My friend Eric made a point the other day when talking about the very mixed reviews for a newly-released game franchise: "Half the scores are the reviewers reviewing the game, and half are reviewing their expectations."
This is something I've seen in reactions to things as diverse as The Who By Numbers and Prometheus. It's easy to express a strongly-held opinion about something — name someone with a blog who doesn't do that — but more difficult to look at the way your own strongly-held opinion has germinated and come to an understanding about that.
It takes some work to see this operating within you. At first I thought the Swans were the worst band I had ever heard, until I realized I had some weird compulsion to go back and listen to Greed again and again. It wasn't long before I realized they were actually a great band, and that my initial negative reaction was just my complete inability to file them properly in a particular mental cabinet. (It helped when I later found their full gamut of records were as diverse as could be imagined.)
After that experience, I was more skeptical of my initial reactions to things, both positive and negative. The giddy experience of watching the 2009 version of Star Trek, for instance, was more easily cut through after the fact: I enjoyed watching it as it unspooled in the theater, but not long after I walked out the doubts and dismay and Hey, Wait A Minute moments all began to pile up like so many cars on a foggy freeway.
Here's the thing: It was easier to reject Trek, or embrace the Swans, when you had other people whose opinions you could draw on to strengthen your own feelings. It's far harder to make up your mind on your own and support your conclusions, especially when they fly in the face of conventional wisdom.
I mentioned before how I'd read a recently-published fantasy novel that had been showered with praise and accolades, not just from readers but from plenty of critics and authors as well, and I found the work in question so awful, so bathetic, so poorly written on every level that I had to wonder just how big the Kool-Aid vat was this time around. Were they reacting to the story (which needs to be taken on its own terms), or their expectations (which color things without us even knowing it)? Or was I reacting more to my expectations, in the same way I reacted so negatively to Firefly after having it hyped to the heavens by the fans around me, only to find that on its own it just wasn't all that special?
I don't mention these things because I have a hard-and-fast answer to them. And if I did, I think I would be skeptical of them.
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Other Lives Of The Mind