“If you don’t like a show, don’t watch it.”
This seems like common sense to most, but whenever I hear it, I roll my eyes. (Or I think about rolling my eyes. I can’t always be bothered to make the effort.) That’s because it always comes as a comment on my TV reviews. No, I don’t particularly like Glee or True Blood or any number of other popular series that I continue to watch. Why should I write about them instead of about all the shows I do enjoy? And why am I writing reviews of these series when other, more loyal fans could probably provide a less hateful perspective?
It’s not just to piss people off, though I won’t deny there’s a pleasure in riling up the masses. In criticism, it’s important to get different points of view. If there weren’t any negative reviews, all reviews would be meaningless—you can heap praise on whatever you like, but if everyone likes everything, there’s really no point in talking about it, is there? “If you don’t like a show, don’t watch it” sounds sensible: it follows the “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all” line of thinking. But being a critic often means delving into entertainment that isn’t your first choice.
I was a TV fan before I was a TV critic, so I understand the passion with which livid commenters respond to my pieces. Do I think I should be fired for my takedown of Glee? No (I’ll admit I’m biased), but I can at least appreciate where the rage is coming from. We develop close relationships to the series we watch, and reading another person’s attack can feel very personal. I think there’s another dimension in a culture that has become hypersensitive to bullying, a legitimate problem we’ve turned into a meaningless buzz word. I have indeed been labeled a bully, because to some people, all criticism is damaging—pointing out a show’s faults is the same as picking on it. And if corporations are people, hey, maybe TV shows are, too.
I find this reaction ridiculous, and it bugs the shit out of me. But accusations of bullying aside, the anger over negative TV reviews speaks to the special relationship we have with “our stories.” It also reflects an unfortunate trend in TV journalism—the movement from analysis and response to “scoops” and “breaking news.” There are sites that break stories far more often than I do (which is never), but their reviews are so mild, I hesitate to call them that. It’s not that I reject all positive criticism—it’s more that these pieces are devoid of opinion entirely. They are fluff, designed to attract readers who know what they like and seek validation. Wasn’t last night’s True Blood amazing? Let’s OMG together.
The problem with “reviews” like these—well, there are several, but let’s narrow it down—is that they create an unrealistic standard by which legitimate TV journalism is judged. When one site blindly praises every episode of a series, another site’s complaints might come across as unfair or forced. It’s easy to dismiss the actual critic as a “hater,” another useless designation commenters love to throw around on the internet.
I guess what really bugs me is something I’ve mentioned before, this bizarre suggestion that the internet is a limited space. There is, in fact, infinite room for scathing reviews and fluff pieces, and everything in between. And yet, I still read comments that say “this is the kind of review that ruins television,” as though the mere utterance of a negative thought undermines someone else’s positivity. I assure you that my feelings about Glee have no bearing on its success—nor do my articles take up valuable space from those that would give it a weekly two thumbs up.
You know what seems common sense to me? “Everyone is entitled to his or her own opinion.” I can criticize your show, and yes, you can criticize my review! The key is not denying anyone the right to criticize. It’s hard when the focus of the criticism is something near and dear to you. Because yes, when I hear people shit on a series I love, it feels a little like someone attacking a lover. (Particularly if they’re talking about Breaking Bad, featuring my boyfriend Jesse Pinkman.) So while I understand the source of your anger at my reviews, I resent the implication that I am somehow “speaking out of turn.”
I’d end this post with a pithy, “If you don’t like my blog, don’t read it,” but I don’t even want to joke about you not reading my blog.