Sunday, May 9, 2010

Differing opinions: why we love, like, or hate 'art'

I was browsing a bookstore yesterday afternoon when I noticed a nice display near the checkouts for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo on DVD. When I saw the Swedish film (in English translation) late last year, I honestly thought it was one of, if not, the best movies I saw on the big screen in 2009. Not necessarily my favourite movie to re-watch over and over again, but a top quality, well-written, well-acted, well-made film that was powerful, engrossing, and stuck with you long after the credits rolled.

Coming online today, I was contemplating re-posting my December 2009 review of the film, since it is now available on DVD, and this blog has more readers now than back then. In the course of doing some background research on the film and DVD, and looking for other people's reviews to link to as well in today's planned blog post, I came across a short review (with dozens of reader comments attached) from The Guardian that rekindled something I've been thinking about a lot in the past few months as I've reviewed various books, films, tv shows, and even the occasional restaurant - why we love, like, dislike or hate various things; and the startlingly diverse opinions people (honestly and fervently) hold about books and films in particular.

When I'm reviewing, I try to mix the objective and the subjective - taking a step back and looking at the intrinsic quality of the writing or filmmaking (whether I'm a fan of the storyline or content or not) - ie is the book well-written - as well as what I personally think about various aspects of what I'm reviewing (characters, storylines, themes etc). I get frustrated by what I consider 'lazy' reviewing - it's okay if a reviewer has a different opinion to me about a book or movie, but it annoys me if I think the reviewer has just skimmed things, not 'got it', or just 'mailed it in', so to speak. But in the end it's all opinion - even when we try to be more objective, we are doing so by coming at it from a specific background of our own experiences, biases and opinions about even such 'objective' things.

I've always been fascinated by letters to the editor and talkback radio (and now the modern equivalent, the comments sections beneath articles on newspaper websites etc), because it gives such insight into the wildly diverse opinions that people can hold about the very same thing.

The dozens of comments following Peter Bradshaw's short review of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo illustrate this beautifully. There are people who loved the film, or hated it. Ditto with Larsson's book(s) themselves. And the opinions (where reasons are given) are based on a variety of different things. Some seem 'crazy', but then again, hey, maybe my opinions (as based on rational and objective criteria as I try to make them) seem crazy to others as well.

Perhaps it's the sociology/psychology student in me, but I find this kind of thing fascinating - why do we love, like, dislike, or hate things? Are some opinions more credible, based on whether they use 'evidence' or 'reasoning', and why? Are reviews and critics becoming more or less important in our information-overload age (where the amount of information is increasing, but not necessarily the quality - but then, that's just my take on it)?

I'd love to hear/read your thoughts on this.

1 comment:

  1. Craig - You've raised an issue that I've thought about more than once, and that I find very interesting (and for an author, very important). What is it about a book or film that brings out strong and differing responses in people? Part of it, I think, is that we think different things are of value. So, when a book or movie includes something we value, we have a positive response. For instance, suppose we value intellectual challenge. Then, a book that offers the reader a particularly tough case with lots of twists is likely to be appealing. Suppose instead that we value inter-relationships and are especially aware of them. Then a book that focuses instead on, say, the effect on a relationship of a murder, is likely to be more appealing, all other things being equal. Of course, I'm sure there's more to it than that, and I'm not a psychologist myself. Still, it seems to me that our values play some sort of role...