Sunday 10 November 2013

Today's Review: Reviews

Here it is, my 1000th review. I've reviewed many things since I started this blog, from movies and food to inanimate objects and concepts. Some have been in depth, others have not. But after all this time, there's something I've neglected to review, and something that could certainly use some evaluation. I'm talking about reviews themselves.

We all know what a review is. They're everywhere, be they published on dedicated review sites, summarised on movie posters, or mentioned in passing by a friend. Everywhere we go we're bombarded with other people's opinions on what's good and what's not. But should we take notice? As much as they are ingrained into our society, are reviews actually a good thing? Well, they certainly are, to a degree. We live in an age where there is a sheer amount of things to consume, more than probably hundreds, if not thousands of lifetimes worth. Back in the stone age, things were so simple. Cave? Good. Sabre tooth tiger? Bad. Fire? Scary, but useful.

Nowadays, though, an individual cannot even hope to scratch the surface of all the stuff on offer. We cannot visit every place, watch every movie, eat all the food that exists. We must seek out the best of the best, in order to use our short time on this Earth effectively, and what better way to do that than to gather opinions from those in the know? Reviews are a very helpful tool in deciding what is worth our precious time. Obviously some are more in depth than others. A review in a respected publication will clearly outline the pros and cons of something. But even a passing "it's alright" from a friend can do wonders for our decision making. In this respect, reviews are fantastic. They let us weed out the crap, to find things that match our interests, and live life to the fullest. Unfortunately, there's one thing that stops reviews from being perfect. Human nature.

You see, humans are extremely divisive beings. You'll never meet two people who share exactly the same interests and opinions. People have different instincts, upbringings, even taste buds, that makes experiences between any two people completely different. So how can we trust what anyone says? Why do we seek out other people's opinions on so many things, when they could end up being completely wrong or misguided?

As well as having different tastes and opinions, humans are also prone to such psychological effects as confirmation bias. If a person holds a certain belief or opinion, they are likely to favour information that conforms to that opinion. Let's say I have an obsession with a certain movie director. I've loved every one of his films thus far, but while looking up reviews for his new feature, I find that some have slammed it, while other have nothing but praise. I am likely to disregard those reviews that are being nasty to this awesome person, and may end up going to watch some poorly made turd of a movie that was the result of a fever dream. In this case, reviews can end up being completely ineffective. Indeed, many people only read reviews after they watch a movie. Look at any forum on IMDB and you'll see people saying "I can't believe this got good reviews, it's rubbish!", or vice versa. Reviews are used to start arguments, with people trying to win points for their side, because apparently it's our nature to be at war with ourselves, even if it's over how tasty the new Starbucks coffee is.

Another major issue is that reviewers themselves are unreliable. Take my aforementioned "previously good director makes crappy movie" scenario. If the movie is genuinely terrible, the people who gave it a good rating could have easily been paid off to ensure some good press, meaning more people will see the movie. It's hard sometimes to pick out when people are giving genuine opinion or spouting corporate twaddle. There's also the fact that people's tastes change significantly over time. A reviewer may love something one day, and harbour a deep seated hatred for it the next. Even I have found myself enjoying certain foods, only to find that I gave a pretty scathing review not a few months before. So what's the point of reviews, really? Humans are an argumentative, entirely subjective bunch who can barely make up their own minds, let alone effectively inform someone else.

Well, the truth is, having reviews is a hell of a lot better than not having them. Without any kind of review process, we'd be wandering around, scared to try anything new, probably even more set in our own ways than we are now. If Og hadn't mentioned casually to Ug that while fire does indeed burn your flesh, it cooks up a mean tiger steak if you're careful, we might still be shivering in our caves. So while reviews are flawed in a lot of ways, I feel the good outweighs the bad. Even with our biases, we can still pick out things that we can enjoy. There are plenty of reviews out there, enough for anyone to make an informed decision on pretty much anything. As for me, I'll certainly keep on reviewing. So here's to the next 1000, and beyond.

My rating: 4/5

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