A Powerful Responsibility

Reviews are an everyday part of the creative landscape. And they come in all types: good, bad, indifferent, gushing, scathing, excited, cynical, etc. But in the end they generally fit into one of two categories: for and against – they’re for the work or against it. Unfortunately, sometimes those polarities can become tumults in their own rights.

You could drown in the adulation some books receive. Same applies to movies, music, art – well, any form of creativity.

A danger is that this adulation can become unjustifiably self-perpetuating. People get caught up in the torrent, and issue the same sentiment. The praise grows stronger. Some people won’t even think. They’ll conform for fear of drowning. Or they’ll agree to be part of some literary elitism.

The opposite also applies. There’ll be things people hate. It’ll be a storm that ravages a trail of destruction. Others will want to join in and revel in the passion. It also becomes a bit of a joke, and you want to be in on it. And it’s fashionable to dislike something.

In both cases, what we have is a hive consciousness that continues to add to its collective. The problem is it means nothing. Offering praise for the sake of offering praise only endorses something that may not deserve endorsement. Or criticizing it for the sake of criticism may devastate something that genuinely deserves appreciation.

Nowadays, we have so many avenues to express ourselves – the various forms of social media, including places that specialize in review (such as Goodreads and IMD, and even something like YouTube). These avenues are not only empowering for some, but subversive, encouraging them to articulate inflated opinions they would never voice personally. It’s easy to bellow behind the anonymity of the keyboard.

This is not to say there’s no justification behind positive or negative reviews. Of course there is. Art of any kind can be evaluated on so many levels, and then that’s filtered through personal subjectivity. What works for one reviewer mightn’t work for another for any number of reasons. But what’s required – what’s a must – is honesty.

This means:

  • don’t go in with preconceptions
  • don’t be swayed by other opinions
  • don’t be contrary for the sake of being contrary
  • don’t follow trends for the sake of being part of an in-crowd
  • don’t review something if you don’t like that genre or form or, if you have to review it, don’t let those tastes prejudice your review
  • don’t be afraid to be uniquely YOU, regardless of what everybody else is saying.

And, at the core of all this, remember that somebody has put lots of work and effort into whatever you’re reviewing. That doesn’t indemnify it from criticism, but it should from whimsy.

Having a voice is a powerful responsibility. Make sure you use it well.

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