Stop Using ‘Objective’

In recent years, I’ve noticed a bothersome trend. People who review the arts and entertainment have started using the word ‘objective’ in the course of their reviews, on the presumption that their reviews will be more helpful if they focus on verifiable aspects of the work in question. While this seems to be done with good intentions, I cannot help but be flummoxed when the reviewer inevitably (sometimes immediately, sometimes gradually) ends up rattling off praise and/or criticism steeped solely in his or her own weird biases.

Stop using ‘objective’ when discussing the necessarily subjective. It is lazy and counterproductive. There’s nothing wrong with bias in reviewing, and I wish it were OK for the various nerds who tell people what to think about the arts to admit as much.

It is lazy because it invokes the concept of outside verification as a short hand for the kinds of qualities that are generally regarded as good in a work, in an effort to give that agreement a greater degree of legitimacy. Of course, this kind of agreement, even when it is broadly shared among the population is inherently subjective. Furthermore, while there is often broad agreement about what it good in the arts (it is generally considered desirable for movies and scripted TV shows to be well-written, and for video games to have tight controls), there isn’t universal agreement. Nothing is being verified in the way objectivity demands, rather, the concept of verification is invoked to provide the illusion of verification where none exists, or can exist, and to the unfortunate exclusion of dissenting opinions (hold that thought). In other words, it’s lazy.

It’s also counterproductive. Pretending that subjective opinions are rooted in verifiable facts distracts reviewers from being frank about their opinions. Instead of framing a critiques in terms of what the individual reviewer liked and disliked, and for what reasons it did or did not speak to him or her, it frames those critiques in terms a theoretically shared standard that doesn’t actually exist. Rather than help me decide whether to check a thing out or not (the ostensible purpose of reviews), this practice leaves me utterly unable to make that determination.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve become more aware of my own biases, and more comfortable with having my own fucking opinions on things, even (and in a lot of ways, especially) when those opinions differ from the consensus. This means that if a review is framed in terms of bias and opinion, I can examine to what extent I share those biases, and decide for myself if I’m interested in a work, regardless of whether the review was positive or negative. If the review is trying to be ‘objective’, this becomes much less clear.

I’m glad to have grown up enough to avoid passing judgment on works I haven’t experienced, but I didn’t always have that sagacity. Having come back around to far too many things I was scared off from and ended up enjoying, sometimes tremendously, I can’t help but feel that ‘objective’ reviews can only prevent people from checking out things they would actually like. So please, learn to be accept subjectivity. There’s nothing wrong with it, and it makes the world more interesting.

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