I love the services letterboxd and GoodReads. I enjoy keeping track of my watching and reading, something I’ve previously done manually. I’d write down books and movies, simply keeping tabs on what I’d consumed through a year. It’s fun, as a way to remind yourself of what you’ve seen and note the ebb and flow of your viewing habits.

Perhaps keeping a hand-written record of movies and books I read is an indication after all that I am, in fact, a nerd.

As I was rating a recent book, I realized the conundrum we all encounter each time we log something.

What Do I Rate This?

The first prompt is to give the entertainment you just endured/enjoyed a rating.

It can seem flattering that they care. It lets you know that people want to know what you think is worth their entertainment time!

Of course, while that may be true, most likely it’s mainly just app data leveraged by Amazon to improve their sales algorithms’ ability to market to you (GoodReads).

Letterboxd, while a welcome shelter from the ongoing Rotten Tomatoes Wars, indubitably has their eye on a marketing prize. I’m skeptical enough of all online services (thanks to the liars at Google, Twitter, and Facebook) to believe that I’m just not aware of how they’re using it to their benefit.

Not to be fatalist, it’s only a question of time until it figuratively catches on fire. Netflix can’t even give us the option of star ratings anymore, just the simple binary like/dislike.

As a pal pointed out, letterboxd isn’t a movie troll battlefield yet because Rotten Tomatoes is higher profile to the point where their “freshness seal” is used on marketing. I think GoodReads has a better shot at remaining fun because it’s not like the book community is vicious.

Ah well, nothing I can do. Perils of the modern age.

Back to the question at hand, as I debated internally with what to rate Song of Spider-Man, a truly fun and well-written memoir by Glen Berger, I asked myself why I was bothering to rate it at all.

Writing a review is one thing. As you can tell, even before letterboxd, I loved to write reviews. I love to write them still. I even wrote book reviews for this blog on occasion.

always-two-anakin-skywalker-obi-wan-kenobi-tall
Related question: Did the Jedi go to the movies? Did arguments turn some to the Dark Side?

Star Ratings as Oddly Pointless

As I pondered that book, though, I started to think that maybe a star rating is an oddly pointless task.

We can kid ourselves that it’s a jumping off point, and that people will read a review or know us well enough to contextualize our rating. That’s not being honest with ourselves, though. We know it’s going to be the main thing at which someone looks.

The reason I’ve started wondering if it’s helpful, is because everyone’s criteria are different. We may be forced to operate on the same scale, but we’re not the same.

Five Stars for one person may be “more attainable” than another. Five Stars could mean “all time classic to be remembered so long as filmmaking stands athwart the shifting sands of time,” or “it’s perfect but, as all things, is destined to fade and be forgotten even by those who loved it.”

One friend of mine uses other films as a comparison metric to determine if a new film “rates” the same as the classics of the past. “You gave it the same number of stars as The Godfather?” is a question in conversations like that.

Well, yeah. I rate things based on individual merit. I don’t care where that places it, even in relation to my personal favorites. That doesn’t mean I’m better or that my scale works for others, but then it doesn’t have to work for anyone else.

I suppose it was easier to navigate that when only “official critics” posted their ratings. You still had to get a feel for whether you were dealing with Jeff Craig or Roger Ebert, though.

He just read your reasoning for your rating.

Vagary and Validity

I wonder if, once you’re aware of people viewing your ratings, it influences your habits. It’s not exactly a news flash that people are conscious of the judgment of their friends and neighbors. Perhaps it says more about my circle of friends than the world at large, but I’m aware that anything I publicly rate will be open to scrutiny.

It’s one reason I’m such a fan of my friend B-Shea: He makes no apologies for loving and rating things highly. I’ve taken him as an inspiration point to embrace the idea of loving things freely and unabashedly. I’ve encountered plenty of people who confuse “being harsh” with being “more valid” in some way.

The Internet Tribunal prepares to pass judgment on the intent, and competence, of a group of filmmakers.

In Conclusion

Of course I’m still going to give things star ratings. Of course I anticipate it will continue to cause discussions where people question my “ability” to review movies.

It doesn’t really matter, though, because this blog entry is totally worthy of a five-star rating.