How About a No-Ratings Option?

Since Netflix announced it’s switching from five star to thumbs up/thumbs down ratings, there’s been a flurry of internet news and culture site articles reporting the change in the oddest of ways. These articles (google and read any three) explain the change, Netflix’s reasoning (increasing user ratings, which somehow translates to better ratings for its own programming, and better personal recommendations)…then, somewhere, shoehorn in the recent trolling of Amy Schumer’s The Leather Special.  It’s just dropped there like a mic, or briefly discussed as a “problem” with the current ratings system, though the connection is never explained.

In addition to giving reddit trolls the notoriety they thrive on–Schumer’s response on social media has derided not the trolls but those reporting it like it’s news–the illusion that they have real power (other than the power to annoy and make streaming and other pop culture sites feel like just another space hostile to women), none of these articles actually name the real problem, which is misogyny.

Acknowledging that I understand little when it comes to website algorithms, my first question about the new system is: How would a thumbs up/down system change trolling? Won’t it be just as easy to thumb down a title you want to trash? How will the “compatibility” factor affect a rating?

Additionally, I wonder what will happen with all the star ratings users have given over the years, including mine. Will they be “translated” into a thumbs up or down? What average star rating would constitute a thumbs up or down?

I took part in the survey Netflix used to assess the star rating system and possible alternatives. I can’t clearly recall all the questions or my responses, but even before the survey, I’d been thinking about ratings across various sites. I was excited when I read Netflix was overhauling its system and hoped for the best. I’ll give the new system a shot (I don’t have a choice, much like with the annoying music now playing when I highlight a title on my Xbox app or my inability to add a title to my streaming queue from the DVD site as I previously could), but what I really want is the option to turn off or hide ratings altogether, whether stars or thumbs up/down.

Netflix isn’t the only site where trolls target specific titles with a campaign of negative ratings. The Leather Special has been voted down on IMDb and Letterboxd as well, and Schumer’s book was targeted on Amazon. Women-driven films like 2016’s Ghostbusters were given low ratings before being released, and I noticed the same with the James Baldwin doc I Am Not Your Negro. Sometimes ratings “recover” after those who’ve actually seen/read and enjoyed the title contribute, but not fully (I Am Not Your Negro‘s rating is a 7/10 on IMDb, which is likely lower than it otherwise would be). I stopped using IMDb other than for show times precisely because I could no longer put up with that kind of bullshit. Though the site states some votes count more than others to avoid exactly this kind of problem, and they recently did away with the viper’s nests that were the discussion boards, it remains too hostile an environment for me to frequent.

Beyond trolling, I also wonder how useful ratings of any kind truly are to me as a viewer/reader. My reading and watching tastes are eclectic. I’m not denying that some suggestions are accurate, that the data gathered from my use of sites is useful–to the sites themselves. Having recently read Dexter Palmer’s novel Version Control, data as identity is on my mind. But if it’s profitable to corporations, I want to at least benefit from it myself.

What ratings do is (negatively) affect what I choose to watch and, sometimes, read. A title looks interesting or was recommended, but,  oh, it’s only got a two-star rating. Pass. Or, a title’s got five stars, so it should be awesome, but, eh, it didn’t meet expectations. Ratings (and the proliferation of online opinions) also turn me into a little critic; as I watch/read, I’m already writing a review in my mind or imagining what rating I’ll give it instead of, you know, engaging with the story. I can take responsibility for these habits, but helping to control them requires a degree of personalization most sites don’t offer.

When I look at reviews on Netflix, negative ones in particular, it becomes clear how stupid and unhelpful people’s gripes with films and shows can be. If the reviews are an indication of the reasoning behind low ratings then I’d rather not bother at all.

For consumers, ratings are supposed to help them find content they’re likely to enjoy and avoid what they’re less likely to enjoy. Viewers and readers have long used critics’ reviews and friends’ recommendations for these purposes and still do. Online ratings are like “word of mouth” on a large scale, except virtually none of these people are your friends, and, depending on the film/show/book, very few write like legit critics.

In the past, when I subscribed to Entertainment Weekly, I would sometimes abstain from reading a review of a film I was eager to see because a negative review would make me seek flaws. Sometimes I also just didn’t want my buzz harshed. Browsing films and books online, I can’t avoid seeing what a pile of crap others have found something to be, or, sometimes worse, how mediocre. When those ratings may not even reflect a film/show/book’s actual viewership/readership, why should I have to see them?

At the end of the day, my desire for a no-ratings option isn’t about rating accuracy or finding new content. It’s about agency and control over my own viewing/reading experience.

 

How About a No-Ratings Option?

Stranger (and Familiar) Things

Judging from user ratings and critics alike, I’m in the minority of those who think the new original Netflix series Stranger Things is just okay instead of the Coolest Thing Ever. Look at any review and you’ll find a handful of references to ’80s movies such as E.T., Firestarter, The Goonies, and Poltergeist. The problem is, the show doesn’t add up to much more than an homage to such films, a loving pastiche, but  a copy nonetheless. It’s like a cover song of an ’80s tune rather than a new song that uses ’80s sounds to make unique music. In our reboot culture, it’s somehow closer in tone and story to those films than an actual reboot with the same characters, despite the fact that the show’s story is original (in the most basic sense). Everything from the score and pop songs to the neon red title, promotional images, casting, and story elements is an ode to ’80s pop culture.

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Stranger (and Familiar) Things

Miss Jessica Jones

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(Forgive the silly title; for some reason, every time I watched an episode, the Rolling Stones’ “Miss Amanda Jones” came to mind, and then the movie Some Kind of Wonderful. It was a whole thing. #associations)

Some things to know about me that are relevant to these thoughts on Marvel’s Jessica Jones: The whole superhero explosion exhausts me. I’ve essentially abstained from watching the endless parade of adaptations and sequels, movies and TV both (the last superhero thing I willingly watched and enjoyed was Guardians of the Galaxy). Also, my reading of superhero comic book canon is light. You won’t see complaints about the show as an adaptation. Even if I did read more, I believe that every version of a text needs to work on its own as whatever it is (a book, a movie, a TV show, etc.). Easter eggs are cool; assuming my knowledge is not (nor the unnecessary crossover, as when Claire from Daredevil shows up).

One last thing: it’s not just–or even really–the saturation. It’s the lack of women superheroes put center stage.

When Jessica Jones arrived on Netflix, I thought, Okay, I could check that out. When I read it was not like other superhero fare, I moved it up the queue. When I quickly understood that it was TV noir, I was on fucking board.

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Miss Jessica Jones

Orange Is the New Black: Season 4

I’d been planning to write my thoughts on the newest season of Orange Is the New Black since I finished watching a few days ago, but my emotions are overwhelming my ability to coherently describe them. So, warning for possible incoherence, albeit of the best sort: fangirl feels with a side of thinky-thoughts.

This is my favorite season of the show, although the season finales are such that, even though season 3 wasn’t the best, that ending with the frolicking at the lake gave me such a high I forgot about any gripes I had.

SPOILERS AHEAD

Continue reading “Orange Is the New Black: Season 4”

Orange Is the New Black: Season 4

Bloodline Season 2

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Bloodline took me by surprise last season; I didn’t know what the show would be, just that it had an amazing cast. By the second episode, I was enthralled with the family drama-cum-thriller and its alternately beautiful and dark Florida Keys setting. This season has gotten mixed reviews, with some favoring this season and others the first. My reaction is mixed as well, but I’d be happy to have more, especially with that ending.

As with the first season, the performances are the best element. Last season, Ben Mendelsohn stole the show as misfit prodigal son, Danny, which is saying something given that his costars include Sissy Spacek, Kyle Chandler, and Linda Cardellini. This season, tensions have only risen, and watching these characters–Chandler’s John, the “responsible” oldest son and detective; Cardellini’s Meg, a lawyer; and Norbert Leo Butz’s irresponsible Kevin–barely keep it together after the events of last season is a nail-biting pleasure. My favorite scene involved John confirming his wife’s suspicions without saying a word; Chandler turns into a scared little boy right before your eyes, all the more impressive if, like me, you associate him most strongly with Friday Night Lights‘ Coach Eric Taylor.

Another amazing scene is when all three siblings confront one another, with Meg and Kevin teaming up against John. No one is willing to take full responsibility for their actions, and it showcases another effective element of the show, which is the way it steers your sympathies with different characters moment to moment. You’re never rooting for anyone long.

The weakest part of this season was the cavalcade of new characters, meant to keep some of the same tensions from last season while restricting the main characters’ choices. There was just one too many, and their storylines didn’t always pay off, or were shifted. I’m most interested in Evangeline and Nolan, as well as the obviously shady Roy Gilbert and his plans.

I would still recommend this show if you’re looking for something tense and well-acted.

Bloodline Season 2