What others say

A month ago I wrote about critics, and those who criticise something from a most obscure point of view… I have expanded what I wrote as part of the challenge a fellow blogger and I have set ourselves to write seventy-three blogs from a list of subjects we came across. This is ‘what others say‘:

Having just read some recent criticism of the eminent academic and historian, Mary Beard – criticism which was spiteful and sometimes obscene, personal comments on her appearance not her work, – I thought I would share some thoughts of my own – criticising the critics! This is not a deeply intellectual argument, the example I’m using is of a spiteful and superficial review of an album by a little known Swedish rock band.

When I’ve read a book, or seen a film, watched a TV programme, or bought a CD, seen a band etc I usually have a look at what others opinions are. It’ just interesting to have other opinions and points of view and sometimes I agree with them, sometimes I don’t; sometimes they have an opinion I’ve never even thought of, or have an insight which throws light on an aspect of the book/film/CD etc which I’d not appreciated. It’s interesting if a review has a  different perspective from mine; if I thought something was poor and facile,  and someone else shows insight I missed, or an aspect I hadn’t realised, I might not change my point of view, I might still think it poor, but I might understand why it’s popular. Similarly if I really like something, and another person is critical of it, their view might make me defend what I think, or challenge me to re-evaluate my thoughts. If someone offers an objective opinion, and argues their case, and doesn’t disparage the author/actor/artist/musician, then I might still really disagree with their opinion but I will respect it and be interested by it. On the other hand, I might begin to agree and have second thoughts on my own judgement.

However… what is really, really annoying is when someone reviews something they know they are going to hate before they even read/watch/listen to it, and then slam it for not being perfect, or not fitting in with their narrow view. If I really dislike a genre of music, then why would I listen to it, and then say it’s awful? If I don’t like the style of a particular author, why read yet another book by him or her and criticise the way they write?

I don’t like jazz so I don’t listen to it – but even though I don’t like it, I’m interested in those who make it, and just occasionally there is a piece which catches my fancy. There are quite a few books in a genre I don’t like which we read in our book group – I might still not like them, but maybe I can see something in them thanks to the point of view of others. Occasionally my prejudice is confounded – I really didn’t like ‘The Goldfinch’ by Donna Tartt, and when we were set to read ‘Secret History’ by her I was not exactly enthusiastic. However I read it with an open mind, enjoyed it, and have found some of the characters and scenes have really stayed with me.

Everyone has a right to their own opinions, and personal likes and dislikes, but if something is criticised for not being very good, then there must be some evidence to support that view.

I read a read a review of a band I like, The Glade. Their music is very individual, it does not fit easily into a genre, and it might take some listening to before anyone can really appreciate it. So when I was looking for reviews, I expected to read different opinions, and indeed I did; some critics, didn’t enjoy the music but still could make objective comments of the worth of aspects of it, composition, melody, lyric for example.

Then I came across a review in which the author obviously hadn’t bothered to listen to the album properly, and adopted a sneering and disrespectful style in his/her criticism; it came across as someone who liked the sound of their own words, and was more keen to be bitchy in an attempt to be ‘honest’ or ‘hard-hitting’ than to make fair comment; they merely came across as being immature and ignorant, preferring to make cheap remarks, than taking the trouble to take a more balanced view.

I’m not sure The Glade is still making music, but the review of their album supports the point I’m making about critics and criticism. The comments made should be about the piece of music, the novel, the painting, and not be used to promote the profile of the reviewer – it’s not all about them!

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