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I recently wrote about reviews and how they often ruin my experience in terms of dining out, selecting a product or even finding a hotel. The gist of the post was: I am finding reviews drive my choices entirely too much. In addition, I use them to objectify a product or experience despite the fact they are often very subjective in nature and thus cannot truly be used to objectify a product or experience.

An example: One would suppose a restaurant receiving 100 reviews and an average of 4 stars would be a great place to eat. And this is often true. But food is not much different from art and tastes vary. This has led me to wonder over the years how much reviews affect reviews. That is, do 4 and 5-star reviews beget 4 and 5-star reviews?

I was an English major as an undergraduate and remember reading the classics. It was an unwritten rule you were supposed to like Salinger, Hemingway, Keats etc. These were “The Masters” after all. But there were some of these classics I didn’t like. If you voiced a negative opinion about a classic work, you would often be met with a response indicating your small mind could not understand the depth of the literature. In the words of one of my college instructors: “If you have to ask what a poem means, then you just don’t understand it.” My response to him was to inquire as if that weren’t just another way of saying it doesn’t mean anything. Sort of a chicken and egg there. So are the works truly great because they are great or because so many have said they were great?

This nature of subjectivity in the way we experience art, literature, food, etc. is intriguing. But it is most certainly fact. Consider literature: Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird was rejected 10 times before being published. Gone With The Wind received 38 rejections. The Help was rejected 60 times. Dubliners – 26 times. A Time To Kill by John Grisham – 28 rejections. Roots received 200 rejections. Zen & The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance – 121 rejections. (Source: What if these were poor reviews for a product or restaurant instead? And if great works can receive poor reviews, then poor works can most certainly receive great reviews. So how much can we truly rely on these subjective methods to guide us?

One comment I received regarding my last post on reviews pertained to users now having a power they never had before. Twenty years ago, reviews were constrained to the elite and were communicated via professional critics. Today, any average Joe can leave a review whether they have any expertise in the product they are reviewing or not. This is, in my opinion, a crime against logic. How am I to know the 500 reviewers for a recently released novel have any expertise in literature analysis or not? In some respect, I think it is good for the silent majority to have a voice. But in other respects, it is problematic.

Another issue of concern is how reviews are used. Consider these reviews of J.K. Rowling’s novel, The Casual Vacancy:

Rowling Review 1

They are completely misusing the review system. These reviews are related to the price of the item and ignore the mention of the content. They are misleading and they throw the scoring process off.

Consider this next review of the same novel:

Rowling Review 2

I completely undermines the reviewing system and only underscores the reader’s ignorance in choosing a novel blindly – not understanding the intended audience. I’m also left to assume the daughter is “scarred for life” – an assumption I highly doubt.

As a result of reviews like these, I have become obsessive in reading reviews – if for anything else, the sake of my own entertainment. I have began to clip them and save them. And, I am going to start a new section of this column with them – Review Follies. I’ll tag reviews in this manner for the sake of organization on this site.

As much as I try to not let reviews sway my opinion or solely direct my choices, it is difficult. We are somewhat hardwired, as humans, to consider word of mouth and a review is most certainly that. However logical I try to be, I’m afraid this is something of an uphill battle for me – primarily because anything and everything is subject to a review today. Even this article is something of a review of reviews.

Perhaps the most ingenious move of review sites like Yelp! is they don’t allow users to review Yelp! I wonder how many stars they would get if they did. Of course, you couldn’t trust the reviews if they did allow this…