Objective Lesson

Dastardly

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That said, there's nothing wrong with occasionally critiquing the critics. For instance, if a critic expresses intense hatred for a particular element in a movie, while simultaneously expressing love for the same element in a different movie -- we can point out that this is inconsistent.

Now, it's possible that inconsistency results from some kind of bias (usually preconceived notions going into a film, or a taint on opinion due to the business behind the film), but what we'd really be pointing out is that the critic's own views appear internally inconsistent.

Something like that looks like a complaint, but really it's just a request for the critic to clarify his/her stance on the matter, so that his/her audience is no longer confused as to how to interpret this information.

Bad things to criticize a critic for:
1. Consistently hating a particular series, story/technical element, genre.
2. Expressing clear recommendations to buy/not buy certain movies/games/etc.
3. Having different feelings on two superficially similar movies/games/etc.

Good things to criticize a critic for:
1. Consistently reviewing the things he/she is known to hate, if he/she appears to be going out of the way to do so.
2. Presenting inconsistent value judgments (It's great when my favorite director does it, but it's shit when someone else does, etc.).
3. Having different feelings on two superficially similar movies/games/etc. without clarifying what makes them different to him/her.

A critic's job is communication. And while many complaints can be ignored, some are an indication that communication is not being received clearly. Asking (via complaint) a critic to clarify is good. Asking (via complaint) a critic to change his/her stated opinion is not.
 

Amaror

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funny to read that on the escapist, since i often have the impression that the reviews here often don't even try to be objective. The game reviews, at least the ones i read, gave no particullar insight into the games, but said how the reviewer experienced the game and since that's just one persons opinion this does give no insight wether to buy a product what so ever.
To be fair, i haven't read that many reviews here, since i stopped reading them, after i read a few. (Other than zero punctuation but i don't really call that a review)
 

ZephrC

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Dastardly said:
That said, there's nothing wrong with occasionally critiquing the critics. For instance, if a critic expresses intense hatred for a particular element in a movie, while simultaneously expressing love for the same element in a different movie -- we can point out that this is inconsistent.

Now, it's possible that inconsistency results from some kind of bias (usually preconceived notions going into a film, or a taint on opinion due to the business behind the film), but what we'd really be pointing out is that the critic's own views appear internally inconsistent.

Something like that looks like a complaint, but really it's just a request for the critic to clarify his/her stance on the matter, so that his/her audience is no longer confused as to how to interpret this information.

Bad things to criticize a critic for:
1. Consistently hating a particular series, story/technical element, genre.
2. Expressing clear recommendations to buy/not buy certain movies/games/etc.
3. Having different feelings on two superficially similar movies/games/etc.

Good things to criticize a critic for:
1. Consistently reviewing the things he/she is known to hate, if he/she appears to be going out of the way to do so.
2. Presenting inconsistent value judgments (It's great when my favorite director does it, but it's shit when someone else does, etc.).
3. Having different feelings on two superficially similar movies/games/etc. without clarifying what makes them different to him/her.

A critic's job is communication. And while many complaints can be ignored, some are an indication that communication is not being received clearly. Asking (via complaint) a critic to clarify is good. Asking (via complaint) a critic to change his/her stated opinion is not.
That's not really a very good critique of criticism. Very similar things in slightly different situations can, and often are designed to, produce drastically different emotional responses.

Now obviously if a critic is not making clear why they like something sometimes and not others they're not being particularly helpful, and that is a valid critique. But those other two points are simply wrong. It's perfectly normal and valid for a reviewer to seek out art that they feel strongly about to review, and it's perfectly acceptable for them to react differently to something if they have a pretty good idea why it's being done in a certain way.
 

Dastardly

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ZephrC said:
That's not really a very good critique of criticism. Very similar things in slightly different situations can, and often are designed to, produce drastically different emotional responses.
Which is why I said the complaint isn't really just a complaint. It's a request to clarify. "Hey, you hated that in Movie X, but you loved it in Move Y -- what the hell?" That's the critic's cue to explain the difference.

I've said nothing about the content of a complaint being correct. However, most complaints are (in addition to being complaints) signs that there is somewhere a misunderstanding. That misunderstanding can be a result of bad listening, sure... but it can also be a result of unclear communication.

A complainer might say, "X and Y prove you're biased/inconsistent!" because they are impolite and can't think of a better way to put it... but a wise critic might look at that and wonder, "Hmm... if X and Y are giving the appearance of inconsistency, I might need to explain more clearly moving forward." Not changing his/her opinion, just clarifying the presentation.

But those other two points are simply wrong. It's perfectly normal and valid for a reviewer to seek out art that they feel strongly about to review, and it's perfectly acceptable for them to react differently to something if they have a pretty good idea why it's being done in a certain way.
No, they're not wrong. Because they were never claimed to be "right." They are good things to criticize, though. It's perfectly normal for a reviewer to seek things that elicit strong feelings... but it's also easy for a reviewer to line up punching bags to get free hype and drama.

It's pretty common for people to want to find things they can complain about, rather than things they can rave about, especially since insults are funnier that compliments. But this can lead to problems if a critic is consistently going after one particular example, because it leads to the same things being said over and over. No real contribution, no real discourse.

So if it seems like someone might be doing that, the complaint points that out. "Hey, maybe we should let someone other than @IHATEBLOPS review the next Black Ops game -- he pretty much gave us his take in the review of the last one."

And yes, it's perfectly acceptable to react different to something based on why it's done... it's also perfectly acceptable for people to be confused if that "why" isn't explained at all. And that confusion often comes up in the form of a complaint about inconsistency.

These complaints are good. Not because they will (or even should) result in a reviewer changing his/her content or opinions. Because they can point out areas where communication might be breaking down, and the critic could benefit from some more clarity... or, in rare cases, recognize maybe there really is a bias problem somewhere.
 

gardian06

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though knowing that a critic can be bias in somewhat good ways is understandable, but it should be noted that a movie/game/etc should be evaluated based on what it is (or at the most its direct predecessor), and if it is going to be compared to something else then it should be done in passing, and not as the main focus "I hated/liked thingX because I felt the opposite/same about thingY, and here is why I felt this way about the other thingY."

now it should be said that some things should be compared to things external, but this should be done rarely as this is where objectivity is lost the most. yes, movieX was written to be a discussion about external topicY, but the question is "how was it as a movie?", or that gameW has the same name as gameZ, but how is gameW as a game on its own.

objectivity is a great idea, and it would be nice to see objectivity more often, and one of the easiest ways to do it especially in criticism is to simply criticize what your topic is, and not talk about things that are not that thing.

captcha: civil war. Quit reading the threads captcha
 

blanksmyname

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I'm glad you've written this article. It really seems like accusations of bias are getting out of hand. Why, I remember reading Jim Sterling's excellent piece that decried misandry in gaming culture and all the comments I saw dismissed the article as being biased. It was an opinion piece for goodness sake.

I think part of the problem comes from 'journalism' being such a broad term, encapsulating all things from news, to criticism, to opinion columns, that people assume that all forms of journalism demand objectivity. Obviously, news should strive for objectivity, but you can't expect the same from a review when it is, essentially an opinion of something's quality (though hopefully, the opinion is an informed and well-reasoned one). Different forms of journalism demand different amounts of objectivity.

Plus it's ludicrous to place journalism under a false dichotomy of objectivity or bias. It's possible to have some degree of subjectivity without there being any unfair bias. When reviews or opinion/argumentative pieces contain levels of subjectivity (and I can't imagine how they can't), that doesn't instantly invalidate them. Subjectivity and bias are not the issue with the validity of opinions and arguments. What matters is how soundly reasoned and well-articulated they are.
 

Littaly

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I've never known how I feel about this. A completely objective (if such a thing exists) criticism of something would be terribly boring to read, but on the other hand, I do have some problem with critical bias.

It's not so much about one opinion being more right than the other as it is about when something is worth reading at all. If a review is heavily colored by a personal experience or view of the critic that I don't share in the slightest, is there really a point in me reading it? If a critic hates super hero movies for being superhero movies and lets his review be influenced by that, whereas I kind of dig superheroes, what am I gonna get out of the review? To me it's just going to be an expression for a viewpoint that I already know I don't share. I wouldn't mind hearing some arguments or discussion of why it is that said reviewer has something against superheroes, but that's an entirely different story.

It's probably one of the downsides with criticism from Internet celebrities. You find out so much about what their personal views and experiences are that it's much easier to be skeptical when their reviews fall in line with that. "How much of this praise for The Avengers comes from it being a really good movie and how much comes from the fact that MovieBob has been hyped for it for years and goes into it really wanting to love it? If I'm not nearly as hyped, isn't it better if I go watch another review instead?". It's probably why I often end up liking MovieBob more when he's reviewing non-geek stuff.

Like I said, I haven't thought this through nearly enough (and it seems the more I think about it the less clear it becomes), so there's a fair chance none of what I just said made any sense :-/
 

ZephrC

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Dastardly said:
Okay that's... actually a much better explanation of what you were trying to say earlier. I get it now. Your first post came across kind of like you wanted critics to have feelings in a manner that you found consistent, but if what you really want is for them to explain themselves well that's just expecting them to do a good job, which is a good thing.

Also, I guess I feel I should point out that if a reviewer is really consistently going almost exclusively after things they despise to crack lots of jokes, they're probably trying to be an entertainer more than a reviewer and should probably be judged as such.
 

DemBones

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If Bob wasn't a competent, well informed critic he wouldn't have his own show and column and we wouldn't be talking about him. That being said, there has always been one aspect of Bob's critiquing style that has bugged me. Bob tends to preframe his experience going into a movie too much.

Preframing is basically giving someone else (or yourself in this case) an opinion before having actually experienced the final product. Everyone does it to a certain extent (hype yourself up or try to let yourself down easy) but it will always affect the final judgement.

A lot of that comes from experience and cynicism as well as constantly reading production news, which is something every critic does. However, it's difficult to honestly judge the merits or faults of a film when your mind is already leaning towards an answer. Bob said months ago (probably even over a year ago) that he was greatly anticipating The Avengers but not TDKR. While I think both films are great and have their own merits and faults, is it not even possible that Bob's feelings for the final products weren't influenced by months of preframing an opinion?

A final note: if a film does have some glaring problems than I would be willing to give it a slide if the filmmakers showed that they had their hearts were in the right place (i.e. they tried to make a great film rather than a soulless cash-in). An overly ambitious failure is almost always better than a well made by-the-numbers franchise entry. I don't want to think that just about every Phase 2 Marvel film (post-Avengers) are all going to be functional yet uninspiring because that would be preframing myself.
 

RTK1576

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Can't help but feel this column is in response to some of the comments to Bob's review of The Amazing Spider-man. I know I used the term "bias" in my comment to him. While I agree with most of Bob's points, and I would never want reviewers to not have their own opinions, there is a point of contention here:

When a columnist/reviewer spends time ahead of an upcoming release (movie, game, etc) discussing the promotional materials (trailers, etc) and letting his opinion be known over and over of how much he expects the release to suck, there is clear bias ahead of time. This isn't actually a bad thing, as I didn't really expect Transformers 3 to be good after Transformers 2 (and I wasn't wrong there). Track records do matter. But when your review comes out and it's expectantly unhappy, yet the majority of other reviews aren't so scathing or are even positive, it feels like the reviewer is trying to prove how prescient he was, or that he had some personal reason to lambast the film, as supposed to doing a fair review. It's the kind of thing you expect with partisan pundit hacks, not critical reviewers.

So my reaction to Bob's Spider-Man review (a movie I haven't seen yet, for the record) was based on Bob's following actions:

* Discussing the material ahead of time and letting his negative opinions be known
* Writing a review far more negative than the critical average
* Doing muliple columns/videos explaining his opinion

These factors contributed to my belief that Bob's review of Spider-Man may have been biased. Mind you, it took ALL these factors for me to come to this conclusion. Most of the time, I don't have a problem with Bob's way of doing things.

As a follow-up example, today's review of Total Recall was done right - Bob didn't like it, but it felt like a fair and critical analysis of it.
 

cynicalsaint1

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Obviously the answer is that we need critics that critique criticism.

That way we can know which ones to listen to.
Maybe we can use some kind of system stars or something ...
 

ZephrC

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Littaly said:
I've never known how I feel about this. A completely objective (if such a thing exists) criticism of something would be terribly boring to read, but on the other hand, I do have some problem with critical bias.

It's not so much about one opinion being more right than the other as it is about when something is worth reading at all. If a review is heavily colored by a personal experience or view of the critic that I don't share in the slightest, is there really a point in me reading it? If a critic hates super hero movies for being superhero movies and lets his review be influenced by that, whereas I kind of dig superheroes, what am I gonna get out of the review? To me it's just going to be an expression for a viewpoint that I already know I don't share. I wouldn't mind hearing some arguments or discussion of why it is that said reviewer has something against superheroes, but that's an entirely different story.

It's probably one of the downsides with criticism from Internet celebrities. You find out so much about what their personal views and experiences are that it's much easier to be skeptical when their reviews fall in line with that. "How much of this praise for The Avengers comes from it being a really good movie and how much comes from the fact that MovieBob has been hyped for it for years and goes into it really wanting to love it? If I'm not nearly as hyped, isn't it better if I go watch another review instead?". It's probably why I often end up liking MovieBob more when he's reviewing non-geek stuff.

Like I said, I haven't thought this through nearly enough (and it seems the more I think about it the less clear it becomes), so there's a fair chance none of what I just said made any sense :-/
But that's the whole point of a review. For example with the Avengers, if Bob had said it was terrible, you would have known it really, really was. Him saying it was great left a lot of wiggle room if you didn't feel the same way about the whole undertaking as him, but if you were still undecided about whether or not to see it you could find another reviewer with a different perspective on the whole thing. Knowing who likes what and why just makes that easier. You'll never find one single person that agrees with you on everything, so having a bunch of different opinionated people helps.

Or, to address the elephant in the room, with the most recent Spider-Man movie Bob here was pretty anti-hyped about the whole thing. He didn't think Sony got Spider-Man's character, he thought the whole movie was a stupid cynical cash grab, and he didn't expect them to put a lot of effort into it. He had a lot of expectations going it, and that gave the movie a high hurdle to overcome for him to like it, and it absolutely didn't overcome that. It was a deeply flawed movie that didn't understand Spider-Man from the comics at all. Now lots of people, myself included, didn't really care about all that and so enjoyed the movie. That doesn't make Bob wrong, and I think he was pretty clear about what he thought and why he thought it, so all the hate-backlash he's gotten for having an unpopular opinion has really taken me aback. He has a well informed and well explained opinion. I don't see why people get so weird about him disagreeing with them. It's just odd.
 

medv4380

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Bias is a bad thing in Criticism when not open about it and can be a good thing. The example of Wells where he normally just hates a super hero movie out of the gate was a good example. But if Ebert gave a Sand and Sandals epic a negative review that would show that the film was very bad since he is open about Loving Sand and Sandals epics.

As bad as it is to rage against a critic like how the batman fan-boys did on RT it's also bad for Critics to purposefully give a negative review to a movie they may not have seen for the purpose of driving up hits to their site. They're easy to spot since they ether have factual errors caused by just watching a Trailer, or they have no facts about the movie to the point that the "bad" parts of the movie could have been generated by a form letter. Example "The acting was flat" vs "Denis Learys acting was flat for the first half of the film on the train".

Then their are uneducated critics. When I read a review of TDKR that says "Nolan is just trying to capitalize on the Occupy movement" they aren't just wrong but are uneducated. Nolan was pretty open about the movie being based on "A Tale of Two Cities", and an educated critic would know this, and the script was done before occupy, and filming was well underway when "occupy" started. Educated ,in this context, is being informed about the film, or Educated as in being well read enough to have read "A Tale of Two Cities" and spotting it themselves.

I don't expect random Self Proclaimed YouTube Internet Critics to all be well read and writers, but the ones who actually make a living off of it I do.
 

Littaly

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ZephrC said:
Littaly said:
But that's the whole point of a review. For example with the Avengers, if Bob had said it was terrible, you would have known it really, really was. Him saying it was great left a lot of wiggle room if you didn't feel the same way about the whole undertaking as him, but if you were still undecided about whether or not to see it you could find another reviewer with a different perspective on the whole thing. Knowing who likes what and why just makes that easier. You'll never find one single person that agrees with you on everything, so having a bunch of different opinionated people helps.

Or, to address the elephant in the room, with the most recent Spider-Man movie Bob here was pretty anti-hyped about the whole thing. He didn't think Sony got Spider-Man's character, he thought the whole movie was a stupid cynical cash grab, and he didn't expect them to put a lot of effort into it. He had a lot of expectations going it, and that gave the movie a high hurdle to overcome for him to like it, and it absolutely didn't overcome that. It was a deeply flawed movie that didn't understand Spider-Man from the comics at all. Now lots of people, myself included, didn't really care about all that and so enjoyed the movie. That doesn't make Bob wrong, and I think he was pretty clear about what he thought and why he thought it, so all the hate-backlash he's gotten for having an unpopular opinion has really taken me aback. He has a well informed and well explained opinion. I don't see why people get so weird about him disagreeing with them. It's just odd.
My thought on the matter are still not really made up, so I probably shouldn't post seeing how it will just end up as a wall of unsorted thoughts in text form. But since I so enjoy a civilized discussion, I'll post anyway ^^

It's not so much that I want to have a reviewer who is going to have opinions similar to mine, on the contrary, I think unchallenged opinions are bad for everyone involved. It just kind of looses a bit its worth for me if it's heavily colored by a certain view.

My problem with the whole Spider-Man review (which is a very convenient example ^^) wasn't so much that I disagreed with MovieBob on the matter (I kind of didn't). But when he's spent a year telling everyone how he hates the whole project for what it is and thinks it's doomed to fail, and then ends up posting not one but two reviews telling me precisely how right he was, it's hard to take it seriously. How much of that is of actually worth listening to and how much of it is just him affirming his standpoint? And (I guess more importantly) how much is it really worth listening to someone telling you that they thought what they were going to think all along? (<- non-rhetorical question)

It's really easy to get caught up in hype for something, both negative and positive. I know because I do it, often. There are things I've lifted to the skies as the best things ever leading up to, and right around the time of, their release that I've looked back on with a much clearer view later on and said "yeah, maybe I overdid it".

I guess what I'm saying is I want criticism, smart, insightful and well thought out thought on a piece of entertainment, not just another raving part of the hype-machine (be it positive or negative). Which Internet critics, even the good ones, even the ones that I follow regularly, sometimes have a tendency of becoming.
 

StriderShinryu

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When it comes to Bob's reviews, there are really a couple of issues that exist outside of the realm of bias as described in this article.

First, it's when something is called out as good or bad without any reason beyond it simply being something that Bob likes/dislikes. There's a reason why people turn to critics for their opinions on things (beyond having their own opinions validated by someone who is regarded as more in the know than they are), they want an opinion that has actual validation and credentials behind it. They want to know that something is good or bad because of X or Y, but when X or Y are blatantly being praised/roasted simply because the critic doesn't like them it becomes an issue.

Second, it's when differences of opinion are magnified into blanket statements about anyone who disagrees. I doubt most sane people would have major issue with someone telling them that Movie X is bad because of Reason Y even if they happened to personally really like Movie X, especially if the critic gives valid reasoning. What people do take issue with is when they are called something akin to scum sucking braindead pop culture zombies because they like Movie X. There's a pretty obvious line there that is getting crossed.
 

Dastardly

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ZephrC said:
Okay that's... actually a much better explanation of what you were trying to say earlier. I get it now. Your first post came across kind of like you wanted critics to have feelings in a manner that you found consistent, but if what you really want is for them to explain themselves well that's just expecting them to do a good job, which is a good thing.
I'm actually saying both. A critic should put forth views that are internally consistent. And if something seems inconsistent, there are two possible explanations:

1. The critic is being inconsistent in his/her application of criticism -- as in forgiving a big mistake from a favorite artist, and then blasting another artist for the exact same mistake.

2. The critic's opinions differ because it really isn't the "exact same mistake," and that distinction relies on context the critic should have provided to the reader. When that context is considered, the critic's criteria once again appear internally consistent.

The same critic can be guilty of both of these. Sometimes it's one, and sometimes it's the other. In both cases, to the audience, it can seem like the critic is being inconsistent until clarification is offered (if any).

A recent example: Many critics railed against the new Amazing Spider-Man movie. While many of their complaints hold water, one baffles me: The complaint that the Lizard, as a villain, was far too similar to the Green Goblin from the Sam Raimi movie, and this makes him a bad villain (NOTE: Not talking about appearance complaints here). Is it true? Sure, in very general terms.

But most of these critics also hold Spider-Man 2 to be one of the best Spider-Man movies... while failing to mention that Raimi's Doc Ock is even more similar to Green Goblin (scientist with good intentions experiments on himself with unproven technology giving him superhuman powers and causing him to go mad and hear voices in his head eventually leading him to kidnap Spider-Man's aunt and love interest to induce a final showdown).

To hate the villain in one movie while praising the villain in the other seems internally inconsistent -- they're forgiving Raimi because he's a favorite, and hating Lizard because they perceive the whole enterprise as a Sony cash-grab. Now, could a critic offer an explanation for what makes it okay in one, but not in the other? Absolutely! But the idea here is that they should.

Also, I guess I feel I should point out that if a reviewer is really consistently going almost exclusively after things they despise to crack lots of jokes, they're probably trying to be an entertainer more than a reviewer and should probably be judged as such.
As Yahtzee proves, it's possible to be an entertaining critic and not just pick things you hate. The guy picks on games he likes, too. His whole deal is a humorous focus on the negative aspects of a game, even beloved ones. A critic that goes out of his/her way to review a game after having already made it clear they hate the series? It's just an excuse to release the same review again, most times.