Friday, 4 August, 2006
The Reviewer and the Critic
When you put yourself in front of the public eye, poised to be subjected to its scrutiny, if you’re going to survive the ordeal, you develop a thick skin and learn to take the knocks that come with the exposure. The occasional attacks come with the territory, and I can generally take it in stride. Once in a while, though, something just rubs the wrong way. That’s when a good rant does the soul some good.
Tobaccoreviews.com is a great resource for lovers of pipe tobaccos. There, you can read the opinions of many diverse pipesters about a great many pipe tobaccos, including some that have been out of production for years. The reviews range from short, simple statements of preference, to longer, prosaic and sometimes lyrical expositions about the blend. It’s fun to read what others think about our favored smokes; the entertainment value alone is worth the price of admission, and the informed reviews given by some are even useful in furthering the universal knowledge of pipe tobaccos in general. It’s not a perfect site, but it’s a damn good one, and we should all be glad to have it, whether or not the information it contains ever influences or even informs our purchases.
I’d say this even if my blends didn’t, overall, get pretty good reviews. Certainly, not everyone will like everything that I produce. That’s really as it should be, and I actually enjoy the thoughtful negative reviews as much, or almost as much as I enjoy the positive ones. I learn something from each.
But, once in a while, this wonderful resource is transformed into the stone on which some self-professed expert grinds his axe. I’m not talking about those odd little non-reviews: “I don’t like this kind of tobacco. If I did like this kind of tobacco, this would be a really good one, but since I don’t, I don’t like it, and therefore can’t recommend it.” Why one would review a tobacco made in a style they don’t like is quite beyond my ken, but there it is. I don’t claim to fully understand human behaviour. These are puzzling, but easy to ignore, and are only annoying to those who lack tolerance for folly. No. What I’m talking about is something that, in a civilized world, can only be considered spiteful and repugnant. I’m talking about the critic who goes beyond the review, and casts aspersions upon the individual behind the product being reviewed.
The reviewer reviews. He has some knowledge and some understanding of the product, and brings this to bear in forming an opinion on something that is within his purview. A good review discusses what something is, compares it with similar things, and perhaps contrasts it with dissimilar things. Occasionally, a good review will side venture gently into the realms of what something isn’t, but the overall thrust remains on the object at hand. Overtime, one learns the preferences of the various reviewers, and, in the best cases, gains some deeper understanding of the object of the reviews. Good reviews, positive or negative, can help to inform the choice of what things to try next. More than once, I’ve tried something that someone didn’t like, simply because their description led me to think that it might be something that I might like, even though it didn’t please the reviewer.
The critic does something different. He goes beyond opinion and seeks to pass judgement upon the merits of the thing. There’s a place for criticism, certainly, but it’s not the same as a review. And, outside of the worlds of art criticism or literary criticism, or even political criticism, I’m often left to wonder if the criticism itself has much merit, or if the critic would endure his own scrutiny were his attention turned selfward. Those who can, do, and those who can’t, become critics.
What’s the point, Pease? Once again, I found myself in the short iron sights of one of the more caustic critics, and he’s finally got under my normally elephant thick skin. Well, he’s got his forum; I’ve got mine. And, unlike his public attacks on tobaccoreviews.com, mine will not be hidden behind pseudo-anonymity and preclude response. Anyone can comment here.
This particular spite filled critic has returned to my sphere with his latest “review” of Odyssey. For a change, he actually says something almost nice about one of my blends, but, can’t seem to help himself from impotently and weakly thrusting his dull and rusty daggers in the direction of my back. In the unilateral world of this review site, he’s able to tap out whatever foolishness he wishes with no fear of reprisal from those he attacks – which, if a cursory scan of his other reviews is any indication, is only me. Why this limp little man has chosen to direct his impotent attacks at me is unknown, but some people just like to have enemies, and it seems I am his chosen one.
Regarding Odyssey, the critic writes, “The last time that I reviewed a G. L. Pease blend I intended to achieve my goal in that review by not buying another Pease product. In a moment of insanity, that might have been disguised as drunkenness, I bought Odyssey.” My advice to this fellow would be either for him to drink more or to drink less, but in any event, to stay out of the zone of drunkenness which enfeebles him to the point of staggering to the local tobacconist’s to purchase another of my tins.
In other “reviews,” he refers to my blends as “rubbish,” “refuse,” calls me a “Master Marketer,” casts aspersions on the contents of my blends, an even takes oblique bank shots at those who enjoy my blends, indicating they’re apparently unable to think for themselves, and have simply been skillfully indoctrinated by my masterful brainwashing. Just call me Svengali. I’ll give him credit, though, for coining the term “mis-terpiece.” While the internet has proven false the notion that 10000 monkeys at 10000 typewriters would eventually tap out the collected works of Shakespeare, it’s nice to see that, given enough tapping, one clever thing might be generated at a single keyboard.
“I am ashamed that Greg again managed to trick me long enough to take my money. This time, though, is the last time.” Would that it were true. Please, Professor, next time your drunken stupor stimulates you to purchase, smoke, or, God forbid, “review” one of my blends, have another drink or two instead. If you want to reveal yourself here, you’re certainly welcome, but try to play fair if you want to box. So far, I’ve kept the gloves on….
There. I feel much better, now.