THIS WEEK IN NYC 
 
 

 

MANHATTAN CHRONICLES
        by Alexandra Ares
        Summer 2012
 
       The Age of Savage Reviews
 

 
      Many of today’s reviews are like savage beasts stomping and feasting on common sense.

      The Internet has made publishing so easy that everyone,including myself, is posting reviews and commentaries everywhere. In this ever growing heard,the wild animals face off the tamed, often biting off the wrong bones.

     Meet the tamed animals: The trained critics who live and function in their ivory towers, mostly universities or large organizations,often populated by like-minded people with lots of time for reading who display little courage for living in the 'wilderness' or going straight to the point. They are not only jaded because their constant exposure to works that have to be reviewed, but also way too deferential to most of the works coming from the big labels. Too many of their critiques are esoteric praises written in lofty prose that most lay people can neither follow, nor agree with, arguments why such product (issued by such prestigious organization who lobbies them hard) is terrific.Although, as it happens, more than occasionally they are not that great, as many people point out in the comment section of many newspapers and magazines. Or, even worse, one may argue that some American academics have betrayed humanistic ideals, showing intellectual cowardice in the face of the criminalizing of annoying forms of expression.

     Meet the wild animals: the opinionated untrained film, book and cultural consumers who have neither practical nor theoretical knowledge of what goes into making a compelling work of art, yet have no qualms to be outspoken about their likes and dislikes on various forums and review boards to the point of sheer cruelty. These guys are the ones who routinely give only two or three stars (out of five) to marvelous works (classic movies for instance, just check IMDB or Netflix) that involve a tremendous amount of talent and skill.  Or the army of plain rude folks who posts vicious insults in response to what they read.  

      I am a formerly tamed animal, by now long living in freedom and wilderness. Although I studied dramatic literature and film theory, and I worked for many years as a professional reviewer in an ivory tower in Bucharest, only when I started to write books, plays and screenplays myself,did I start to understand correctly - and respect - the amount of skill that goes into making any type of art work. These days I am routinely shocked by the bad reviews given by the wild animals to great films and books and by the excessively lavish compliments laid by the tame animals (the spoiled house dogs) on either banal or even incomprehensible junk. That is of course, as long as it comes with the right pedigree or a prestigious underwriter.   

      I can’t stop noticing how the act of reviewing itself has created standards that are often ridiculously high (for the wild animals who are stomping boorishly on many wonderful works of art) or abstruse (for the tamed animals).

      So I wonder: How goodness to cope with all that?

     Today’s top agents and big editorial houses employ rounds and rounds of editors and edits to ‘refine’ the final novels and to make them good enough to please the movers and shakers. Movie studios have focus groups to shape the final versions of many movies. Imagine Van Gogh hiring or agreeing to work with painting consultants to make his work salable to the buyers of the day. Or the Parisian salon of the refused hiring consultants to retouch their paintings to fit the taste of the mainstream critics, buyers and galleries. Tolstoy and Balzac hiring editors to tighten up their prose, and make the characters more likable, or Bukowski to come back from the grave to re-edit some of his works for the likeness of some of his tough-toothed reviewers?        

      And yet, there is the newest trend, which is even more disturbing: emboldened by the popular model of reviewing created by Amazon, many established review organizations eagerly cut corners by recruiting the amateur 'wolf-dogs' who post on various online venues for free, making them pass as well-rounded sheep. These people believe that an ugly slant and a quick, harsh. often unprofessional review prompts instant credibility.

      And of course there are many enthusiastic reviews posted by people who give five stars to minor works because they titillate their senses (Fifty Shades of Gray, anyone?), but these are more or less harmless. One can always read in between the lines how well these arguments are built.      

      It comes to a point that in today’s creative world everything goes, nothing is good enough (unless it sells), and either way nobody knows why and how, everyone has a firm opinion he or she wants to share, convinced it's the best and brightest.

      Understanding something requires not only a certain education,life experience and sensibility, but also a good, receptive mood. If we’re tired, in a hurry, the shoes hurt, or in a crappy mood, we won’t be able to relate to what we’re watching or reading. In the old days, verba volant, but in today’s digital world scripta manent forever on the internet.     

      It was a time when I rushed to express so many things. Today I question many times over if anything that I have to write about adds something worthwhile to the conversation, or is just a rush to express my ego, blow some steam, or check off some item on my to-do-list. At the end, we are all social animals, and there is a certain beauty in the  fleeting pleasure of meeting and exchanging vivid opinions, without necessarily sending everything that crosses our mind to print





Alexandra Ares is the award winning author of the novels Dream Junkies, My Life on Craigslist and The Other Girl.