Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Why I Don't Like Rating Movies or Books

I would probably be the world's worst critic. For most movies or books, my reaction is either "absolutely love" or "absolutely hate."

George Mason economist Tyler Cowen is somewhat famous for his proclivity for walking out in the middle of a movie, if he feels the rest of the movie isn't the best use of his time against whatever else he's doing that day. While I'm not quite this extreme, I like to think I'll give up on movies or books sooner than most.

(In fact, I think this is the main reason many people don't read books anymore. They get stuck with a bad one and aren't willing to give up on it and start another. Instead, they keep with the bad book, and soon enough reading is associated with pain.)

My polarized view of media seems like optimal behavorial, in terms of personal enjoyment. I overlook the flaws of good movies and remember only the good parts. I might end up dismissing some average movies that are better than I think, but after all, they're just average movies. So what if I miss out on a few three-star films?

Chris Anderson's "The Long Tail" discusses how the task of filtering books and movies for quality has shifted from shop owners and distributors to algorithms and the masses of consumers. Before the Internet, it made sense for corporations to decide what we should read or watch, because of the economics of limited shelf space. Now, the availability of movies and books is essentially limitless online, so many sites rely on user ratings to separate the good from the bad.

But does this constant rating make us worse off? When I saw "The Invention of Lying" in theaters, I throughly enjoyed it. My fiancee was pretty shocked by my reaction. Eventually, after further thought, I was forced to admit that the movie was rather flawed in parts.

I often find myself enjoying movies only to receive the Netflix e-mail asking me to rate it, so that future recommendations will be better tailored to my tastes. Then I begin to weigh the movie's pros and cons, and suddenly I like the movie less than I initially did.


Adam Gurri said...

It's funny, I actually really enjoy writing reviews. I find that review writing is a skill in itself and since I started Cloud Culture I set myself the task to practice it on a more regular basis. It's usually a podcast novel, since that's the number one form of entertainment that I consume these days. Though when I saw District 9 I felt like reviewing it, too.

Of course I'm kind of stingy--I don't review this on something like Amazon.com; I do it on my own blog.

Greg Finley said...

Sure, there's something to be said for writing reviews, which is a form of discussing the movies with your friends.

Maybe it's just that I don't have the flair for film criticism. If you notice in my post, I just say that "The Invention of Lying" was flawed, but I don't get into why.

Adam Gurri said...

Totally. As with all forms of writing, it either is something you love to do or it isn't. As former writer for the Post and a guy who blogs about the economics of everyday life, you clearly love writing--just not every kind of writing.

In the same way I can't do the kind of writing that a certain someone does, because I don't really care as much about restaurants, cooking, local politics or crime as she does. I'm endlessly fascinated by local blogging, but have no desire to become a local blogger myself.