationship to find out the subtle weirdnesses of the fringes of society, most people go to movies to enjoy themselves, to escape, for a little while, into either a world they'd like to visit or a frightening world that can be left behind when the lights come back up.

Not that there's anything inherently wrong with an educated critic wanting to promote the kind of films he or she would like to see more of, but one of the side effects seems to be that many come into an anticipated movie or read a book by a prolific and popular author having already decided what they think of it.

So, when they jump into a review that clearly shows they didn't read or watch all the way through, they look like hacks. Like, for example, a critic griping about a Nora Roberts novel because "they're all bodice rippers," it shows they've fallen for the hype (since Nora Roberts never has heroes that rape the heroine [one reason I like her novels], they are not bodice rippers, certainly not the one in question, aside from it being set in modern times). This isn't to say some Nora Roberts novels aren't better or worse than others. or that someone might not enjoy one. This isn't the first time I've seen a critic jumping in with an ill-informed opinion, by any means, but it's one of the ones that triggered my brain.

But, for a professional critic to have so little understanding of the criticism and knowledge of the novel in question makes one wonder what they were thinking. I gotta say, unprofessional. If you can't address something you review with an open mind (and that doesn't mean you have to like it), perhaps you should find another line of work.

More so since they frequently sneer at the fans for their lack of objectivity. Ironic, no? More on my take on popularity, greatness and "getting" it next time.


  • Project Savior

    I absolutely hate it when I read a review of something I've seen or read and have to wonder, "Did the reviewer watch, or read, the same thing I did?"

  • Stephanie Barr

    Me too. I feel almost insulted.

  • The Mother

    I always thought "bodice ripper" was simply a slightly derogatory term for a romance novel. I don't think violence is implied.

  • Stephanie Barr

    Bodice rippers are almost exclusively historical (as women rarely refer to their clothes as bodices, today) and were specifically referring to modern romances (i.e. written today) that didn't flinch from overt descriptions of sex, often sex and violence combined. Especially between the hero and heroine.

    It is a type of novel I particularly despise. Perhaps that's why it caught my notice (though many romance authors find the term offensive).

  • Shakespeare

    This hit me recently, when I read a review of The Last Airbender. Essentially, the review slammed the director for his earlier movies, and then proceeded to trash the entire premise of the film, I suppose not realizing that it was based on a TV series that has a huge adolescent and adult following. All I could get from the review was that the man simply didn't get it.

    Yet I still have no idea from the review whether the film is worth seeing. I guess I'll just have to see for myself.

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