Thursday, June 09, 2011

"Crap" Is Not The Same As "Stuff You Don't Like"

I really like bubblegum pop music.

No, really. The more auto-tuned the better. I can listen to that shit for days. Throw some Katy Perry or Rihanna on and I'm golden. Britney Spears? Hell, yeah. Remember Aqua from the nineties? Barbie Girl? I had that fucker on repeat in my car for like three months.

Most of you read that and don't give a rat's fart one or the way other, but some of you? Wow. Some of you really have an opinion on that. Either nodding your head, or looking at me like you just caught me fucking the dog.

Don't believe me? Look at an internet forum some time. Pay attention to politics. If it's one thing we're good at it's having overwhelming opinions on other people's tastes.

Like pizza? Broccoli? Pegging your boyfriend? Okay. Whatever works for ya. It's all subjective. Your taste is yours and ain't nobody can tell you you're wrong.

Not that people won't try.

And that's what seems to pass for a review these days. People looking at something and confusing "I don't like this," with "This is bad."

Take a look at 1 Star Amazon reviews and you'll see what I mean. Many, I'd say most, are along the lines of, "This sucks because I don't like it.  Waaaah!"

This isn't necessarily a bad thing. I can tell a lot about something I'll like by the people who don't like it. The first thing I think of when I see, "I hated the language," is "What, English? It's written in Ancient Urdu? Linear B? The fuck are you talking about?"

Then, of course I realize they mean all the references to cockweasel, felchmonkey, and that good old stand-by, fuck.

And then I go buy a copy. Or five.

And that's valid. Taste is taste. Who the fuck am I to say they have to like it?

But it does raise a question. If taste is subjective, how do you effectively review something?

Spinetingler Magazine ran a series of reviews a couple weeks ago on stories in the anthology On Dangerous Ground: Stories of Western Noir.

The review by Ben Whitmer of James Reasoner's story, The Conversion of Carne Muerto raised a bit of a ruckus.

In it Whitmer posits that the story falls into a literary genre common to the Old West called "The Indian Hater", in which heathen savages rape the horses, ride off on the women and listen to the lamentations of their livestock, or something. And the strapping White Man goes off to kill them all because A White Man's Got To Do What A White Man's Got To Do.

It's an insightful piece. Thoughtful, well informed and interesting to read. He has a lot of examples of this genre and why he feels that this story is, as he puts it, "a minor variation of one of the ugliest stories in American literary history".

He doesn't tell you anything about the quality of the story until the end. He doesn't even tell you if he really liked it, though you know that it pushed his buttons, which is a different thing entirely.

Here's a spoiler. "But all I can really say about this story, is, shit, it’s depressing."

The review currently has 114 comments.

The interesting thing is how many of the commenters don't seem to have either read or understood the review. There are accusations that Whitmer is calling Reasoner a racist, which he isn't, or that he's flat out wrong, which given the examples he cites I don't think he is.

He's not accusing Reasoner of anything other than writing a story that happens to fall into a particular genre. There's a big difference between saying "This story is similar to racist stories that were written in the 19th Century" and "This author is a racist".

And I think this is an example of a good review. It's a review that got me engaged and got me thinking. There's nothing knee-jerk about it. If anything it made me want to read the story more. I have a copy of the anthology and I'm itching to get into it.

If you don't like something that's fine. I'm never going to tell you your taste is wrong just because it doesn't match mine. But if you don't like something, Jesus fuck, tell me why.

I'll listen even if I don't agree with you.


Elizabeth said...


Sabrina E. Ogden said...

Well, if you're being honest about your music choices then we have one thing in common. Well said, and... I agree with Elizabeth!

Chuck said...

This is why I prefer criticism (in the old-school "literary" sense) to reviews. Reviews are basically thumbs-up thumbs-down bullshit, as subjective as it gets.

But criticism -- like what Whitmer does there -- is a much deeper thing, and attempts to find reason in there, and goes well beyond serving as a mere recommendation.

You don't have to go far to find recommendations for or against something here on The Information Superhighway (they still call it that, right?), but you have to search hard to find a smart dissection of a cultural (or pop cultural) piece.

-- c.

Brian Lindenmuth said...

Wait, wait, wait A FUCKING MINUTE!

Can't we all agree to leave Katie Perry out of this.

Ginger said...

Thank you!!! Some folks get entirely too much chest puffing out of hating things. Being an avid American Idol fan who loves things like Journey, Barry Manilow, ABBA and disco, I get a fair share amount of criticism about the things that happen to make me happy. Like the lovely and talented Hal Sparks says, I don't listen with your ears so STFU.

Jessica Van Vleet said...

I don't like this blog post. It's crap, but I'm not going to tell you why. *Giggle*


Well done. Thanks for pointing out there's a DIFFERENCE!

John said...

I won't read reviews at places like Amazon and Good Reads (probably the worst of the opinionated whiners on the internet). There's also a big problem with reviews that talk about the book they wanted it to be rather than the book it is. Same thing with movies.

This was dynamite! Throw some more out into the blogosphere.

le0pard13 said...

Hear, hear, Stephen! Fine post.

Benjamin Whitmer said...

I'm pretty sure I can sing you every song that Katy Perry ever did. Largely due to my kids, but still.

Great piece. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Katy Perry? Please. You're not getting funny looks around my RL friends until you can top the craptastic-osity of Ayumi Hamasaki, Utada, Nana Kitade, BoA, and the ultimate: nobodyknows+.

nelizadrew said...

For the record, I did not intend to be anonymous (or to sound as bitchy as I ended up sounding). My phone hates me. The feeling is mutual.
All I'm trying to say, is that if you want to up your bubblegum intake, J-Pop (or K-Pop) is the way to go. Think X-tina and Britney-esque lyrics sung at a pitch just below the level only dogs can hear.
"mikakete mitsukete misadamete iru
mitsumete midarete mitasarete iru demo"
("I see, I find, I make sure.
I stare, I'm fascinated, I'm satisfied, but")

Stephen Blackmoore said...

@Sabrina, yep, I listen to it. Though listen might be too strong a word. I'm horrible with lyrics. I have to hear a song a good twenty, thirty times before the voice stops being just another instrument.

Stephen Blackmoore said...

@Chuck, criticism's a tough one. I wish there were more of that around. That's one thing I hate about the internet.

It's created a culture of instant communication for people who don't know how to communicate. Twitter doesn't help, and blogs don't often fare much better.

Reviews with the thoughtfulness of Ben's in Spinetingler are few and far between. Aggravating.

Stephen Blackmoore said...

@Nelizadrew I thought I recognized some of those names. I haven't listened to J-Pop in years.

I like the sound, but the mouse squeaks of little Japanese girls (who are all, what, in their 30's?) always hits me at the base of my skull and I can only handle it for so long.

I haven't watched much anime in a long time but I used to marvel at the subtitles thinking they must have gotten the translations wrong.

And then a friend of mine who spoke Japanese would tell me, "No, that's really what they said."

The best was watching something without any subtitles at all and try to figure out what the hell was going on.

Wish I'd been stoned for some of those. Project A-Ko might have made more sense.

Robert Carraher said...

I once read a review on David Goodis Cassidy's Girl - classic noir, and the reviewer didn't like the book because it depressing, dark and had a weird sad ending....Then why the hell ya reading Goodis?

Mike Dennis said...

CASSIDY'S GIRL? Weird sad ending? Check out my review on this terrific novel by one of the greatest authors ever.

Robert Carraher said...

Ha, Dennis, I remember reading yours. here's mine. I love Goodis, what a writer!

Pamila Payne said...

A lot of reviewers seem to have never left the stage of adolescence where they defined their identity by proclaiming what they hated. That's not me, I'm not one of them! It's risky and brave to proclaim what you love and not feel other people have to agree. That's maturity.