Ratings and Rankings

I just saw a video clip of Ethan Hawke talking about movies, and the clip ended with a comment that really struck me. In reference to ratings and rankings, etc. he said, “when I was growing up those things didn’t exist and you could just absorb a movie for [what] it meant to you.”

It struck me how true that was and how damaging ratings and rankings and, quite frankly, knowing everyone’s opinion, is.

More than once there has been a book that I enjoyed that I somehow read in a vacuum. I just found the book, and I read the book, and I enjoyed it.

And then…I somehow encountered other people’s opinions about that book.

Sometimes they had read it. Sometimes I suspect they had not.

What was clear was that the book they read was not the book I read. What they saw in those pages was not what I saw in those pages. What the author actually intended, who knows.

But suddenly something I had experienced and enjoyed was tarnished.

And, I’m not even talking “oh that was really -ist” comments either. I’ve had this with movies I went to with friends where they wanted to talk about the movie afterward and it killed the moviegoing experience for me because I’d had two hours of “enjoyment” or “not enjoyment” and they wanted to break it down by cinematography and plot and dialogue and…

Ugh. (Don’t even get me started on The Matrix and what that was like walking out of the theater with one of those people…)

The movie was enjoyable. Leave it alone already.

And, yes, different perspectives on the same work can be instructive. It’s important to know that your viewpoint is not the only viewpoint. And to learn when something really is problematic, why.

But hearing different perspectives on something you simply enjoyed can be frickin’ exhausting. To not be allowed one little thing in this world that you can enjoy without qualification or analysis…

Ugh.

And here’s the thing. Rankings and ratings assume that all people’s opinions are equally valid. That what Person A has to say about this is equal to what Person B has to say.

But in real life we know that’s not true.

If I stick you in a room with twenty people for three months and let those people routinely voice their opinions in front of you, by the end of that three months there are people you will listen to every time they open their mouth and there are people you will ignore or hate every time they open their mouth.

Reviews and rankings don’t take that into account. Amazon will treat a two-star review that says, “the cover was bent” the same as it treats a four-star review of the actual content of the book.

And often people think, “oh, this person has a lot of reviews, they must really be the person to listen to”, but again, we all know that person who has to opine on everything and who you’d like to really shut up already, thank you very much.

But online? That person gets clout because they talk so much, not because they have anything valid to say.

And rankings are usually a reflection of two things.

One, mass popularity, which may not be what an individual consumer wants. Not everyone wants vanilla ice cream. It’s the most popular ice cream flavor-by far-but some of us like other flavors. I personally love peppermint, but it doesn’t even make the top ten. It’s not even in stores year-round.

Or, two, rankings are driven by good advertising. Money makes money even in the arts. And you often get to the point where things are popular because they’re popular.

A good ranking does not equal an enjoyable experience for the consumer. It just means a lot of people are consuming that product.

To live in a world where sales are so driven by rankings and ratings is sort of absurd really. I mean, who cares what anyone else thought if you got value or enjoyment out of that thing you watched or read or did?

I am so glad I grew up and had my formative years pre-internet. (I think it was junior year of college when I first dealt with the internet in any way and it was not a main thing for me even then. I didn’t even have home internet until my 30s.)

It was great, because I didn’t have to worry about others’ perceptions of me or my world or my interests. I could just be me and enjoy what I enjoyed and that was it.

I mean, yeah, there were real-world people with opinions, but not many, honestly. And when they did have opinions I knew them, so I knew who to listen to and who not to listen to. I could look at someone and say, “Do I care what that person thinks?” and know that the answer was “No.”

Which I guess is an argument really for spending less time with strangers’ opinions. In ratings and rankings and tweets and whatever else.

Good for them whatever they thought or felt. But I don’t need to know any of that to forge my own experiences.

Although this does remind me of a tweet I saw the other day about identity formation through exclusion and I think there’s an aspect of that that involves identity formation through inclusion.

Like, as long as you model all of your interests and appearance and everything else on what is the most popular and accepted thing that you’ll be safe somehow?

You don’t need your own opinions as long as you know what everyone else thinks and can adopt that instead?

For that personality I guess ratings and rankings are all there is then.

But, wow, is that person also really easy to manipulate…Which, hm. Yeah. Welcome to 2022.

Author: M.L. Humphrey

M.L. Humphrey is a former securities regulator, registered stockbroker (although only briefly), and consultant on regulatory and risk-related matters for large financial institutions with expertise in the areas of anti-money laundering regulation, mutual funds, and credit rating agencies. Since 2013 M.L. has also been a published author under a variety of pen names and across a variety of subjects and genres. You can contact M.L. at mlhumphreywriter [at] gmail.com.

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