In Praise of Honest Opinion

I’m writing this off the back of a post I did on Sister Spooky’s website, about why I really don’t like The Big Bang Theory. Funnily enough, it kind of raised a few eyebrows before it even got published and it got me thinking – which is a rarity in itself.

There’s been a lot of hoo-ha in the past about negative reviews; my post about TBBT probably falls into that category. But I feel that, as a consumer of media, I have a right not to like things and I have a right to voice that opinion. Sure, there’s a difference between just slating something and qualifying your point of view – but I do think that, as long as you’re prepared to attempt to reasonably back-up your opinion, then your opinion is as valid as anyone else’s. Because it’s an opinion.

Which brings me to books. In a roundabout fashion.

 Books, Via the Wacky World of Showbiz

I’ve done a bit of acting in me time; I’ve worked as an actor for over 20 years. It’d be a lie to say that every performance I’ve given and every play I’ve ever been in has been the toast of the town; I’ve given some less-than-brilliant performances and I’ve been in some right turkeys. As a result, there’s been a few reviews along the way that have been less-than-favourable.

But that’s cool by me. I remember my first dodgy review, describing my character as ‘stock-in-trade’. Which did nark me. But it also made me think a bit harder about what I was doing and, after a chat with the director, I tried something else. I’m not sure if it worked or not, but my point is that that review challenged me to think in a different way; to reappraise what I was doing and up my game. In hindsight, that review was helpful – despite not being fun to read.

It’s not always that way. Years later, I was doing a show in London and one of the cast, an older lady, copped a bad review. Actually the review was bad; it was written badly: the critic’s main gripe was that he thought this woman was too overweight to play the part. Which was ridiculous and not constructive at all. It didn’t help; it was a personal attack and wasn’t qualified or supported by any reasons why he thought this character should be a particular weight. It was lazy and ignorant.

 Books, at last!

So, I was thinking about the reviews for Geekhood: Close Encounters of the Girl Kind. Generally, I’m pleased to say, they were pretty good. But there were a couple who had gripes about this and that and I read them and reread them to see if I could get what they were on about. Which I did – I might not have agreed with them but, as consumers of this particular form of media, they are entitled to their opinions – just as I am about TBBT.

The thing is, they’re opinions. Not fact, but points of view. They’re what people thought about my book. As long as an opinion is reasoned and qualified, in my eyes, it stands. Because that’s what they think. The difference for me is that I know what goes into my books; for me, there are facts involved. But whatever people think about those facts is entirely up to them, because they don’t know them like I do.

 Respecting Opinion

When you act in a play, write a book, create music or whatever, you’ve got to be prepared for the idea that it won’t ring everybody’s bell. It doesn’t mean it’s worthless, it just means that other people’s life experience is different to yours and those experiences mean they process the world in a different way to you. Which is kind of cool, really.

It’s like my rant about TBBT: it’s only my opinion. I don’t know what the writers, producers and actors went through to get that show together, but I do know it doesn’t ring my bell. And as long as I don’t just say ‘I hate it’ and expect that to pass as an argument, I think I’m entitled to say so. Just as other people are entitled to say they don’t like what I do. As long as it’s qualified, I have to respect that.

 The Blogger Question

Which brings me to another thing. I’m not a blogger (if you’ve read any of my posts, you’ll agree!), but I do wonder if bloggers feel hamstrung in what they think they’re ‘allowed’ to say in a review? As I understand it, publishers give away books to bloggers, to be reviewed. Do bloggers then feel that they have to tow the party line and praise a book, even if they can’t abide it, for fear of losing that supply of review material? Do they fear being put on some sort of blacklist? If they do, then just how honest can they be about what they read, unless they are entirely independent? Bloggers – you tell me.

 A Game Changer?

I suppose what I’m saying is that honesty, whether it’s hard to hear or not, always has to be respected; you can’t knock someone for telling the truth as they see it. And I guess this goes for reviews; surely it’s better to have someone tell you they don’t like your work and tell you why, rather than just nod and lie and tell you it’s great? Either way, you then have one of two options: think about what they’ve said and up your game or know that they are wrong and keep going along your chosen path.

Nobody likes criticism but, sometimes, if it’s intelligently put together, it can help you get better at what you do. I’m all for an exchange of opinion, because that’s all it is. You can’t have an opinion on whether two plus two equals four, because it just does. But you can have an opinion on whether a piece of art generates a particular emotional response, because they’re you’re emotions and if it doesn’t work for you, then it doesn’t work for you.

 I’m as Vain as the Next Man

I’m not saying I’d prefer to read a bad review but, if it’s going to make me reassess what I do and reach a positive conclusion either way, then it’s got to be better than a good one that doesn’t really say anything at all. However, when a good review tells you that you’ve punched all the emotional buttons in the right order, there’s nothing better and it can be equally helpful – as long as it’s honest.

 A Poncey Quote

“If we are not ashamed to think it, we should not be ashamed to say it” – Cicero.

But I bet he never watched TBBT.