OPINION: Why rating systems are worthless.

IMG_8420I’m not a reviewer, I don’t review things per se. I’ve tried to use this website to define myself as an analyst. In my about me section, I say that I attempt to “to look through entertainment from an analytical standpoint and expose the finer details that may be lost on most casual viewers in order to enhance the overall experience these productions generate” and I think I’ve done a pretty good job at doing that. However, there have been moments like in my track reviews where, in order to stay relevant, I’ve stooped to the level of simply just reviewing songs. This is something I’ve wanted to touch on for some time now but this fact is not the point of this article. This is just context for what I’m really focusing on.

In those times I’ve been a reviewer one may notice I’ve never given a standard rating for anything I’ve ever talked about. I typically tend to focus on one facet of a specific production whether it is a basic theme or motif that is used to reveal something deeper about a specific work. Keep in mind this is whenever I’m talking about a piece of media or entertainment. However, when I do a track review or sometimes a movie review I never end it with a rating. This is because I think rating systems are meaningless and contrived. Qualifying something with a numerical score is horribly subjective and what you’re doing is really only meaningful to you. I suppose that’s the point of doing a review, however many use reviews in order to form their own opinion about a work, often times without experiencing it for themselves. For pieces that are genuinely experiences and demand a personal touch, this is nothing short of a travesty.

There are two main reasons why numerical scoring fails to adequately describe a piece of work and why it is ostensibly worthless and in this article I’m going to explain both of them. The first issue is that most rating systems are incredibly ill-defined. Often times the critic’s rating doesn’t reflect what they say about the given work. Allow me to explain this with an anecdote. My friend and fellow writer Evan did a short review of the first Hellboy film. He said the film was “kickass” and claimed that Guillermo del Toro should direct more superhero films because “he’s good at it.” So imagine my surprise when he gave the film a six out of ten.

Now, to some, this may seem like the natural score. A six out of ten means the film was good, but from the words I was reading, I was expecting a rating closer to seven or even eight. Do you see what I mean? Using a rating system comes with the issue of subjectivity. There is no right way to define a six out of ten. Most can agree that anything below five means the film was bad and anything above is good, but if that’s the case then why use a rating system at all? If your audience is going to generalize your rating system then why make it complicated. This the rationale I use when reviewing anything. However, its worth noting almost everything I’ve reviewed has been positive. To me, it’s much more worthwhile to expose the masses to good artistic endeavors rather than bad ones. My perspective is very similar to that of Ego from Ratatouille:

The bitter truth we critics must face is that in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is probably more meaningful than our criticism designating it so.

The second reason why I think rating systems are meaningless is the latent meaning behind them. I understand what I just said was an oxymoron but please bear with me I can explain. A perfect ten out of ten is the most sought after score any piece of art can achieve. Unless of course, you’re Evan, in which case it’s an A+. However, a “perfect” score is very rarely awarded by critics due to its implication. To most, when a piece of art receives this score it means that there is nothing further it can do to bolster its excellence. It’s the definition of its craft, the benchmark all other pieces should aspire to reach. Except it really isn’t. It’s been widely accepted by most that perfection doesn’t exist. It can’t. The imperfect universe that creates imperfect people cant create a piece of art that is objectively perfect. Art is an inherently subjective medium.

This is what scares most critics from giving a piece of media a ten out of ten. Take famous music critic Anthony Fantano for instance. As of today, he has only awarded five albums a ten out of ten, even though he’s been reviewing music for almost ten years now. Perhaps he just has high standards, but just looking at his website you can find that he’s given out a plethora of nines and eights. So what does that mean in the grand scheme of things? Well, a lot actually.

Fantano is almost infamous for his harsh ratings, and this is no accident. If he were a critic that handed out ten after ten after ten I don’t believe he would be nearly as popular as he is now. Now I don’t think Anthony Fantano has some hidden agenda that he’s been secretly using to dupe his audience into believing he’s some kind of musical connoisseur, because, if I’m being honest, it’s really his fans who created this sanctimonious idea of his character. Fantano has just accepted it and promptly followed suit, likely subconsciously, and he’s not the only one guilty of this. All reviewers have this issue. They all have to protect their “credibility” that has been forged by the writ of their audience.

In one fantastic video simply titled “Game Critics” made by internet personality “videogamedunkey”, he claims that the only difference between the average Joe and a critic is that the critic gets paid to say their opinion. I agree with this, but I would also add that the critic has a bigger audience they constantly have to acknowledge and this ultimately ruins the way critics rate their respective mediums.

Whether it be music, film, or art, it would seem entertainment is forever to be cursed by terribly flawed rating systems.

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