Monday, December 8, 2014

Screaming With the Void: Why I Like Reading Reviews

I know most people think of themselves in very particular terms: police officer, parent, file clerk, fan of sports teams, etc. I tend to think of myself a person who makes things. I realize that's kind of broad and arrogant, but I do improv, and I write stuff, and I put together marketing collateral for companies and sometimes I get paid to do that stuff and sometimes I do it because it's just stuff I love to do. Regardless, I get to make stuff and it's neat.

One of the scariest, coolest things about making stuff in general, and in particular making stuff for the Internet is once you put your makings out into the void, there's a pretty good chance that the void is going to come back and express some kind of opinion about the things that you've made.

Reviews. I'm talking about reviews.

Before we go more in depth, here's my favorite scene from one of my favorite movies, "Ratatouille."

Watch the whole thing.

Okay, now go watch the movie. Seriously, it's a great movie.

Did you like it? You can buy it here. Give it as a gift to a young kid who's trying to choose a career path for Christmas. That scene speaks to a lot of what I'm about to talk about.

Thanks for coming back.

I really like reading reviews. I don't think artists are supposed to feel that way. Artists generally have mixed feelings about reviews. We want reviews. We want people to talk about the stuff we make because then more people will hear about it, and maybe check it out. We want validation for the things we make. Please tell me you love me, Chicago Tribune and various users of iTunes! But we don't like bad reviews, because why would you? No one wants to hear people say nasty things about something you poured your blood, sweat, and possibly your bloody, sweaty tears into. And bad reviews are terrible sometimes. They're often not well thought-out, and sometimes they completely miss the point of whatever it is they're talking about. Bad reviews often revel in their criticism, laying joyful, overly verbose waste to the miracle of creation.

It hurts to read bad reviews when you're a thing-maker. It hurts your feelings. It makes you feel self-doubt. It makes you feel guilt sometimes. It can make you angry at the reviewer,or at the whole enterprise we call humanity. Some artists and even more brands are scared of bad reviews. They turn "reviews" off on their product pages or disable comments. Sometimes, they argue with reviewers. That's always a delightful shitstorm. For some thing-makers, the only way to deal with bad reviews is to ignore them, or worse- hide them and pretend they don't exist. Because what if people see those bad reviews and then think my thing is bad? That is actually terrifying. For those people, ignoring those bad reviews is the only way to keep making a thing and feel like it's ("it's" often being "their life's work") worth their time.

And I get that. I really do. But I love reviews. All of them, good, bad, mediocre, kind of weird, rambling, concise, etc.

Good reviews are easy to love. Someone once wrote a review of Improvised Star Trek on iTunes where they said that they considered our show to be "part of Star Trek continuity." They gave us five stars. That was the nicest thing I think anyone's ever said about the podcast. Good reviews are great to read because they show you that you have successfully reached out to another human and made them feel something- joy, sadness, inspiration, laughter, whatever. Making things is generally a dialog between you and the world, and when the world responds to your initial "comment" with love? It feels amazing.

Bad reviews are trickier. It's tough to like a bad review but every bad review, even poorly thought-out, horribly written bad reviews, can be constructive. When I get a bad review for ANYTHING I like to take time to analyze it, decide if the reviewer has a point, and then decide if I need to adjust. Obviously you can't function if you try to change yourself to please everyone out there. But a bad review CAN be a tremendous opportunity for growth if you can find a nugget of truth in the criticism. Bad reviews can show you things about your work that aren't working that you may have missed because you're just one person and your ability to perceive the world is relatively limited. Plus, you're biased. Also, if something you make gets NOTHING but bad reviews, it's a great sign that you need to, in some way, change course.

Everything else is also super-great. I kind of treasure middle-of-the-road reviews because I think as a society we're kind of prone to hyperbole and people tend to either LOVE something or HATE something and mediocre reviews are actually kind of rare. They are however, more useful than good or bad reviews. Generally (though not always) someone writing a mediocre review has taken time to consider something from multiple angles and has acknowledged the good and the bad in it. That means that often, a mediocre review contains the qualities that make both a good and a bad review worthwhile in one review.

I guess I like reading reviews because they mean that something I made has caused someone somewhere to feel SOMETHING whether it's joy, righteous indignation, or even a resounding "meh." But that feeling means I'm not just screaming into the void. I'm screaming with it.

So go out, and review the things you like. Review the things you hate.

And feel free to submit reviews for Improvised Star Trek.