“You can have literature without literary criticism, but you can’t have literary criticism without literature.”
-My Literature Professor
I have a confession to make: I love reading one-star reviews of famous places and literary classics. This could include national parks like Rocky Mountain or Arches (4.9 and 4.7 average stars), landmarks like the Sydney Opera House or The Hoover Dam (both of which are rated 4.7 stars), and The Great Gatsby (which more than 11,000 people have given one star to on Goodreads).
Here are some of my favorites:
1) Arches National Park:
Twas hot in the DESERT?! I certainly shan’t be visiting.
2) Rocky Mountain National Park:
It certainly was rude of those damn conservationists to not pave over the mountains before you visited!
3) The Sydney Opera House:
Where’s the remote? Nobody told us opera would be loud!
As I scroll through these, laughing, I often wonder if anyone is taking these ridiculous people seriously. Has anyone been on the verge of leaving for Australia, then stumbled on that guy’s idiocy and gone: “Honey, James from Missouri says that opera is loud! BURN THE TICKETS! We’re going to Six Flags again. Nothing loud will happen there!”
It’s hard for me to fathom the level of basic silliness it requires to think that any review of the Sydney Opera House is worth writing or posting. But I’m clearly in the minority. Almost 60,000 people have reviewed this beautiful piece of architecture to date.
The Sydney Opera House is an engineering feat so unbelievable that it has come to represent an entire country. I was simply in awe when I saw it. It didn’t occur to me to review it, just like it’s never occurred to me to review a national park or a mountain or a river. Those things simply are. They’re much bigger than me. My opinion of them is not important.
That’s why I led with that quote from my professor. I keep it in my mind when I look up one-star reviews of books I love. The books would exist without the critics. But without the books? The critics would have nothing to criticize. Artists are trailblazers. Critics are leeches on their legs from the rivers the artists step through on their journey to greatness.
Is your opinion of The Great Gatsby really worth seven paragraphs and an hour of your time? NO!
Put that energy towards writing a better story, for God’s sake! Do something.
It’s fun to read through one-star reviews on something like the Sydney Opera House, or great works of literature. Sadly, I’ve realized that people who have given a national park one star have often also gone around randomly sprinkling one-star reviews on innocent, perhaps struggling small businesses.
I used to work for a fantastic family-run Steakhouse (if you’re ever in Fort Collins, it’s worth a visit). I found out through working there that the most popular review platforms are not democratic. They create the illusion of democracy for their reviewers, but when you look up restaurants on your favorite review platform, the top ones have paid the most to be at the top. Review platforms are double agents.
When we were first starting as a restaurant, we often had to call people who’d left one-star reviews and ask them to take them down, offering gift cards and other bribes so that they wouldn’t unfairly weigh our reputation.
A few times, we looked at other things these people had reviewed. They almost always left one star on everything else (including a gas station on one memorable occasion), because they were apparently living miserable lives.
If every review that you leave is one or two stars, with pretentious comments about how your expectations weren’t met, there is a great chance your perception of the world is to blame, not the world.
If every room you enter is full of nothing but assholes, there’s a good chance you’re the asshole.
The same is true for people who only leave five-star reviews, but they are out there having a way better time than you because their perception of the world is more positive than yours.
Does that sting? Good!
If I have a negative experience (short of, I suppose, physical harm to my body as a result) I see it as an opportunity to exercise humility. What if I didn’t like the food, based on personal taste? I ask myself.
Then I think about my qualifications. I’m unqualified to write food reviews. I have little to no kitchen experience. Does this restaurant deserve a low review because I don’t know anything? I don’t have to come here again if I don’t want to, do I?
The next time you have a bad experience at a restaurant, or experience a mild inconvenience, why not put the energy towards something useful?
Create your own better bistro. Paint! Write the next great American novel. Glue some cotton balls to a wall in the shape of John Lennon.
Be the trailblazer, not the leech. Negativity just adds to the noise.
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