Thursday, May 02, 2013

The Value of an Informed Opinion

Trust them, or hidden marketers?
When one thinks about the arts, why is it that some people sneer at the idea at consulting informed opinions about the subject?  If someone buys a car or a house and does not consult some resource to see if what is the best to get and what to avoid, they are considered suckers. Yet, when it comes to something so simple like buying a movie ticket, the idea of checking out what a critic says about the film is too often treated like nothing to consider.

Even worse, the idea of ignoring critic is too often treated like some grandiose declaration of freedom from some supposed self-important cultural dictator who is telling what people to read or see. I am reminded of a story Roger Ebert told when he had a conversation with a person who asked his opinion of some film and when Ebert said that he thought it one of the best of that year, the person declared that they certainly would not see that movie because of that recommendation.

That kind of attitude fundamentally is as philosophically pathetic as those people who protested New Coke in the 1980s like it was some grand civil rights cause instead simply a high profile whining of a mere soft drink product change. In this case, saying "I don't pay attention to critics" is usually not much more than a blind embrace of ignorance.  Do these people really want to waste their money on movies that they don't like and what is so wrong of being forewarned?

For me, movies cost too much to typically waste my money on the bad ones and I want only to see the ones that are worth it.  Furthermore, those who think they are making totally uninfluenced choice of seeing a film by ignoring critics are kidding themselves; what they are exposing themselves to instead are the intense marketing campaigns, be it trailers, TV commercials or celebrity interviews, or their friends who could be similarly and ignorantly influenced by such persuasion. The movie companies spend millions to market their films, regardless of whether they deserve it or not and to unthinkingly treat that kind of pushing as inconsequential to one's decision is to allow it to achieve its ultimate goal to fool you thinking that seeing a particular film is entirely your idea.

By contrast, to pay attention to the critics is to more likely consult people who make it their business to find if something is worth your time and money.  That is not some kind of  "snobbery" or "elitism," that is just plain common sense and it will likely give you an enriching cinematic experience to try new material because you are judging on reports of merit, not because you are beaten over the head with advertising. For myself, watching a film's score on Rotten Tomatoes is often all the promotion I need and want as I enjoy its roller coaster ride and see where it will finally end up. With RT with 100+ reviews for major films, the old excuse of "That's just one person's opinion" is shot down with satisfying efficiency.

In short, when deciding about films to see, you will either be influenced by your peers as sheep, manipulated by marketers as a puppet, or influenced by hopefully disinterested critics' informed opinions as an intelligent human being.  It is not a perfect or foolproof arrangement, but its one that respects your intelligence and values your judgement rather than be someone to fool.

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