Review the Reviewer – Aggregator Syndrome

ATLaggregatorSearchToolMovie review aggregators have become the opium dens of the twenty-first century, lavish destinations where the hapless moviegoer finds themselves zombified by the powerful intoxicant of assembled opinions.  It’s where numbers and percentage points judge the merits of a movie, provide a snapshot value that one can turn to without ever reading a review or looking any further.  How many of the movies that you watched in 2012 were based on the collected facts, fictions and forecasts of a movie review aggregator?  How many movies did you skip because the ratings just didn’t convince you to head out to the theater only later, when you finally watched that same movie you really enjoyed it?  Did you go because the immutable they told you so, only to leave you out in the cold, disappointed just like the last time you  agreed to agree with popular opinion?  Today we face a growing disconnect from the singular movie experience, our personal tastes and flavors replaced by the pluralization of opinion.  But it’s just so easy, you say, to turn to their convincing graphs and pie charts because every now and again something breaks free and exceeds despite bad numbers, wins awards and a few more weeks at the metroplex, or not at all, gone too soon.  It used to be the review stood on its own two feet, celebrity scribes scribbling hot air and popcorn breath opinions about blockbusters and rom-coms, lesser known writers pushing art films and independents back before Indie became a marketing tool.  Today those that did are still doing it but they’ve been absorbed by the aggregator monsters, assimilated to a degree and processed Soylent Green for the aimless chomping it up and asking for more.  The fact is review aggregators package sameness, homogenized generalities and reward bland leaders and bland followers with more bland, and they are ruining the movie experience.

Above the Line: Practical movie reviews with Rory DeanThere’s no short supply of collected opinion destinations, group ratings about movies and entertainment media, collected assessments to fancy-up faceless, blameless aggregators that down play originality, replace individuality.  It’s become so much more about the import of wind to inform scattered responsibility because when everyone is to blame there isn’t anyone to hold accountable.  In the near and far of it all, reviewers and aggregators all vying for your cherished audience and getting lost in the shuffle, it’s like we know better but we’ve grown accustomed to not caring.  So I go about trying to bring it back to the individual voice and blogs like this one and other blogs because we need to pay attention again if anything is going to come of it.  I’m not opposed to the idea of aggregated content just the application of it to blanket the imagination.  Sure, we need a way of accessing all the blogs with their dependencies and inner workings that make up this grand interconnected web of communities and social network neighborhoods in which everyday authors and armchair movie enthusiasts bout wits against the established, the well-known and the unknowns, but we need to look closer and appreciate more of the singular voices dotting the landscape of numbed numbers and easy to read dial-o-meters where it makes so much more cents and sense.

rorysays_missitWe really do all want the same thing -and- not the same thing but someone has gotten in the middle, used our dreams and aspirations against us, turned the informed into the formulated.  This very blog was born of such abandon, the opportunity to share my insights and experiences, to react and respond and re-purpose all the years I’ve spent inside movies and the glow of movie theaters.  One of the many joining some of the few to offer practical advice and informed opinion, to rally the frustrated and motivate the lost-in-the-shuffle if only to breathe again without the life support of movie studios and executives plotting the next franchise and billion dollar forgettable that’s erasing us the big screen for the ATM machine.  Of course in order to write my blog I have to read the blogs of others and the places created to house all those blogs to make my job manageable and share in the collective of people and places where little stars, buckets of popcorn and erect thumbs declaring ‘see it’ or ‘miss it’ or what have you do matter in the end.  But it’s becoming almost entirely impossible to wage a war against the phantom menace of opinions without faces or names or accountability and the mess is too big to squeegee clean again so we continue to squeeze out the individual for the marketable, for the invisible responsible.

ratingsoverloadATLRottentomatoes is the biggest aggregator, right next to Metacritic, Average and Intelligence and a bunch of others coming up.  Their purpose is to present vast amounts of information in an easily digested, quickly satisfied way like energy bars and sports drinks that espouse to change your life but end up contributing to your need to shove calories and generalizations down your throat.  The information is helpful in an immediate and in your face sort of way, X-number of folks like or dislike, Y-number of professionals think this way so you should too or else you’ll end up on the other list nobody reads list.  What’s not to like?  Basically it’s a lot of pretty lights and flashing nonsense from the tally up to the numbers at a glance that can’t differentiate between performance and story any more than acting, directing and any number of production values, human spirit uplifting scores or dangers of the mind espionage in a comedy wrapper that works and doesn’t work at multiple levels.  You can display them in one neat place for your immediate and absolute clarity but what does that really say about anything?  The heaven and hell of aggregators, however good for us is how very often they glaze over specificity and flavor, how they mute the tangible for the sugary breakfast cereal high, resort to salty snack food mediocrity for the sake of easily digestible, short-term gains and long-term forgettable.

chartsHow many opinions does it take to get the middle of a box office flop?  Twenty five, no fifty before you ever get anywhere near the good because addiction is easy when everyone is doing it – cafe latte breve mocha intravenous Fair Trade bolus please.  I don’t even remember non-tab browsing now with every social portal greedily gathering the ripe, pithy dots of wisdom and irreverent mayhem over the next Batman or who m’ffd up the latest childhood fable gone terribly, terribly wrong.  It’s overload.  It’s maximus terminus and you know it, I’m with you, say it out loud – we’ve got to make up our own mind.  It’s a fad, it’s no win browsing for full course meals you’re never going to eat.  It’s easier to turn the page because mostly these places are saying the same things just in a different colored font, black background or picturesque mountain scape that changes like the real daylight coming in from outside your cubicle slash carton slash rapid transit car window – because really it’s less about you and your content as it is about theirs and their content and mostly it’s just a semblance of /informed/ when knowledge translates to ad/none-cents in bank accounts that don’t share the same fees as ours.  We know better but we’re afraid to say we’ve had enough.

I aggregate as much as I have to.  You have to know what’s out there before you can write about it with any amount of clarity and conviction.  I do get a kick out of finding a movie I’ve only just screened or did some time ago, tears of joy or anger fresh on my cheeks, popcorn butter half-moon yellow under my nails and at least one half-cracked kernel stuck between the same two stubborn molars,  ripped to pieces by fifty people I’ll never meet in a dirty alley much less elbow to elbow at the theater collected neatly and efficiently, effectively distinguished as “pro-raters” or “top critics” because as we all know these are professionals after all.  And then there’s the really good ones stuck in there too that seem to be succeeding but all those words never make it to the reader or worse, just add to the confusion.  For me, it all comes from having been there and made some films and really spent time getting inside them to explore them here with you, not at you, asking you to join me in finding the films that make us laugh and cry and knowing why it’s so rewarding to go to the movies with someone who loves the hard work of movies so much that they’ve dedicated their life to the art, craft and adventure of making them and writing about them and trying so very much to capture the magic of cinema.

About rorydean

Rory Dean is a multi-medium artist, writer and new media strategist with a background as a creative consultant and technology liaison in the San Francisco Bay Area. His broad experiences and specialties include print-to-web publicity, promotions and design marketing using traditional and social media networks. As a motion pictures and television professional, his short films, productions and commercials have screened to domestic and international audiences. His connections to a diverse client base include artists, entertainers, corporations, non-profits and everyday people.. Dean is co-owner and founder of Dissave Pictures, a boutique production company focusing on audio, video, photography and multi-media designs. Dean's personal and professional background includes dreaming and avid notebook journaling, creative and copy writing, promotions and marketing, audio/video production, photography, videography, editing, web design and new media. He’s also a fan of collaboration and knows when to turn the reigns over, offer feedback, lead the team and step aside. His portfolio includes print, online, film, video, photography, graphic design and promotions. He’ll show you. He has a book and everything. "When not juggling various online worlds, I do a pretty good mime – but that’s another story."
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13 Responses to Review the Reviewer – Aggregator Syndrome

  1. jimeli1 says:

    Absolutely stricken with truth..Words rolling along that entwine me with shame even.I am that breakfast cereal type of monster sometimes also.I MUST POST THIS..Fantastic

    • rorydean says:

      Thanks for the props and visit, always enjoy your thoughts on my thoughts. As long as you enjoy your breakfast cereal with a little sideline, off the beaten refrigerator glow, decadent nougats of some homespun confectionery delight scraped from the worn, beaten mixing bowls of an independent in the sea of sameness you’re doing OK.

  2. Beer Movie says:

    Bam, I fuckin love this post. Legitimately cannot remember reading anything I have enjoyed more. Impassioned and awesome.

    Doesn’t hurt that I agree with you 100%. I cannot stand aggregators and the laziness that they represent. I hate when podcasters etc, start talking about a film by saying ‘This film is currently at blah on Rotten Tomatoes’. If I cared about that, I would have just gone to Rotten Tomatoes, but if I go to a pod or a blog I want individual opinion. The joy comes in seeing other people enjoy films you did, or appreciating what they loved about a movie you hated. Not this bland, stale ‘the masses state this’.

    Keep up the good work man.

  3. Hey Rory,

    Nice article! Personally I do find aggregators useful in the sense that it makes it easy to find other people’s reviews quickly and easily – Google can only be so effective in finding reviewers, you have to trawl pages and pages of results to find a decent number of actual reviews a lot of the time. I also take the aggregate score as an indication worth as much as any indication, like a friend’s opinion or the chatter in the cinema bathroom. As a reviewer I just find it interesting to know what other people thing. They’re useful for some things but I’d never take them as a reason to go and see a film or not.

    I do want to point out one error in your article though – is not an aggregator site. I’m a film review / news / previews website run by one person. While I’m flattered that you found my little ol’ blog (it’ll probably be the only time I’m ever mentioned in the big leagues with RottenTomatoes and Metacritic) and who am I to turn down a perfectly good link for SEO (since people do of course use Google to find reviews, even if it is ineffective sometimes). So, I’m afraid you might be linking to the wrong site in the sentence “Rottentomatoes is the biggest aggregator, right next to Metacritic, Average and Intelligence and a bunch of others coming up” – I just have a couple of links on my links page to Metacritic and RT is all.


    • rorydean says:

      Hey Nicola,

      Thanks for reading! Of course aggregators are like liquor and sports cars, in the right hands they make speeding through life an helluva a ride but sadly in the hands of the masses they become beer gardens with endless spigots of flat suds and wild minds, loose hands and the smell of burning rubber left in almost perfect circles in the intersections of urban nightmares. “ any indication, like a friend’s opinion or the chatter in the cinema bathroom..” – love that line!

      In terms of use and practice, you are definitely right. As a reviewer they do serve their purpose, however dangerously. Many a times have I got stuck in the spiral of blanket opinions desperately wanting to comment on the comments, torn between setting them on fire and embracing them in many bookmarks of things I should read and often do but never as much as I’d like. There’s just so many films!

      Thanks for the correction. Perhaps I was hasty, as I often admit, rushing to get my posts out there. I will get on that correction and see just how I can right the wrong, perhaps with a little more time spent at your place.

      I know I can learn a lot and need to. Perhaps we can share war stories.



  4. Rodney says:

    Astute observations, comprehensively examined, Rory. Really great work here. I’m not a huge fan of aggregate sites, and rarely visit them because I think they too easily color one’s opinion on a film when you go see it… “well, Rotten Tomatoes has a rating of x% on this film so I should at least expect to like this film that much” is a bad mindset to go into watching a film with.
    As Nicola mentioned above, however, these kinds of sites do have a purpose, which to a certain degree works against the blanket-rating methodology in that it opens readers up to new voices of review… if they bother to read them. Too often, I think, reviewers spend their time trying to come up with pithy “cover quote” reviews, reviews which offer short, sharp and barbed capsule reviews of a film, instead of examining it in any really deep way.
    It’s a matter of personal taste, I think, but my own preference is for a review which really tries to get into the nitty-gritty of why a film is good or bad, not just saying “it’s good” or “it’s bad” without justification. Longer reviews tend to allow a more thorough examination of all aspects of a film, from direction, acting and production, which gives a reader more appreciation for the film from a foundation-to-finale perspective. Other, though, won’t read a review longer than 300 words. Might as well make all our reviews Twitter-feed length, I guess.
    Thanks for the link as well, brother. Kudos once again on a fine article!

    • rorydean says:

      Thanks Rod. I think you’re right, especially when it comes to someone who is in a hurry or only really scans for the totals, spots the high/low marks and makes a spot decision. As others have pointed out, the aggregators do serve a purpose, both beneficial and constructive, a resource and a snapshot look at what people are saying in general, also a way to find collected reviews – of course how one navigates the avalanche of pluses and minuses, well, that’s another story.

      YES! Those damnable pithy bits, the DVD box top liners to snag the passerby. I admit I look for those little star gems and cleverness but only in order to support a much larger, more in-depth analysis. I’ve been juggling the idea of developing a side-project with those condensed reviews, a way to cater to the growing popularity of less is more. Who knows if anything will come of it.

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  6. Mack Dandy says:

    How else are we supposed to get any idea about movies without comparing them this way? I use Rotten Tomatoes for everything, on my phone and at work and I tell everyone if they need help picking a movie and don’t want to waste their money, use them. There is no harm in it even if you think they suck.

    • rorydean says:

      Wow, I think you are going to bust my chops aren’t you? I’m glad for the discussions just the same – I never turn down a chance to debate! We can come up with our own likes and dislikes and then, maybe peruse the aggregators to see but don’t rely on them. It’s tempting like chocolate cake and ice cream but people rely on them to make up their minds and that’s where I see a problem. Good for you, it works for you.

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