Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Is this helpful?

     If you have a fair amount of free time and don't want to spend it doing something worthwhile -- charity work, exercise, learning a craft, mastering an intensive hobby, reading something more substantive than Stephanie Meyer or J.K. Rowling -- you may find yourself, as I have, distracted by Netflix.
     However, I have become oddly fascinated (and, at the same time extremely frustrated) with the customer reviews of movies and television shows.  There are many things which could draw my attention here, but I tend to focus on three trends that make me wonder if I am part of the same viewing community as the people offering up their reviews.
     First, a good number of reviewers are all too happy to inform everyone that they were so frustrated/disappointed/enraged by the film or show in question that they did not watch it to conclusion (frequently mentioning that they turned it off within the first 5-10 minutes).  This seems, to my mind at least, to be an immediate disqualification for reviewing a subject.  I am not asking people to suffer through to the end, but if you gave up on the movie (or show), maybe you aren't qualified to speak to the overall value -- or lack thereof -- of the product.  If you abandoned the movie, give it the 1 star rating and be on your way. If you insist on writing a review that is essentially a grievance, there are ways to make it appear as legitimate criticism.  I would point to AS 1746221's review of Black Death (2010):
                 "Sadly, I cannot review this film on its merits. All I can say is that they 
                  invented the Steady-Cam for a reason. I haven't gotten this motion sick 
                  off a non-3D film ever. [Fifteen] minutes in and I had to shut it off."
Now, this isn't as much a criticism as it is an overstatement of a pet peeve, but it informs the potential viewer that there is shaky-cam in the movie and that it was handled in such a manner that AS 1746221 found it to be a major distraction from the story and action of the film.
     Second, many people feel the need to inform other Netflix subscribers how a movie falls inline with -- or is horribly opposed to -- their political and/or religious views, and little else when reviewing it.  Many people have somehow made it well into their adulthood without realizing that there are many people who do not subscribe to their ideologies, or they feel that the reviews on Netflix is the proper forum to champion their causes.  I would point to qqr 824293'sreview of Black Death (2010) as a prime example of this:

                  "Probably worth a look for those of you who are subtle readers. This in 
                   fact is a clear enunciation of a brutal truth: that the truest evil in the 
                   past 200-years of this world is religion itself. A elucidation, if you will, 
                   that nothing has driven more evil into the world; nothing has de-valued 
                   life to a greater extent than the worship of well as the backlash 
                   to that cult. In all, a very deep treatment of a fact that our modern cults 
                   have happily brushed under the carpet. This movie is well directed, well 
                   written and well acted. Metaphorically speaking, the Black Death might 
                   be seen, in this viewer's humble opinion, as fanatical worship, itself. One 
                   might only complain that it ought to have been shot on film. S. Bean might 
                  have cost them a bit too many dollars, and that likely impacted the overall 
                  quality--but alas, that sort of thing is a well-known trade-off in itself. Props 
                  to these actors for sticking with a movie that ought to have been a film. 
What the other members are told here is that religion is a horrible plague born into communities by foreign (or at least, not-local) travelers and leaves only death an misery in its wake.  This may be an informed opinion (I happen to disagree with its simplicity), and it tangentially related to movie in question, but it is also an attack on what may be the core beliefs and inform the principles of the other members who are looking for some level of insight as to whether they may enjoy watching something.  This doesn't seem particularly helpful.
     That brings me to those little buttons underneath the reviews others took the time to write: You found this review [Helpful]  [Not Helpful]  [Inappropriate].  It would appear that many people understand this metric to mean [This agrees with my esteem for the movie], [This somehow runs contrary to my esteem for the project OR This disagrees with the rating I gave the movie], and [How dare you!].  Most reviews are only read by a few people, and even then only within the short window when they are displayed on the first couple of pages of reviews; nobody is sifting through 58 pages of TRON:  Legacy reviews to decide if they should see the picture.  It is, without a doubt, a bit of an ego-stroke to see that other people read what you wrote and agreed with you (or at least clicked the [Helpful] button).  For that matter, it is a little bit of an ego-stroke just to see how many people voted on what you wrote. Still, I really don't think people are evaluating the quality of the review as much as they are voting for the ratings that fall in line with their own estimation.
     At any rate, I have taken the time to write some reviews -- I think most of them are underwhelming, but honest efforts to evaluate both the product and my level of appreciation and/or enjoyment of it.  I think I am going to be cross-posting them to here, along with my musings on books, current events, and general outlook on a life that has been largely wasted up to this point.  But rather than change that, I can always go and watch something from Netflix.

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