Growl, Snarl, Snap!
We like to pretend it’s not a big deal. That we’re prepared to roll with the punches. We have a good idea what to expect and we’re up to the task. We’re not overly concerned about gremlins coming along to feed on our pages, sample our cupcakes, attend our art show, or choke on our words. We know they’re out there and we’re ready.
We get it.
From the moment we reach the summit and stake our flag, we know to dig-in and brace ourselves, holding steady as our private little worlds go public.
Plenty to Say And Places to Say it–But Why So @#$%! Mean?
And yet far too often of late I find myself tripping over a mean-spirited review or comment that instantly causes my insides to crumble and my brain to clench, even when said assault isn’t directed my way. I can’t help but feel the angst breed from words that go beyond opinion and directly into assault mode. Words our mothers forbid us to use under threat of house arrest. Because they’re mean, just plain mean.
Review or Faceless Assailant?
We’re entitled to our opinions. Thoughts composed from our reactions and convictions count. We’re experienced something and we’re entitled to talk about it, damn it! Yak yakking loud and long, even after the lights go out and everyone’s gone home
And yet, at what point does opinion take on the ambiance of something else? Something decidedly mean-spirited–one syllable removed from outright cruelty. Does the reasoning behind this hyper-meanie-mode have anything to do with how easy it’s become to launch a hit-and-run from behind the security of a faceless gravitar spinning through cyberspace?
Well, yeah, I hear you. Opinions aren’t always a kind or pretty thing, particularly when we’re aiming for unbiased honesty, thus uber sensitive types might need to toughen-up or avoid reading reviews altogether. But when we’re talking reviews–good, bad, or outright heinous–there is something to be said about common courtesy and fair play.
For instance, these three sentences constitute an opinion and not a review:
“I hated everything about this book. I hated the story. I hated the characters.”
When posted on a public forum it’s a meanie flyby assault dropped with intent to harm. Taking a few moments to detail the Hate within the Hatred is the required component necessary to quality this as a legit and purposeful review.
This statement is Absolutely, Positively not a review:
“I couldn’t get past the first two pages.”
And so begs the question of what has actually been reviewed? Five hundred words of a 80,000 word novel?
Call me crazy, but if I start reading something–whether slender volume, cinder-block sized tome, or article in People magazine–and it doesn’t click the preferred receptors in my reading brain, I close the cover and select something else from my teetering pile. Common sense and old-fashioned courtesy assuring I have nothing legit to offer by way of opinion because I haven’t read it!
It Seems Both Simple and Humane
Regardless of whether another person’t work evokes hatred or love within our internal opinion box, there’s something to be said for respecting the fruit of another’s labors.
We all have opinions and they count for something. And when it comes to honest gut reaction, truth is not an option, even when it’s painful. But there’s a flip-side in the game of playing fair. Don’t just tell us that In Your Opinion something is wonderful or dreadful, tell us why. If you won’t recommend the eclairs from Lula’s Sweet Shop, tell us it’s because the filling tastes like chalk or the pastry is soggy, because “They’re crap,” doesn’t cut it.
If the book was unreadable because the typos set your eyeballs to near-combustion, the story was predictable, or the ending falls flat, that’s the thing we appreciate knowing, but “I hated the protagonists name,” not so much.
Keep In Mind
There’s a beating heart behind every creation.
YES, please do share your thoughts and tell it like it is. But give us some concrete reasons for why you liked or disliked the object in question. Stand by your comments and opinions, but, come on, kids, lets try and remember to play nice. Drive-by shooting are the actions of criminals and thugs. You’re so much better [and kinder] than that.
Care to pull up a keyboard and share your thoughts?
What’da’ya think? Is being honest the same thing as being mean? Have you been guilty of, or affected by. a dump-and-run?
Wow. You hit the nail here. Even if it’s a comment on a FB feed, there is no point in attacking. Even if you are horrified by something or disgusted or whatever. If you have to put your emotion out there, give it some context. Explain what caused the reaction in concrete terms. Otherwise it amounts to abuse. Hitting a dog for no other reason than you are upset and they’re making noise in your airspace. I could go on for hours about this subject because I have such a difficult time getting my head around somebody who thinks it’s okay to be cruel because nobody knows they are the one doing it. Or because something made them angry or upset. Thanks for putting this out there. Now. How do we convince these people to stop?
Beautifully said, Sara! FB is such a fun place to cruise, until it’s not. There are certain times (think political elections!) when I simply stay away to protect my sanity and keep my own pot from boiling over. Not because I have no tolerance of differing beliefs and convictions, nope, it’s all about the presentation. We all get upset, we all have hot button issues, but that isn’t license to turn our opinions into assault weapons.
I can’t help but think that meanies are in essence reflecting their personal unhappiness and whatever it is they’re railing against is merely a handy vehicle to transport their interior discontent.
You pose an excellent question–ah, but the answer…
Oh, Barbara…I’m ready to spit nails at what people are capable of doing to others with their “fly-by” assaults. I agree with you on all points. If they can’t be positive, at least they could be constructive. I say never use an assault rifle when a sling-shot would suffice! I love your writing, as you know, and the spirit behind your words is beautiful.Carry on, dear wonderful writer, and thank you so much for this blog. I shall be sending it around the world.
“I say never use an assault rifle when a sling-shot would suffice!” Amen! Love that, Jodi!
Whenever I hear someone say “I’m entitled to my opinion,” (and yes, they are, it’s the* entitlement* that throws me), I immediately have the urge to duck and cover in preparation of a dropping bomb. Throwing around opinions and engaging in fly-by assaults are not only true gremlin antics–they are marks of the lazy. Constructive criticism takes time, effort, and thought. Far easier to hit and run 😦
Thank you for your beautiful thoughts.:-) Somewhere a gremlin just melted…
Simplest answer: because they can and because there is no consequence. The internet is wonderful, but it also allows a cloak of invisibility under which people can be as nasty and petty as they want. Without the fear of retribution or the fear of everyone thinking they’re a moron hanging over their heads, they say things they’d never say in real life.
All widely read books have these asinine reviews. Readers who are truly interested in a book will “click to look inside” or download a sample. If the book grabs them, they’ll buy it and read it. Intelligent people don’t dismiss a book based on reviews that say, “I couldn’t even get through the first two pages.”
“…because they can and because there is no consequence.” Yes, yes, a thousand times yes!!!
As with all good things, there’s always that crack in the facade that allows access for the mean and conniving. The saving grace in all of this is that the shiny apples far outweigh the rotten cores in spades. And generally speaking, miserable behaviors and general nastiness do appear to have a much shorter shelf-life when put up against the durability of honestly and wisdom.
Thank you for stopping over, Catie. You’re said it all–and beautifully!
First of all, if these meanies are talking about your novels, they are WRONG. You are a fabulous writer, just fabulous! Second of all, meanies! Those are not reviews at all, I agree. Just hurtful. If you want to write a review, write something that the author can sink his/her teeth into, could find useful, perhaps even learn from. And honestly, if I feel that way about a book (or even part of a book), I normally keep my mouth zipped. Unless the writer contacts me directly for my opinion, then I just keep quiet. One of reasons I do not read reviews is part of what you wrote, above. The other reason is I never know who’s buying them or if they are honest. You need to put these meanies in the circular file of your mind, Barbara, which is where they belong.
And let me just say how much your words are appreciated, Ms.Karen! I so agree that honesty needn’t be vicious, and a bad review that points out the issues that lead to said bad review can be enormously valuable,not to mention balm to soothe the sting.
And cripes, why does anyone continue reading what they apparently hate? I’ve had my share of stinker reviews, but one of my favorites:
“This is really awful. Stupid story, stupid people. Couldn’t care less about any of the characters. I’m sorry I spent any of my hard earned money on this horrible book.” Definitely something of an Ouch, but no kidding, it mostly makes me chuckle to think of someone going through the trouble of posting this mini hissy fit that essentially says nothing.
I’m with you, if I don’t like the flavor of what I’m reading I simply move on without stopping to throw a handful of stones or shoot flaming arrows on my way out 😀
Thanks for sharing your fine thoughts, Karen!
Love your post, Barbara.
I am reminded of the movie, Ratatouille. It’s a cartoon, and it’s excellent. In this story, Gusteau’s restaurant is destroyed by a critic. And later, the critic (whose name is EGO) has this realization:
“In many ways the work of a critic is easy. We risk very little, yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgment. We thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and to read.
But, the bitter truth we critics must face is that, in the grand scheme of things… the average piece of junk is probably more meaningful than our criticism designating it so.”
This is just too perfect, Suzanne. I saw Ratatouille so very long ago and I wish I’d remembered this fabulous quote. Funny how cartoons present some of the truest wisdom around (don’t even let me get started on Bugs Bunny the rabbit genius!) and this fine example is spot-on!
Thank you for visiting and leaving this wonderful gem on the door step
I strongly believe that different books exist for different people. What one person doesn’t like, someone else will love. I always try to acknowledge this if I’m saying anything a bit negative in a review… ie I try to couch it in terms of what did or didn’t work for ME, and why. I figure that ought to be helpful to someone else trying to figure out if they’ll like it or not.
I concur with all the sentiments expressed above. It’s just so easy these days to have a strong opinion and remain anonymous. So many readers do seem to forget there’s a person slaving away at their keyboard behind every book. I don’t know when it became acceptable to be so cruel (never, really, but as has been said – there are no consequences!).
AMEN, Ellen! I’d love to think this is sound common sense and basic human kindness in consideration that “there’s a person slaving away at their keyboard behind every book,” but sadly that truth too often gets kicked to the wayside. You bring up an excellent point–the fact that the glass slipper does not fit every foot–and that’s just fine, considering some of us would prefer cowboy boots or a pair of Converse anyway 😀
Reviews do play a very important and necessary part in many of our decisions to try a new flavor, sample a new author, or buy an intriguing product, but as you’ve pointed out so well, there’s a certain courtesy that should come along with being honest. Presenting an opinion need not include a dagger though the heart.
As always, thanks for weighing-in, Ellen 😀