Friday, October 2, 2015

Write Club: Things you Don't do When Commenting on a Review

Hey y'all.  So I just watched Mirrormask (review upcoming) and now I'm going through comments of the movie on IMDB.  I have to say, I'm pretty ashamed of the movie's supporters.  They're heaping insult upon insult on anyone who says anything negative about the movie.  They act as though anyone who doesn't like it is an idiot.  One supporter even blindly states that critics "lose their senses" over it.  That's really unfair.  It's one thing to defend a movie you love, but it's quite another to insult someone on a personal level just because they don't share that love.

Holy crap, look at this gem --

"It's a charming movie, and if it upsets you enough that you feel the need to post a negative opinion where others can see it: Seek help."
- Wavelength121

I'm sorry, but critiques don't always come from emotional places.  People naturally feel the need to talk through stuff they see, and a negative reaction to a movie isn't a sign of mental disorder.  Quite in fact, reacting so strongly to a logical critique is a greater sign of emotional weakness.  Not that either position requires psychiatric therapy.

I've seen this in other places as well.  In Amazon's reviews of the movie Clue, commenters got ridiculous on anyone who disliked it.  Not to mention how people react when someone makes a negative comment on youtube about a song.  "If you don't like this band, then why are you listening to this?"  Because they have to hear a song to know if they like it or not, obviously.  Or are only positive comments allowed in this oversensitive world of ours?

So let's go over some rules of etiquette about respecting others and their opinions.

1. Never insult someone for disagreeing with you.

Okay, so you're on the internet, discussing things with various people online, and you come across someone who makes a comment with a sentiment you don't share.  You're trying your hardest to think of how you can convince them that they are wrong, and demonstrate your intelligence at the same time.  Or at least just get them to consider that your perspective matters too.

So you lean forward over your keyboard, typing furiously.  Finally content with your articulate and educated response, you sigh with relief and hit the "submit post" button.  And what is this response?

"Your an idiot."

Let's face it, even with proper grammar, insulting someone for having a different opinion only makes a person look dumb.  Especially when the other person has clearly put a lot of thought into his response, and a rabid supporter put only as much thought in his response as it takes to make an unclever insult.  At least call negative reviewers scurrilous sons of monkeys, or something funny like that.

2. Never assume something is wrong with a person just because they don't agree with you.

I don't get why anyone would do this.  It's a little deeper than just insulting them.  Anyone who does this insists that only mentally deranged or ignorant people would have a different opinion.  This would be understandible, if, say, someone tries to advocate forced castrations on large percentages of the population.  Y'know, big stuff.  But if someone just doesn't like a movie, that's hardly a case for a psychiatrist and a couch.  People have the right not to like something.  A lot of the time their critiques make perfect sense.  Even if they dislike something for a silly reason, it's still their right.  After all, how do you know you don't like something for silly reasons?

3. Don't act as if disagreers aren't allowed to comment.

Okay, so perhaps there are some supporters who are okay with people having negative opinions.  They just don't want any of these opinions mucking up the lovefest that the reviews of their favorite movie has become.  Wait, did someone just say something negative? Thumbs it down until it disappears!  We'll have none of that negativity nonsense in OUR comments!

It's not your comments.  It's the comments section of whoever provided the content and server.  The fact that a comments section exists means that the content providers want different opinions to appear.  How pretentious would it be if they only allowed positive comments?  Wouldn't we all accuse the poster of being an egomaniac if that were the case?

It's the same with movies and music.  It's wrong to only allow positive reviews.  It's even creepy.  For example, I've been struggling to find a negative review of Starcraft 2 on youtube, which should be easy considering how many internet folk I've met who feel that way.  Instead, the top responses for Starcraft 2 reviews are all positive, and the one review that did go into depth about its massive plot issues suddenly disappeared for a time, as though it were blocked (it's back now, though.  Possibly there were copyright issues on the channel...?).  That's makes it look like either Blizzard paid off a lot of people, or youtube reviewers all suddenly lost their minds. 

In other words, there is no true discourse without negative opinions.  Like science without alternate testing or a nation without free speech, bullying a person into not expressing how they feel is no less than oppression, bound straight for ignorance in the name of happy feelings.  At the end of the day, all artistic endeavors are subject to the whims of the audience, and everyone has the right to show how they feel, whether positively or negatively.  Indeed, how can an artist take themselves seriously if no one calls them out for their weaknesses?

4. Avoid "that's just your opinion" statements as though they will kill you.

A strong statement, yes, but "that's just your opinion" is a trite cliche that no longer conveys useful information.  Everyone knows that an opinion is an opinion.  The assumption being made by a person saying "that's just your opinion" is that all opinion is irrelevant, and that having an opinion says more about you than it does about whatever you're talking about.   They miss, however, the logical inference that their positive opinion is likewise "just an opinion," and is therefore equally unimportant.

By following this train of thought to its logical end, we realize that "just an opinion" reduces everyone's observations into pointless ponderings over our feelings about a given work -- it renders us unable to say that one artist is truly better than another.  After all, if all opinions are just opinions, how can we tell that Citizen Kane is a better movie than Transformers?  That Beethoven is more talented than a random garage band in Seattle?  So, it is at this point that we are forced to acknowledge that while all opinion is opinion, some opinions have much relevance, and others less.

Some claim that all musical analysis is subjective, but I learned otherwise when reviewing, of all things, Mega Man music.  I was listening to the Mega Man 1 soundtrack, trying to make objective observations about it.  As it turns out, MM1's music is on shorter loops than future music in the series.  Nearly every song is impacted by this.  The tracks would be better if they went longer before looping, and therefore anyone who wants to criticize the MM1 soundtrack for this has a good point when they do so.

So, when someone makes a negative point on a movie, why shouldn't it be for a reason that makes sense?  They have both objective and subjective right to do so.  On the objective side, one negative point of Mirrormask is that a certain character's mask is noticably more poorly made than everyone else's.  It looks like painted tinfoil.  A more subjective complaint is that the music doesn't feel fantasy enough, and at many points is contradicting the movie.  A world created by an emo teen's drawings isn't exactly what most people would call a jazz fantasy.  A type of sound with more grit would seem to match better.  Granted, some might say that the jankiness is the point, but nobody's wrong to say that there's jankiness there, or that they don't like it.

In otherwords, no, Miss Wavelength (she seems like a girl to me), people with criticisms don't need therapy.  They are merely pointing out observed weaknesses.  Sure, some might be rude about it, but repaying rude with rude only leads to internet arguments.

Saying "that's just your opinion," stifles debate.  Let's say someone doesn't like the music in Mirrormask.  Wouldn't it be better if the supporter, instead of "opinion"-ing them, makes reasons for why the music does work?  They could say that it makes the soundtrack unique, or that the jazz was post modern like the art style.  The supporter might even concede the point, allowing the negative commenter to point out what style of movie would work better with a jazz soundtrack.  That might lead the conversation into a discussion of music rather than the movie that started the topic, but hey, at least you're talking to a person, rather than angrily insisting that you're right.

5. Don't act as though your favorite thing has no flaws.

Maybe this is easier for me than it is for other people.  After all, my favorite movie is Mortal Kombat (1995), and if I can't admit that has problems, then I do need help.  There are several things wrong with it.  The computer images are cheap, Johnny Cage's lines are in desperate need of a rewrite, and the main characters give weak performances (the film does have rather splendid extras and side characters, though).  None of that stops me from loving the film, but they do make me realize on an objective level that Mortal Kombat doesn't deserve to be included in a list of top 100 films of all time.

In other words, flaws need have no impact on your positive view of a movie.  So long as it's got enough good points to make up for it, there you go.  Actually, flaws can make a film more entertaining.  Interstella 5555 is a film replete with plot holes, and I enjoy picking them out.  It's great.  Even bad movies are good for a laugh sometimes.  So long as the viewer is entertained, isn't a movie accomplishing something?

When I'm watching/reading a review for a movie and the reviewer says, right at the beginning, "It's an excellent film!"  -- that's the number one thing that will get me to stop watching.  Thing is, reviews that are average or negative in response tend to be more reasoned.  The less than thrilled reviewer will point out details that the enthusiastically happy reviewer will not.  The happy reviewer is just so pleased with everything that he'll tend to say stuff like, "it's great, the acting was good, everything was wonderful!" rather than talk about what made that movie so great.  While it's possible to give a detailed, positive review, it's apparently easier to do so when making a negative or unenthusiastic response.  As such, I like negative reviews better.

In short, flaws are wonderful!  Flaws are interesting!  They create debate that otherwise wouldn't exist. 

6. Don't nitpick things irrelevant to the point.

One of the things Mirrormask supporters did is repeatedly comment on an OP's use of the term "those are two hours you will never get back."  Is this a trite cliche?  Yes.  Is it worth five or so different people commenting over?  No.   Everybody knows that every two hours is hours you can't get back.  The point of the expression is to say that you have wasted that time in which you could have been doing something productive.  And yet people act as though the usage of a common expression means that OP is wrong for criticizing a movie.

Look, it's a silly, worthless expression, but it, like all expressions, exists purely to make a point, not to necessarily make sense.  You're missing the point if you think about it too hard.  Take the expression, "I'm changing my mind."  Is anyone literally saying that they are removing their brain and replacing it with another?  Of course not.  By being hyper-literal about an expression, Mirrormask supporters failed to grasp logical arguments against OP's comments, chosing instead to explain an expression everybody knows the meaning of.

This sidetracks real discussion.  If a person wants to say positive things about a movie, they should say positive things.  Responding to the actual points that the negative commenter made is how someone can logically prove their point.  Otherwise, their response is no better than "your an idiot."

7.  Don't get emotional.

It's just a movie.  The success or failure of Mirrormask has little to no bearing on most people's lives.  It won't hurt anybody if someone points out a flaw.  If what they're saying is "just an opinion", then why bother being all upset about it?  Yes, some people are Myers-Briggs NFs, but that just means it's important for them to realize there's times to put aside their feelings.  Heck, they might realize this need more than Ts do.

Emotional impulse is what leads to things like insulting people for saying negative things about a film.  If a film means something to a person, and spoke to them in a way that may seem nonsensical to others, then they're going to defend a film whether it's quality or not.  Sometimes people who aren't normally that emotional will freak out if there's a favorite actor or important message in it.  They instead see the actor or the message and defend it with their whole heart.

(I'm reminded of a conversation I had with my dad.  I was telling him I didn't like a movie, and he answered, "But it had horses in it!"  "Dad, not every movie with horses in it is good.  If horses were in the Star Wars prequels, would those be good movies?"  "....Yes."  Heh, normally my dad is more sensible than that, but he's all about horses.)

In any case, don't be that guy.  Don't be the guy that acts as if someone shot his pa just because that person said they don't like the Christopher Nolan Batman movies.

8.  Don't feed the trolls.

As a continuation of my last point, don't react when other people are that guy.  It's easy to be weirded out when someone goes ALL CAPS to explain to you why you're wrong, but it's in the same line with trolls.  Don't feel the trolls, and don't respond with emotion to a person overreacting.  Just explain with reason how you feel, and even if people don't agree with you, they'll at least think you're more sane than the other guy.

Heck, it might even get the other guy to calm down.  Sometimes the best way to confront irrationality is with rationality.  I've tried it before.  Let people express their emotion.  Then, without confronting them for their rudeness, tell them something you liked.  In Mirrormask's case, let's say someone says you didn't get the artistry of the film.  What's the proper reply?  Well, first you compliment something about the art style (be honest), such as the eyeball spider.  And then you transition into a negative comment, like how the guy with the painted tinfoil mask looked awful.  If you remain polite the entire time, the supporter will probably concede the point, or at least be polite about disagreeing.

Long story short, it's easier to control the virulence of other people if you can control yourself. 

9.  Don't feel like you're always right.

Sometimes a matter is not an opinion.  Sometimes it's a fact.  And sometimes you're on the wrong side of that fact.  Let's say you've watched...oh, that old episode of the Twilight Zone where Bill Shatner sees a monster on a plane wing.  A friend, who has also watched that episode, insists that Shatner did a good job acting.  You, being sensible, know for certain that bro hammed it up.

The difference here comes from entertainment value.  If a person is entertained by acting even when it's not actually good, they might feel as though that's equivalent to good acting.  This is "true" if all you really want is to have a good time.   But it's rather like saying a person who plays the bongos with his feet is as good as a master violinist because he made you laugh.

In other words, some opinions are more right than others.  You may not want to admit that you're wrong, but it's better than an emotional outburst on the subject.  Also, there's sometimes when you shouldn't insist that you're right, even when you are.  Maybe you're facing an egoist, and you know if you say one word they'll spend an entire night hassling you with bad logic.  It's better to let them think you're wrong than to argue about it.

One situation I often find myself in is how to explain to other people why I dislike something.  I'm a high iNtuitive and synaesthetic, so I often find myself unable to express how the emotional context of a movie feels wrong, even when the movie itself appears to have a positive message.  It makes it hard to communicate, and I sound like a moron if I try to explain before converting my feelings into words.  For example, I couldn't really explain why I disliked the King's Speech for some time.  I'd even written a review before coming to my final conclusion.  So it's really best I don't debate with other people until I know exactly what I feel, and can communicate it.  Make sure you know if you're like that, too.

10. Don't make excuses for other people's dislikes.

One of the most arrogant, pretentious things a person can do is try to explain why someone dislikes a movie.  It's one thing if someone tries to explain a good friend's reaction, but commenting on a stranger's attitudes and reasoning without knowing about either is absolutely presumptuous. 

A major example is the top review on, by Nikki.  Here's a brief quote.

"It seems criticisms of this movie are stemming from two basic complaints: first, that the story is unoriginal/derivative; and second, that the movie is all visuals, no plot. The first complaint misses the point completely. The whole point of the story is that it is ARCHETYPAL. It deals with fundamental human issues of identity, growth, dark and light, good and evil. To complain that an archetypal story is unoriginal is like complaining that an apple doesn't taste like an orange. To have completely unrelated expectations is to be disappointed."

Already we can point out a couple of flaws.  She's emotional, using caps, and making broad assumptions about all the people who disagree with her.  Not to mention that her full review doesn't even talk about the movie itself.  It's merely addressing all the people who didn't like it.  Um, the purpose of Amazon reviews is to help others know if they want to buy something.  Complaining about naysayers isn't going to do that.

I won't mention my feelings on Mirrormask until I write the review (soon), but suffice it to say that this kind of attitude Nikki displays is off-putting.  And what if a negative reviewer has other reasons for not liking it?  What if they don't like the acting?  Makeup?  Soundtrack?  Visual style change as the film transitions from the circus to the dream world?  None of those boil down to archetypes or lack of plot.  How does she know unrelated expectations are the cause of all the troubles?  Well, other than the fact this movie is marketed as a successor to The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth. 

Really, it's better to refer to a specific critic, a detailed one, when trying to support a movie that one feels is good.  That way you know what to argue against without making presumptions about people you don't know.  It's one thing to guess what someone else is thinking, say, after you've read a massive review someone wrote that nitpicked the whole thing.  There's logical inferences you can make.  But rolling everyone's opinions into a ball and ignoring their finer details is a great way to gain the support of avid fans.  Nikki's review is, after all, the top one on Amazon.

Hm.  There's one thing that will make all this easier.  That is, to enjoy, without sarcasm, different opinions.

You know who's an unpopular character in the Legend of Zelda?  Fi the player assistant from Skyward Sword.  I haven't seen a playthrough of that game all the way through (for various reasons), but I've seen many clips and comments on how people don't like her.  They have logical reasons for doing so, such as how she talks too much and in an annoying way.

But I was puttering around youtube, watching top ten lists of favorite Zelda characters.  One person picked Fi.  And you know what?  He made a convincing argument as to why.  He mentioned that she did shut up after a while, and that she's beautifully designed.  Do those things make her worthwhile as a character?  Maybe not.  But it's still a funny opinion, one well thought out and believable.  Maybe I would hate Fi just as much as others if I played Skyward Sword, but it's hard not to laugh at the simple fun of loving a character everyone hates.

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