Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Everyone's A Critic

As newspapers and periodicals fold, downsize, and decline in popularity, it's getting harder and harder to get books reviewed.

Reviews sell books. Not necessarily because a book critic recommends it, but because a review makes readers aware a book exists. If a reader is looking for the next book by a certain author, or is looking for a certain genre or type of book to buy, reviews serve as a reminder or a spotlight, sort of like advertising, but with relevant content.

But as the Internet continues to infringe upon print, more and more people are reading reviews online. And the majority of these reviews aren't from paid critics, but from laypeople with blogs, or who post on websites like Shelfari or Goodreads or Amazon.com.

While I mourn the gradual demise of professional print reviews, I embrace this new form of critiquing books. And I'm not the only one. I've lost count of the number of Harriet Klausner reviews (Amazon's #1 reviewer) I've seen on books, some even on the back covers.

Rather than read the NYT Book Review section, more and more readers are deciding what to buy based on blogs they read, or the average star ratings on Amazon. This grass roots type of reviewing is less like advertising, and more like word of mouth, which readers of this blog know I prefer.

But it comes at a cost. Because the world wide web makes it possible for everyone to post their opinion, many people do just that. And because the Internet offers distance and a certain amount of anonymity, many people see no problem with viciously ripping apart books they don't like.

On one hand, everyone has an opinion, and all opinions are valid.

On the other hand, you'd think reading some online reviews that the author being described is an illiterate pinhead, barely capable of stringing words together, who hates his fans and should have never been published in the first place and should be monetarily liable for the time the reviewer wasted reading the first two chapters.

I'm all for personal expression. And the Internet is truly a bottom-up (as opposed to top-down) way to communicate. We no longer have to rely on professionals, or corporations, for our news or entertainment. We've become a world where everyone can be famous, where all opinions can be heard.

This mentality has lead to uploading videos on YouTube, sharing pictures on Flicker, being able to create and edit our own encyclopedia with Wikipedia, posting news and op-ed on blogs, publishing ourselves on our websites, creating our own flash movies and games, and basically becoming the creator rather than being content with staying the consumer.

Unfortunately, for everyone who desires to create, there is someone who seems compelled to destroy.

The number of 1 star reviews on Amazon.com, and on the movie site IMDB.com, frankly astound me. Apparently it's easier to hate something, and there's a lot more to hate, than I ever imagined.

The reality is, most movies and books don't suck. There are some bad ones, sure. But each had to meet some minimal standards in order to get produced. Books released by major houses are acquired because the house believes they have some value, and will make some money. Many people are involved in a book's creation.

Yet the cavalier, dismissive attitude of many online amateur critics is a symptom of a larger problem within society, compounded by the fact that there's no accountability.

The problem I'm speaking of can be summed up in a single word: haters.

Haters tend to be quick with opinions, actively judge without fully understanding what they're judging, and have little concept of the effort it takes to create a story, film, book, TV show, or any other form of media.

Rather than create anything on their own, which is probably too difficult for them to do, they enjoy the sound of their own whining while tearing down what others have created. Because the Internet doesn't require accountability, they write things they'd never say face-to-face, which makes them cowards as well.

Personally, haters amuse me. In most cases, it's obvious these folks are clueless. Authors should NEVER EVER respond to haters, because it legitimizes them. No good can come from responding, and the fleeting satisfaction you'd get from calling someone "a waste of carbon" even if they truly are a waste of carbon, is a loss, not a victory.

But I urge anyone who has ever publicly lambasted a book, movie, TV show, song, whatever to consider these criteria before rushing to your one-star review.

WHAT HATERS NEED TO KNOW

1. Opinions change, including yours. Have you ever seen a movie, hated it, then caught it again and realized it was pretty good? A myriad of things can affect whether or not you enjoy something that has nothing whatsoever to do with anything intrinsic in the work.

2. Art is labored over. It involves time, effort, and often love, usually from many people involved in its creation.

3. Make an effort to understand art before you begin to cut down art.

4. You're a big stupid unhappy idiot, and no one likes you, and not a single person gives a shit about your snide comments or unhelpful opinions, and if you could pull your head out of your ass long enough to realize that fact you would do the world a favor and eat a bowl of Ambien and then go for a swim. Also, you smell bad.

Don't be a hater. If you dislike something, go ahead and voice your opinion, but be thoughtful in that opinion, and respect the artist. No one likes a whiner. Don't be one.

Now I challenge anyone who has ever given a negative review to defend that review or remove it. Or are you too cowardly to do so?