Aggregator aggravation

I have developed a particular dislike for aggregator review sites. For example, Rotten Tomatoes for films, or Goodreads for books.


The star rating system is one I have always found reductive. In expressing an opinion this way, intelligent critique and discourse is invariably lost, unless people bother to read the accompanying review (assuming there is one). For example, a novel may deserve a five star rating on account of how well written it is, but someone might find the story or subject matter profoundly depressing, and rate the novel one star accordingly. What does the rating reflect? Quality of writing or quality of entertainment? It is often impossible to tell.

However, my main bone of contention is that some books or films are inherently divisive. They are either absolutely loved or absolutely reviled by those who read them. The result is that the aggregated score comes out as “average” which is hardly an accurate picture. Take for example JD Salinger’s classic The Catcher in the Rye. For every person who claims it is a literary masterpiece, there is someone who thinks it’s a load of dull, meandering nonsense. In cinema, Darren Aronofsky’s The Fountain was one of the most divisive films of recent years. Some found it mesmerising and magnificent. Others found it a pretentious, inexplicable bore. One thing I can guarantee though. No-one who read The Catcher in the Rye or saw The Fountain found them to be so-so or average.

This post may sound like sour grapes, but that really isn’t the case (my novels all come out fairly well on the review aggregators of Amazon and Goodreads). My objection is that aggregators are reductive and misleading. They stifle debate about art and pander to a deeply flawed lowest common denominator way of thinking. Are they inevitable in this day and age? Probably. But that doesn’t mean I have to like them.

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