Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Reviews, reviewers, and the yahoos that refuse to believe in a collective rating system

One of my teachers in middle school once assigned us for homework to flip a coin 100 times and record the results of each toss. Pretty easy, we thought, especially since it would be so easy to fabricate. A couple of heads here, a couple of tails there, make sure it’s all even, and viola. Easier than cheating at monopoly when you’re the banker.

The next day, we whipped out our papers for our teacher to inspect. Some of us had made the numbers up and some of us had actually flipped the coins. Our instructor began to walk around the room, checking each paper, and declaring which of had told the truth and which of us were compulsively lying little bastards.

Apparently he was able to tell which ones were forgeries because these wasn't very much statistical variance. Real sheets will have some sequences with many of one result in a row or in a clump. The kids who faked it generally just wrote “heads, tails, heads, tails,” with maybe an occasional “tails, tails, heads.”

What on earth does this have to do with reviews? I’ll tell you what. After reviewers claim that one selection is excellent, they feel obligated, much like the nefarious students, to reverse the claim for their next review. Even if this phenomenon doesn’t operate on a conscious level, I would argue that they feel at least a subconscious pull against the current movie if they enjoyed their previous one.

For the record, they are certainly justified in their self-consciousness about how many movies in a row they give the thumps up or down. If a critic gives the old “two thumbs way up” to everything, then how much weight will his endorsement begin to hold? So I’m not blaming any movie critic in particular for falling victim to this. It’s human nature, so hate the game not the player, right?

But while I’m not attacking their persona, I am attacking their livelihood. Give it up, people, and embrace the collective rating system that is IMDB. You love it, you just don’t know it yet.

Editor’s Note: I still retain the right to become a movie reviewer at some point in my life, in which case this post will be deleted and anyone that may have seen it will be exterminated. Consider yourself duly warned.