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.

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7 thoughts on “In Praise of Honest Opinion

  1. I personally only review things I’ve liked as I’m all too aware that the next guy may like what I don’t. I’ve made exceptions in the case where I feel that the product is a rip-off of some kind and my silence would be tantamount to complicity. I’m not a pro reviewer but I like to support authors etc who have created something worth people’s time. I don’t dissect books when I review though – I leave that to other reviewers who can! I just try to give some of the essence of it in a brief manner. I guess I’m a recommender more than a reviewer.

    I understand your feelings, Andy, on the receipt of honest feedback. It’s smarting at first. These days I believe it is essential, just as you outline here, for improving your offering. If not for said honest feedback we would never have seen why our debut game didn’t quite succeed for us, despite its favourable reception. But one also has to look at the trending themes of feedback, and not worry over one solitary comment. If ten separate people say a thing, it’s more likely to be true than if only one out of the ten feel that way. And having said THAT, if those ten in agreement are self-designated detractors, then beware, for it may not be true regardless. Honest feedback from someone who can see the positive points as well is worthwhile feedback, taking into account what they like to consume of course. I’ve seen negative reviews for films by people who even admit in their review that they ‘don’t usually like this kind of film anyway’ – so what are they doing reviewing it then?

    Lastly, two plus two only equal four if those two pairs are fully committing to merge into a larger collective and lose their pairings. In cases of two enemy partnerships coming together to face a common enemy I am proposing that they don’t make four, they make two plus two again, as there is still some division between the factions.

  2. As a writer I may not always manage to be adult about genuine reviews. Genuine reviews need maturity in heaps because they never, ever say what you want them to say, which is “Ohmigod, thisisreallybloody-WHOAAA!!!”. They are always better than family (who don’t need to know their own son/daughter/sibling actually thinks this sort of stuff, let alone writes it down for public consumption). But a genuine review has done the most humane thing you can possibly do for a writer, which is force us to be adults about the whole bloomin’ business.

    And I’d agree with the decision to just leave the hopeless cases alone. Don’t dissect it, just leave it to take its last gasp alone.

  3. I find as a book blogger that I do feel like there isn’t a direct pressure to be positive in reviews but when authors add you on twitter and are actively engaging and friendly and the publicists that when it comes to saying “I don’t like it” its hard but I always back up my views and direct to positive reviews for a sense of balance. I think the whole world of book blogging is shifting as publishers understand how the “game” is played and now there are a lot of uncomfortable feelings among bloggers about some aspects. It’s something I always think about.

    Plus when I have been less than positive in a review I have had a case of an author being slightly unhappy with some comments. They weren’t untrue and were only my opinion and in general it was an ok fair review but they focused on a minor comment I said and its really put me off reviewing their future work.

    Great post

  4. I rarely blog but I always tweet a mini-review of what I’ve just read. I worry about being critical as it can be hard to explain in so few characters but a number of people have said they look forward to my tweet because they’re so honest. Most books are library books but I do quite often get books sent to me.

  5. I’m going to be honest here, and say, yes, I do feel pressured to write positive reviews – but that pressure is put on myself, rather than anything which has been implied to me.

    I’ve been able to express what I’m not so keen on if necessary, but I’m more likely to not finish or not review a book I don’t get on with, because I don’t want to write a negative review.

    There are a couple of reasons for this, one being that I’m very aware that authors are people, and their book is important to them. Secondly, yes, I do feel that if I give a bad review I may not be offered more books.. but then if I give up on the book or decline to review then I’m also probably not going to be offered more books.

    I have actually reached a point now where I’m going to stop ‘official’ reviewing, because it’s causing pressure and stopping my enjoyment.

    (Sorry for the long response)

  6. I would say that if you write blog posts (this is a blog post, right?) then you are a blogger – from the original “web log”. Perhaps not a blogger who reviews, but a blogger nonetheless.
    As a “creator” (writer, designer, dungeon/game master – I’ve worn many hats), I want to know how people feel about my creation, if I’ve done well, or if I’ve done badly. If you don’t like it, tell me what I’ve done wrong so I can improve, but if you don’t do that, don’t expect it to improve. There are always those who will have irrational issues, but fortunately they tend to be in the minority. Don’t let them get you down!
    As a consumer, I try to specify what I like and don’t like (if I’m giving feedback of some sort). There are times I can’t always explain why I don’t like something, but if that’s the case, I try not to spew vitriol and hate, just quietly say I don’t like it and move on. If I can then figure out why, I’ll then come back and say it.
    Finally, I enjoy TBBT – I’m usually not in sync with the standard laugh track, but I see elements of all the geeks I know (myself included) in most of the characters. Just not quite that concentrated (and stereotypical)!

  7. A great issue to bring up. It’s definitely a struggle. Not for me personally as i tend to only write about things i like, hence my blog title, but i see it happen more so with my sister and her blog. She raised this issue herself in one of her blog posts. As someone who likes to write about theatre in Ireland but also is only beginning to get work in theatre too, there are certainly people she would be better off not pissing off. I hope she doesn’t mind me saying that here. But anyways, she did a great post about the difficulties of this – specifically in a small Island where everyone knows each other too! Hope you won’t find it spammy for me to share the link. She says it all much better than i have here!

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