12/1/06

The Rating System, or, Subjective Oversimplification 101

Update 10/31/07:

Greetings all,

You've found the secret post. Congratulations! You win a deep and abiding sense of self-satisfaction.

The post you'll eventually find below chronicles my ill-fated attempt at a custom rating system. It was oversimplified and required too much explanation for people who just wanted to look at the rating and understand what I thought of it.

(Because of course they couldn't actually read the full review to determine that. That would be insane.)

(No, I'm not bitter.)

So, in an effort to serve you, the reader a little better, I have converted my past reviews to the four star system used by almost every movie reviewer in the Western World. You're welcome. Everything I wrote below no longer applies. If you like, you can read it anyway...

Update 10/18/07:

Greetings all,

You've caught me in the midst of some alterations to my reviewing system. The system described below still applies to many of the original reviews I posted, and will continue to apply until I convert them all, one at a time, over to stars.

That's right, I'm switching to the four star system I revile in this very essay. My feelings about them have not changed; however, in an effort to make the site more user-friendly, I am moving to the system used by just about every newspaper in the country, so no one will have to read a 400 word essay to understand and then disagree with it.

Eventually, the "Rating System" links will all be cut, and this post will be put to pasture where only the most persistent of archive divers will find it. I thank you for your patience in the coming weeks. And now, the original essay...

I suppose that the act of reviewing something, anything, requires me to issue it rating of some sort. It’s part of the universal social contract—small boys have to throw stones into bodies of water for the same reason. Men in large rubber suits are likewise required to stomp on scale models of Tokyo. Catastrophic levels of cognitive dissonance could engulf the world if they didn’t. They can’t let that happen. Neither can I.

On the other hand, the most popular rating method right now (stars) offers way too many possible outcomes. True, you can’t go higher than four, but you also start at zero and hit a potential rating between each star, leaving you with nine potential end results. The second most popular method (letter grades) is even worse. Come on—a plus and a minus for every letter? That’s fifteen potential ratings; even when you take into account that everyone skips E. Such wide ranges seem dishonest in their very nature; they imply a level of objective accuracy that is simply not possible when standing in judgment of a subjective art form. For any fanciful medium (e.g.: television episodes, Olympic figure skating competitions, Academy Award ceremonies) I find most people can only agree on three broad categories: Good, Better, and Worse.

My rating system, therefore, presupposes the following scenario: You and I are at your house, perusing your comprehensive library of Mystery Science Theater episodes. You suggest that we watch one. Being a fan of the show, I agree. You choose Episode X. I think back to the last time I watched it and do one of three things:

1) I shrug and say, “Hi-Keeba.” (Or words to that effect.) I say this because you have chosen is a good, solid, funny episode that I wouldn’t mind seeing again. Most MST3K episodes fall into this category. Rating: Two out of Three.

2) I shake my head and say, “I don’t think on, Soul Brother,” and then suggest we watch Episode Y instead. I say this because Episode X either put me to sleep or made me want to jump out of my own skin last time I saw it. (Usually this is more the fault of the movie being mocked than the manner of its mocking.) Rating: One out of Three.

3) I nod enthusiastically and say, “Faaaaaar Ouuuuut,” either because Episode X is an excellent choice, or you’ve acquiesced to my suggestion of Episode Y in the previous scenario. We then settle back to watch ninety of the best minutes MST3K has to offer. Rating: Three out of Three.

Disagreement with my assessments is welcome and perhaps even encouraged; just leave a comment under the review. Be advised that the comments are moderated, causing a slight delay between the time you submit a comment and the time I get around to posting it.