You know what really grinds my gears?
Numerical ratings. I know that 99% of the morons who pop up and declare 0/10, or 99/10, won’t bother reading this but I still feel the need to get this off my chest.
Let’s get the obvious out of the way. You can’t rate a story with a number. It’s stupid. I appreciate why some users might do this for contests (it makes it easier to rank the stories), or why they might include a rating with a longer review. It’s not something I agree with, and it’s not something that I think is valuable for either the critic or writer, but if the numerical rating accompanies a proper review then it’s just a benign addition. Like a solar powered vibrator it’s not very useful, but it’s also harmless. What matters is that you express your critique using words.
But what is it with people who just pop up and declare that a story is 4/10 for no reason at all? It’s the sort of thing that, one incident at a time, isn’t that big a deal but when you roll it all up into one huge clump of moron it’s actually pretty damned vexing. A story cannot be compressed into a number. It’s infinitely retarded. It’s so unfathomably stupid that I can only presume that the sort of person who declares their opinions via numbers must also wear inflatable arm bands around breakfast cereal lest they leap face first into their fucking cheerios and promptly drown. I find it hard to even approach the trillion arguments against this moronic practice but I figure I’ll start somewhere.
First, stories have a purpose. A lot of them are written with a singular purpose in mind and how a story fulfils that purpose can be extremely important. Sharknado wants to be a stupid movie, and it succeeds. It aims low and hits it mark. For this reason it stands out to me as more cohesive and enjoyable than a film like The Last Exorcism, that aimlessly tries to scare you and make you ask questions about the nature of the paranormal and the role of religion in society. For the most part it succeeds at being a ‘watchable’ movie but because it aims high, and fails pretty hard at exploring its complicated themes, it stinks of failure. When I think of Sharknado I’m more likely to call the movie a success because it nails its single, lazy, task of being a stupid movie.
There’s no set rule though. Some films aim low, strike low, and are worth watching. Others aim high, fall short, but still stand out as attempts at greatness worthy of praise. Others aim high, fall short, and positively stink. But a story’s purpose, its aims and objectives, are worth bearing in mind. Some stories want to forever alter how you view reality and when they fail it feels particularly brutal. Context is important. Is a story coming from a published author, or a thirteen year old whose fifth language is English? Is it written to be a fun tale with monsters and gore, or is it working way too hard to be scary and failing? Does it try to emulate a particular style? Does it try to establish interesting characters? Does it try to make you cry? Does it try to make you laugh?
Most stories wear their aims in such a way that it’s immediately obvious what they want to do. But overall, context matters. And it contributes to the subjective evaluation you’ll form of that story. Your opinion is, and always will be, subjective. Ignoring the context is a lazy attempt to act like you’ve been objective when, truth is, that’s just not possible.
Critiques should be functional. They should help the writer by pointing them in the right direction. Even if you make a one word declaration you can at least offer them some insight. But a number doesn’t do anything. I cannot emphasise this enough; no one wants to hear your opinion for the sake of it. Attach to your opinion something useful so that the writer can use it, going forward, to improve. No one cares if you approve of a story, but if you offer actual insights and verbalised opinions that go beyond a mere approval/disapproval dichotomy then you demonstrate to the author a willingness to think and help. By doing that you become more than just some random asshole and become an active member of the community.
And good God if I hate random number ratings then I particularly hate those ones where the user has laboriously detailed a plan behind each rating. First, they’re always idiosyncratic to the point of insanity. No one cares if you break a story down into mood, transition, geosynchronous-accuracy, and feline-arousal. It’s bizarre to just randomly pick words and act like they signify some objective, or useful, rating to a user. Most people will just say, “Oh thank God this rating is broken down into its constituent parts. Now I can clearly see that I need to improve my ‘word constitution’…. Wait what the fuck does that mean?”
Again, a written critique can at least break this down. Even I break different sections down during my reviews, I’m not against the act in and of itself. I just find the idea of someone writing eight numbers, followed by an average number, extra frustrating because it belies a sense of self-worth that is almost never justified. No one’s going to read your profile to find out exactly what ‘formal aesthetics’ means in the context of your bizarre mind. Just say, in words and words alone, what you do and don’t like. Don’t offer them a 68 in ‘transitory paragraph fixations’ because you just look like a self-important lunatic.
That’s about it. Glad that’s off my chest. While I’m here it’s worth mentioning that a lot of competitions use numerical ratings and many regular users do just as part of their activity but it doesn’t really bother me. So long as someone takes the time out to offer a proper review that’s all that matters, and as for competitions, like I said it makes life a lot easier when you have multiple judges. But we all know the type of user that I’m targeting here, and I get that this rant won’t reach less than 1% of them. But it doesn’t change the fact that logging on and seeing the activity feed gagging on eighteen comments by some illiterate goon declaring that Abandoned by Disney is 2/10…
It really grinds my fuckin’ gears.