Tuesday, March 19, 2013

After Dark, March 19, 2013

Why we do not anymore...
by Gaëtan L. Charlebois

As I was watching the papal pomp I thought about stars. (Perhaps the most lame-ass current affairs segue-way ever!)

Actually, I have been thinking about stars for a long time. It is a constant debate in the CharPo contributors group on Facebook and it has taken us nearly three years to find a position. I'm going to share the reasons with you.

Ultimately, I don't like stars. But they are everywhere! In the Globe and Mail, in the Guardian, in the weeklies. This show has three out of four stars, that one has five out of five, this one has seven out of ten. When comes a Fringe festival, everyone jumps on (even CharPo) with a galaxy of stars bedecking flyers and reviews and, ultimately, if you think long and hard, a star-rating system (SRS) means nothing. 


It may also be something slapped on by the reviewer as an afterthought.

Because many outlets have several reviewers, including this one (across the country we have about 20). In the very same outlet, one critic gives a show a star-rating. It may be one that, had it been another reviewer at the same outlet for the same show, would have been very different. However, that rating now becomes the voice of the outlet. That rating may or may not accurately reflect the actual opinion stated in the subsequent or previous review. (Fercrissakes, if you're going to have an SRS, what's the endless waffling of half-stars, if you're going to use half-stars often - and many of the outlets do - your system obviously needs more stars.) It may also be something slapped on by the reviewer as an afterthought. We...don't...know.

But what it does do for sure is quite tangible. It relieves the reader of review (over which many writers sweat, bleed and weep) from even having to read the entire review or care which reviewer at that outlet wrote it. Basically, it means that all those well-chosen phrases, bon mots and considerations can be summed up by "like it", "meh", "love it" and who said it becomes inconsequential. It's Twitter Lite. It also shows a certain laziness on the part of editors who want to know what the take-away is from the review. (I often ask the reviewers here about the take-away when it's not clear if they liked or hated the show. Sometimes "meh", it turns out, is all that can be said...but it is, at least, said.)

Anecdotally, too, I have heard from big-name reviewers who notice this strange phenomenon: that a play that didn't get the highest star rating, is sometimes the one that will stay in his or her head. (Which is why, here, we encourage our writers to submit "reconsiderations" when they wish to.)  

So right off, the outlets themselves are making life easier for audience and company.

I know why star-ratings exist. It's a give and take between producers and media outlets. When a company is about to publish an ad after an opening, it's easier for them to put in the print ad, "GLOBE AND MAIL ****" than it is for them to read the review and grab the take-away and the name of the reviewer whom readers may or may not know. Also, a phrase takes more space in a (very expensive) print ad. 

So right off, the outlets themselves are making life easier for audience and company. Is that really the point of reviewing? (Even less: is the life of the reviewer meant to be easy?) Short, as Valerie Cardinal says in one of her weekly columns, can be sweet. But it's not meant to be a cakewalk

Now...the Fringe.

I realized when CharPo removed its length limit on Fringe reviews (it was 250 words) it was for exactly the same reason why we won't be using the SRS anymore for the Fringes across the country. A show - Fringe, alt, big house, small house - should be taken seriously as part of the wide conversation that is theatre. Moreover, so many Fringe shows have made the leap to mainstage that the shadowy line between the two venues has become meaningless. 

Now, I have talked with some of my colleagues who are at outlets who use the SRS. To a man or woman, few want to go on the record and most will tell you it's the outlet's choice. 

And there you go and there is nothing we, at CharPo, can do about that except suggest you think on it.

1 comment:

  1. Benjie KibblewhiteMarch 19, 2013 at 7:35 PM

    I think maybe the attractiveness of Star Rating Systems might have it's root in our school system. I'm currently a student, and I know that I get a lot more pleasure from an assignment that got a 98% that I did not learn much from, than a challenging assignment that maybe only got an 80%, or *gasp*, something in the %70s or the %60s. My mind is programmed in such a way that, despite what I might desire otherwise, I place a lot more importance in high scores and numerical rankings of success then I do in worthwhile learning experiences.


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