Thursday, June 10, 2010

Reviewing Our Viewpoints

Wow. I suppose if I found myself feeling guilty back on May 3rd for not posting to my blog after just a few days, and May 3rd was my last entry until now...well, I sure should be riddled with it by now.

Lucky for me one of the gifts vacations bless us with is a chance to regain our perspective. And my perspective (along with my sense of reason) says that the whole guilt thing is energy badly spent. So...onto greener pastures (perhaps found on the other side of the fence?).

I wrote the following on May 27th while visiting Mexico (and not some fancy resort--just for those of you with visions of me poolside with an umbrella-laced drink in hand). I mention it's original date because you never know how life will change in the time it takes to read a paragraph.
If I have to say one way or the other, I would say that I enjoy reading reviews. Movie Reviews. Book Reviews. Music Reviews. I enjoy—well, perhaps appreciate is a better word—all of them. I primarily use them to alert me to new choices in material (again, all 3 types) because hey…how do I know what’s new on the market without some sort of announcement? The above said, however, I do not generally place a lot of merit in the opinion of the individual critic. Perhaps if I started to keep track of the critics with which I have a commonality I might be more inclined to appreciate their praise or denouncement of someone’s hard work. Unfortunately for me I don't keep such a tally, and therefore, I do not place much value in a critic’s review until I am finished reading, listening, or watching said new media myself. Only then do I find myself comparing my opinion to that of the critic’s, and in general, I have a 50/50 agree-rate. Obviously I am not an educated professional in these matters; one who discerns good work from bad based on certain qualities and factors. My take is strictly from the consumer point of view, or in other words, entertainment value.

For example, today I finished a novel from the New York Times Bestseller List: “Prep”, by Curtis Sittenfled. I think Mr. Sittenfled is a fine writer, but in short, this particular work got a thumbs-down from me. I found myself truly annoyed by the main character for ¾ of the book. In fact, the only reason I labored on was that I have an unspoken rule about finishing books and movies, even if they are terribly boring or just plain horrid. My experience has shown that sometimes you need to get through the first 200-pages in order to realize how engrossed you actually are. That wasn’t the case here.

So, by following my “rule”, I found myself bothered for hours on end as I tried unsuccessfully to identify with the main character: an insecure and rather ridiculous teenager who comes from average means and attends an expensive prep school on scholarship for her 4-year high school term. Though the author does a great job at portraying the character as what she is, and certainly as a realistic teenager with their practically insane ways of thinking, alas I could not enjoy her, and truly found myself struggling to finish. I am positive many readers would find her entertaining and interesting because I believe identification with a character comes down to personality, and mine simply couldn’t identify with this one…until the end. It was only the last 100 pages (of 400) that I found remotely interesting. Not enough to live on.

Now…the reason I went through all that crabbing is this: opinions are just that. They’re opinions. They’re subjective and relative and prejudiced and, and, and. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure…isn’t that the saying (or close to it)? It’s true of all media. That’s why I personally take no stock in the opinions of critics when they write their reviews. Though they may have some wonderfully clever things to say about someone’s composition, in the end, it’s still just opinion…and how can I possibly base my reaction to something on another person’s reaction? Why would I do such a thing? It makes no sense.

And yet we do it every day…every one of us (well, perhaps not the Dalai Lama). We actually take stock in the news (ahem...slang for gossip) our friends and colleagues pass along, forming our prejudice against something or someone even before we have had opportunity to perform an unbiased review. We see something on TV…perhaps info about a celebrity or two…and these people are tainted or sainted in our minds immediately. Maybe that’s too easy of an example. How’s this one? Perhaps we believe everything that is said on a news program and decide to hate a culture different than our own based on the information presented in the 3-minute segment. Sound familiar?

How about this one closer to home? We hear that a new neighbor or colleague is unfriendly from another person, and bam! Our minds are automatically programmed—whether we want to or not—to believe it. We're ready for it to be true. We even find it difficult to erase that negative information, even if our own encounters with that person never support such a statement.

Why do we do this? Why do we trust and use this information, yet we will impartially research all available information on a new car or new PC for 3-days straight before we make a decision about which one is best?

If you can’t tell, I have a hard time with this concept. I admit that I am no different than anyone else—I succumb to this tendency towards bias more than I would like. I can say, however, that because I am painfully aware of how this happens I truly make a concerted effort to dismiss biased, gossip-like information until I have my own experiences with someone or something—perhaps it’s as simple as the discovery of factual information—from which I can then subsequently form a supported opinion. If my opinion matches others’ opinions, great. If not, well…frankly Scarlet, I don’t give a damn.

Blogs are often just random thoughts, but we all know that sometimes they can actually have an effect. People will listen and think. And with that in mind, I don’t suppose it’s too out there to send a message like this out into the Bloggerverse. A message which simply says: hey, be careful about how you form your opinions. Think it through. What are you basing this on? Does it come from a single experience with someone in a bad mood or no personal experience, just gossip (I'm sorry...did I say gossip? I meant news) from a friend?

Is it fair to say that if we all stepped back and considered how we conceive opinions of people, places and things—did we actually get sufficient information to really understand our subject—we would find that we failed to be fair in many cases? I know I can say that, and I consciously work at this every day (I am working toward sainthood, you see. OK, sorry. Totally kidding.). I just can't help but wonder what the world would be like if we all did this at least once every day—ensured that our opinions were formed based on real, factual information in lieu of hearsay, gossip, others’ opinions or a 3-minute media segment. I mean, how cool would it be if we (us humans—all of us) actually gave each other a fair shake for a change?

Talk about a simple way to change the world…

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