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Friday, May 20, 2016

Should the Ego of the Critic Influence Us?

"Why do I torture myself listening to music that I like."  Arlee Bird


English: American film critic, David Denby, sp...
 American film critic, David Denby,  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

       There's the adage that says:  "Those who can, do: those who can't, teach."   While in some cases this may be true, I know there are and have been a great many fine teachers who have done their jobs well.  I have had some of those teachers in my school years and seen others who are dedicated to a profession that requires great effort and skill to do well.

       The somewhat dubious claim made about teachers I think would apply to a greater extent to critics.  Critics seem to relish in dissecting and tearing apart that which they themselves cannot do.  Though I enjoy reading critical analyses of artistic works, I'm often in opposition with what they say, especially from the standpoint of music, film, and literature.  A critical essay can be enlightening, thought-provoking, and even entertaining, but all too often such a study is some attempt of pedantry in which the author is saying, "Look at me and how knowledgeable I am about my own opinion!"

       Let's face it--critical analysis is almost exclusively opinion based.  There are few (if any) factual evidences that can prove that a work is great or terrible or mediocre or whatever might be that which a critic is trying to tell readers.  There are no university degrees in taste or preference.   The critic can cite what other proclaimed experts have said about something, but that is merely providing more opinion in order to bolster an argument about opinion.   If I happen to like something or someone else says they like something then our opinions have proven wrong the opinion of any opposing viewpoint that says that what we like is rubbish.  That is if we can say there is truly any right or wrong when it comes to taste and preference which I would argue there is not.

       The critic often comes across as pompous with a know-it-all attitude.  Some people are suckered in by this high and mighty attitude.   Rebel and skeptic that I typically tend to be, I won't cower to someone else's opinion when that opinion seems to be an attempt to negate my own.  However, I will listen to reasonable argument and perhaps reexamine my own point of view.  If I like something then little will change my mind other than something within me such as passing of time where I no longer have an interest in that which I formerly liked or a personal reevaluation that puts things in a different light for me.

        Any actual change of mind such as this in my own life is speculation at the moment as I can't think of many things that I formerly liked a great deal, but no longer like as much now.  Maybe it might be something like Spike Jones and His Orchestra, but I haven't listened to that group in many years--or at least not on a regular basis like I did when I was about ten years old or so.  I guess I'm not so much of a fanatic about the old Batman TV show from the 60's.   It's on in syndication on ME TV and I might watch a few minutes as I'm passing through the channels, but I never have stayed in recent times to watch an entire episode.   Not that the show is bad, but it just doesn't interest me like it did when I was in high school.

        I suppose I'd make a pretty lousy critic as I don't usually go overboard condemning most things unless I just happen to be in a bad mood at the moment.  In fact, I can usually find something good to say about most things.  There are times when I might play the critic role in an attempt to be funny, but so much of the time that kind of humor gets misinterpreted and people sometimes get upset.

        The critic's ego might sometimes annoy me and occasionally even anger me.   But I'd be better off to remind myself that sometimes those people need to go off on their rants to make the rest of the world aware of their presumed expertise in a subject.   If that presumed expertise goes against my opinion then I take it as a different way of seeing things and it's not based on the critic being better or smarter than I am.    And then I think to myself how sad and perhaps even ignorant that opposing view is.

          After all, an attack on what I like is almost like an attack on my ego.  In the final analysis, my ego is just important as the other person's and actually more so since I'm the one who has to live with my ego.  Should the ego of the critic influence me?   It partly depends on how the opinion is delivered.  Maybe there is something reasonable to consider in the critic's arguments against what I like.   I doubt it, but that's my ego speaking.  Why should any of us change our taste in what we like because someone else says it's "bad" or "lacking in talent" or whatever the reason that is offered?

          Our likes and dislikes are what makes each of us who we are and no critic with an overblown ego should discourage us.   And same thing applies to me as applies to you.

           Do you enjoy hearing what critics have to say?   How often do you find yourself disagreeing with critical essays?   Is it possible for a critic set aside ego in order to give a completely unbiased review or do preconceived notions and other interfering ideas taint the process of honest reviewing?




     

52 comments:

  1. You gave a very wise assessment of critics - they are essentially giving subjective judgments. We don't have to accept their word as gospel.

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    1. Pop Tart, their word may be gospel to some of them, but I take those words for whatever value they have for me and that's it.

      Lee

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  2. Well I don't enjoy when someone is criticizing me so I guess my answer is no, I don't like hearing what they say. I don't tend to listen to movie reviews...I'm not a movie buff anyway. But there have been movies that are given 5 stars that I hated, and movies that got panned that I loved.

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    1. JoJo, if criticism helps me to experience personal growth then I don't mind hearing it, but if the intent is to tell me what I should or should not like then the analysis turns me off. I've had the same experience as you describe regarding films.

      Lee

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  3. I almost never agree with critics, so I don't pay much attention to them. This was a very well written, thought-provoking post, Lee.

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    1. Karen, thank you for the kind words--that was a good review of my essay. I often read what critics say, but I evaluate according to my own personal taste and not theirs.

      Lee

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  4. This is great, Arlee. An opinion piece on other people's opinion. Critics do seem to be out there to criticize and to sound like an expert. I write reviews for theatres, which I feel is different. I want people to know what the show is about, what it's like to be there, and how it feels to be in the audience. Today, I'm going to meet a playwright and hear his new work read at the Playwright's Center in Minneapolis. Excited!

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    1. Mary, yes, irony of ironies isn't it. Anyone is welcomed to disagree with what I've said here because I'm not claiming to be the expert. I agree with your approach of enlightening the reader about the nature and content of what is being reviewed. I have no problem with a personal opinion if it is presented as such and doesn't talk down to me.

      Have a great time at your meeting. I can understand why you'd be excited by that.

      Lee

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  5. My thoughts were so many critics are used to promote a product or performance. We get these hyped up sways toward certain items. You have to have your own mind in the end.
    As a teacher, I think the quote is misunderstood. You really have to understand a subject to teach it. Too often you are teaching general knowledge and not application of a specific item. However, as a math and chemistry teacher, children usually flounder when they have missed one tiny small concept. So the need for general knowledge.
    I have worked outside of teaching. I do think we all become masters of our craft from doing it many times. One problem with critics is that they often have a platform but can be barking about a tangent.

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    1. Ann, quoting a critic for promotional purposes can make a lot of sense to me, but when the critic is writing a review that is specifically a promotion then that is unethical. I don't want to be hyped on something that I wouldn't normally see because it didn't interest me.

      Criticism as a profession is often a rather peculiar one. Some have made a name doing it and provide a useful service, but it's not quite like the practical professions such as teaching, medicine, or building stuff.

      Lee

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  6. Hi, Lee!

    I have known you more than a year now and admire you for being a knowledgeable person who is also even tempered, open-minded and reasonable. Always aware of the old age disease called hardening of the attitudes, I go out of my way to remain open to opposing viewpoints. I enjoy reading critical reviews because I welcome the opportunity to experience a work of art, music, film or literature from a different POV. Back in the day I loved watching the Siskel & Ebert show. Just when I thought I knew both men and could predict how each would react to a certain type of movie, one or the other or both would confound me with a review that seemed totally out of character. Sometimes it seemed as if they tossed a coin before the show to decide if they were going to give the movie a positive or negative review.

    We all love it when people agree with our opinions, but great friendships can also be formed and maintained between people who are poles apart on key issues. For example, I never took a poll and don't intend to, but I suspect that most of my current blog friends are on the opposite end of the political spectrum. There is power in the commitment to love them, respect their opinion and fight for their right to express it.

    Thanks Lee!

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    1. Shady, "hardening of the attitudes" is a great diagnosis. It's so true that many people get stuck in a certain rut of their own time worn opinion that they lose an ability to be open to new things.

      I do like to get the perspective of a well-presented critical analysis, but it bugs me when the criticism starts judging me or the artist or whatever based on politics or media reports. Siskel and Ebert and others like them present criticism in a fun and enlightening way most of the time. On the other hand I've read reviews in the L.A. Times that were heavily skewed to drive an agenda. Those turn me off to the extreme.

      Opinions can so often lead to such contentious reaction in those not on the same page that I often avoid or skirt around certain issues. I'd love to explore political ideas to a greater extent, but since this is not an expressly politicized blog I'd rather not risk alienating too many readers. I'm not thrilled about that, but that's the stance I've learned to take in blogging. I could change this at any time though and who knows--maybe someday I will.

      Lee

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  7. All you have to do is watch the end of Pixar's Ratatouille to hear an accurate assessment of critics.
    I do look at reviews, but unless everyone says it stinks, I'll form my own opinion. I've liked a lot of movies and books that others didn't.
    And the movies and music I review on my site are usually ones I liked. And if I didn't, I temper my review with a little grace.

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    1. Alex, when I read Amazon reviews I'll start with the lowest ones. They usually tell me more about whatever product I'm interested in than the most positive ones. I've bought stuff based on one star reviews. Personal taste is often unpredictable and can be subject to change. There have been things that I didn't like in the past that I came to appreciate and enjoy later on.

      Lee

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  8. I can understand your point. I try to take care when I write reviews to explain what exactly I felt was deficient to create any negative opinions or exemplary for positive opinions, and I feel that you can nearly rely on facts in some areas. If a character doesn't grow, they don't grow, though one person may of course see growth in places another does not.

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    1. Patrick, Exactly! A good review shouldn't be as much about the reviewer as it is whatever is being reviewed. I don't mind hearing the opinions as long as they are presented that way. A technical analysis of something is fine if that is the intent, but superb presentation doesn't guarantee enjoyment for everyone. Regarding the intent of the artist, I think the product output should be better judged according to how successful that artist was achieving their goal in conveying that intent to the ultimate consumer.

      Lee

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  9. Lee, I rarely listen to critics. It seems most get it wrong, in my opinion and after all that's what is an opinion. Their opinion is usually very different from my opinion. I enjoyed reading your thoughts here today. I believe these so-called experts can't or won't offer an unbiased review. I'd never really thought about it before when you said their tearing down is a reflection of their own inabilities. I totally see that! Good write up. Thanks for sharing your opinion! :)

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    1. Cathy, I won't necessarily say that critics get their own opinions wrong, but I sometimes don't agree and sometimes don't even care. I've read rather obnoxious critical raves that made me think that if that critic liked it then I probably won't so that's not something I will pursue. In other cases a well written review that intrigues me might make me go out to experience what has been reviewed.

      Lee

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  10. Critical opinions are just that - opinions. To attack someone personally for having a different opinion than yours is a mental defect that so many people seem to have these days. Tunnel vision.

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    1. Debbie D., you said it, I didn't. But I thought it. It's sad when people get so wrapped up in their own opinions that they can't open up to others.

      Lee

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    2. Everybody has different opinions and tastes and to think less of someone who doesn't agree with you is the height of intolerance. When it comes to food, music and other such things, I will usually try it before pronouncing I don't like it, rather than just summarily dismissing it. (Some exceptions do apply, especially with food, but there's a principle involved there. ;) )

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    3. Amen to that! I don't like to say I don't like something if I know little or nothing about it. Sometimes a critic can help guide me before I try something, but it depends on what was said and the source of the criticism. I wouldn't put much stock in a vegetarian giving a review of a fine steakhouse any more than I would trust a negative review of a pop album reviewed by somebody who hated pop music. I'd certainly read such reviews, but not to gain insight about what has been reviewed, but rather for some perverse entertainment value of reading what they had to say.

      Lee

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  11. Here here! I discuss music a lot with my friend who is a musician. She and I have different tastes. I'm not a fan of falsetto, but I actually like Nickelback's music. Whooboy, does she go off on how horrible Nickelback is. I asked her once why she hated it, and it was something along the lines that it was produced to be what people wanted to hear. Apparently that's a bad thing? *shrug*

    I just know my tastes, and I make it a point not to call anything bad (unless it's literally spoiled milk).

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    1. Loni, I don't see a problem with trying to appeal to the tastes of others. Commercial means making money off of what one does and if they are interested in making money or some other return then why do it. I know what I like, but I know that there are at least some--usually many who also like what I like. I'd rather make money from my efforts now than receive accolades and recognition when I'm long dead and gone.

      Lee

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  12. My first response would have been "No, you can't separate the ego from the critic. But as usual, you've inspired me to rethink that assessment;-) Personal attacks are taken just that way, but constructive criticism can be invaluable. Thankfully, there are a golden few who can do that.

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    1. Diedre, constructive criticism as well as well thought out analytical criticism that helps to guide us in deciding for ourselves what we want to indulge in or that helps us see another side of a matter in an intelligent way are all criticism that is well-directed and worthy of consideration. My biggest problem comes with driving agendas or smearing an artist based on personality, belief, or behavior. There are indeed many good critics out there, but that type of critiquing is an art and a discipline in itself.

      Lee

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  13. Critics have to do their job, which is critique that which others create. Do we remember the critics? Not unless they get a tv show, but they can still act pompous. I avoid listening or reading their opinions. I mentioned on another blog that many who start out to do a book review, end up critiquing the author instead. Is everyone a critic now? I find I frequently disagree with critics, so I seldom pay any attention to them. Great topic, Lee!

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    1. DG, indeed I think we are all critics to some extent or another. I find many of the "amateur" critics like those providing Amazon reviews can be far more enlightening to me as to whether or not I should read, watch, or listen to something as they are easier to identify with. The lofty erudite critic will typically lose me because it seems they are doing something other than evaluate the worthiness of a product for my consumption. However, I've read some reviews that were so wonderfully written that I didn't care why they wrote the review or perhaps even what they were reviewing.

      Lee

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  14. I tend to read the 1-, 2-, and 3-star reviews first, since they can be more honest and better-written than a bunch of fawning reviews regurgitating the same canned praises over and over again. It's so frustrating to see people abusing Amazon voting by clicking "Not helpful" on really well-written reviews that just happened to not go along with the masses' or a dedicated cult following's view of a certain book, film, TV show, or album. I'm kind of afraid to leave my scathing review of The Book Thief on Amazon, because I just know a bunch of people will click "Not helpful" and tell me I must have immature, shallow, terrible taste in reading. My blog post ripping that book apart was already rejected by Ink Pageant for being "too demeaning."

    Someone also left a really long, heated comment on my blog post giving a negative review to A Farewell to Arms, and then criticized me again when I responded to the comment. While I've enjoyed Hemingway's short stories, I don't like that beyond-Spartan writing style at all when it's stretched out to several hundred pages. It's too bad if some people are offended when someone tears down a sacred cow and doesn't mindlessly squee all over it.

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    1. Carrie-Anne, though I haven't read it in a long time, I usually name A Farewell To Arms as one of my favorite books. However I'll give you a pass on what you said in your comment on the basis of what I wrote in my post. We are each entitled to our own opinions and if you provide enough good evidence to support your view then you've added credibility to that view. Unfortunately a lot of bad reviews don't substantiate their opinions much more than the syrupy reviews of adulation.

      I'm like you in that I prefer the often greater honesty of the lower rated reviews. The five star reviews often seem a repetition from one to the next and sometimes I suspect them of being plants by friends, relatives, or even the author.

      The opinion of the reviewer does not need to be taken as gospel or a mission to destroy. It's just an opinion that we can accept or reject according to what we have read in the review and what we are looking for.

      Lee

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  15. I so agree with every point raised, including Batman re-runs. Too many times the lecturer looks out at the audience with contempt and condescension.

    Most memorable was a class in Social Family and something. It was a required class. The prof was a sub. for the real prof, out that day.

    The class was mostly 20year olds, I was the oldest student in the room with a 3 yr. old and pregnant.

    Prof. had that look and started his "lecture" which included the F bomb in every sentence. At first laughter was the response, then that thinned out. He called this time as the "open zipper society".

    When the true prof returned, she asked for a review. Most of the students were writing furiously for 5-10 minutes. I myself filled up two handwritten pages, college lines, and felt much better.

    What disturbed me the most was his arrogance, his ego. It is a comfort to know that now he is in his 80s and probably is in a care facility

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    1. Susan, I give a positive review to your comment. Excellent point and despite the seriousness of what you're saying here, you had me laughing.

      To me there is nothing more annoying than being talked down to as though I'm an idiot who is to some extent wasting the speaker's time, but something they feel obligated to do in hopes that I might learn something. It's a real turn-off.

      Sometimes I'd like to enroll in college classes just to encounter professors like the lecturer you're talking about. Since I wouldn't be counting on grades or anything, I'd be bolder in challenging them. I would have never done that when I was going to college in my younger days and striving for high grades.

      Arrogance of the bloated ego is a huge turn off to me and as you say, disturbing.

      Lee

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  16. You bring up some great points and you are right that, in the end, it is their own opinion. We all know certain films are just bad and we all can agree on this. There are other films that are so bad they are fun to watch but then we have the "art house" thinking that states this is great and we better like it or we are just ignorant numb nuts. I hate pretentiousness and one can often see this in the world of art, film and music. Many critics will glorify a painting that is all white with a red dot somewhere and call it masterful but these same people scoff at Robert Bateman for example. I would rather look at Bateman's work and marvel at it than many of the so called modern art pieces. But that is my opinion. So many critics and people loved In the Bedroom and Atonement and I found them incredibly boring and so did all of my friends. Again, it is a matter of opinion. I know one film critic whom I can't stand...Michael Medved, who wrote a book about the most horrible movies and some of them he stated as horrible because they tanked at the box office. I don't consider a film great just because it made money and would never listen to that blow hard. I like reading critics reviews and find I can get a lot of information but I will still see the film even if they do t like it.

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    1. Birgit, I had to look up Robert Bateman and I agree from the artwork that I looked at he's pretty good as far as my taste goes. I feel the same way about Thomas Kinkaide--I greatly enjoy his paintings though they are often roundly criticized by art snoots.

      I used to be a big fan of Michael Medved and now I've grown to intensely dislike him though probably for different reasons than you. I've found that many of the Oscar picks tend not to be as enjoyable to me as other non-winning pictures.

      I guess the greatest value in listening to the critics is to get a perspective and then carry on from that point as to whether I want to spend my time and money seeing that film or reading that book or whatever so I can make my own assessment.

      Lee

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  17. In the end, we only use the critic for two things: to determine if something is worth overcoming our inertia to consume, and to find someone to agree with our opinion. I think it's ego driven at both ends. Or else I wouldn't do my M10, lol!

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    1. CW, you make a good point. Also this was in part something I am contemplating for a future post on the topic of ego.

      Lee

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  18. Way back when, hubby and I used to watch Siskel and Ebert. Mostly cause we found it funny watching them sometimes disagree. Other than that, I don't pay any attention to what professional critics have to say. They aren't me, and to me, all that matters is how I feel about it.
    Barbara, blogging at Life & Faith in Caneyhead

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    1. Barbara, there are often critics who can be very entertaining, especially those on TV. I enjoy a good back and forth debate like Siskel and Ebert would engage in. That used to be one of my favorite shows.

      Lee

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  19. Thanks Arlee. I like reviews of books movies theatre etc - if only to see how I may differ. This goes for politics analysis as well - it's a good way of taking the pulse of the nation. It's pretty clear when the individual is off on his/her own ego thing ...

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    1. Susan S, viewpoints are fine, but not if they are delivered in such a way that the messenger tries to make themself appear superior to my own thinking.

      Lee

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  20. I do like critiques, but not criticisms. I don't think much about critics at all.

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    1. Damyanti, belittling criticism does not serve much good purpose, but astute critical analysis can be highly informative. There have been many very good critics over the years as well as many books containing collections of exemplary essays on criticism of literature, film, music, etc.

      Lee

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  21. There are way too many variables involved for a critic to be entirely neutral. That's the reason I won't put a review out on a book unless I enjoyed it enough to give it four or five stars. Just because I'd consider a book less worthy doesn't mean someone else won't love it, so I rarely put down a writer's efforts. As for music, I don't do reviews except occasionally to praise a group I love (like Pentatonix!!).

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    1. Patricia, the effort and intent is always a big consideration for me when I review anything. A reviewer's honesty and sincerity are also important aspects of any review.

      Lee

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  22. I admit to reading the reviews before deciding to see a movie, but I rely on "aggregate" review sites, as they are much more accurate.

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    1. OE, I will frequently read a review before seeing a film or reading a book and perhaps just as often I'll read the review afterwards. Brief reviews usually don't have much time to be overly snooty or push an agenda.

      Lee

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  23. I listen to/read critics sometimes. You CAN glean opinion swaying info from what they are saying; or rather, descriptions of said product/service. But I rarely let the "critic" sway me completely. The same for reviews. When I read or listen to any critique (or review), I am looking for certain things about the product or service. Just saying "I did not like it" or "how can anyone agree/like this" doesn't matter to me.

    When I'm writing critiques or reviews, I try to include more than just my opinionated experience. I try to relate what I did not like and the reason it did not appeal to me. Others may be hopping up and down with interest. As you say, opinions are just that, and very personal to the critic.

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    1. Dolorah, I don't mind strong opinions about something, but I do like some strong reasoning as to where that opinion comes from and not just some high and mighty declaration that something sucks or is the best thing that ever happened to humankind. If an opinion is delivered as though it were the word of authority and my opinion means little then I might take offense.

      Lee

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  24. Most wise and interesting post Lee.
    Most thought provoking and shall go to bed thinking of all you wrote. Thanks.
    Yvonne.

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    1. Yvonne, don't let it keep you from restful sleep! I hate it when my mind starts working on something when what I really need is a good night's sleep.

      Lee

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  25. I very rarely listen to/pay attention to critics. Or for that matter, those who write fawning/glowing blurbs for books. Can't tell you how many times I've picked up a book, saw a ton 'o glowing blurbs about a writer's talent, only for the book to make it to even minimal expectations.

    In regards to movies, I also don't pay attention to the amount of stars one has gotten. Most movie channels will have some kind of star rating for a movie contained within the synopsis. Sometimes they're on the money, sometimes they're not.

    Father Nature's Corner

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    1. GB, evaluative criticism is usually hit or miss and my values and tastes rarely align with those of the pro critics. A lot of those folks probably need a real job and are just trying to pay the bills doing stuff that most of us don't care about.

      Lee

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Lee