Monday, March 24, 2008

What is a review?

By Beau Cadiyo

Someone named Mickey recently took umbrage with my review of Brennan’s Colony. Mickey wrote that we needed to “try again,” implying that our review and our experience of Brennan’s Colony was wrong. Naturally, I began to formulate a response, and I went so far as to write it out. Then I thought of this question:

“What if he’s right?”

Then, I thought:

“What is a review?”

Really, what are we doing? What IS a review? My dictionary defines a review as “A formal assessment or examination of something with the possibility or intention of instituting change if necessary; a critical appraisal of a book, play, movie, exhibition, etc. published in a newspaper or a magazine.” I don’t think anyone at the CSB believes that our reviews will somehow institute change in a restaurant. Our reviews are critical appraisals of sandwiches in a blog – a whole new medium they might not have thought of.

Our reviews are conducted without much fanfare. We go to a restaurant. We order sandwiches and sides. We eat them. We trade pieces of sandwich, cheesecake, meatloaf, cookie, mashed potatoes or chips around. Then, whoever is writing the review for that week writes it. The restaurant doesn’t get a whiff of what we’re doing otherwise – we want no special favors, no chef visit, no comped bill to influence us. D. John drinks when writing his reviews, which works marvelously. Ed’s influence is whatever he is reading at the time (Dostoevsky was the most recent voice to appear). I try to tell people what happened, without whitewashing it.

But again: what if Mickey’s right?

Mickey implies that there are objective opinions, that his experiences are the objective opinions, and that if we did “try again,” our wrong, subjective opinions would agree with his correct, objective opinion. That, to me, would kill a review: reviews, opinions and critical appraisals all rely on our own experiences. As an editor, I would never let my reviewers rely on the experience of someone else in writing their critical appraisal of anything. My experience of Brennan’s Colony, of course, was informed by nearly a year of personally reviewing sandwiches, as well as my experience at Brennan’s Colony. His opinion and review was informed by eating several different dishes there.

And I, apparently, need to “try again.”

If so, I guess the natural result is that all movie reviewers would have to watch movies repeatedly until they fell in line with Mickey’s objective opinion. (I think this actually happens in North Korea.) If they were wrong, they would have to “try again.” Same with book, snowblower and toilet paper reviewers. Or perhaps everyone would have to try every dish in a restaurant on different days prepared by different chefs and served by different waitresses or waiters before reviewing a restaurant. Perhaps different chairs and tables might make a difference. They’d have to look into that and decide.

Perhaps Mickey is right. However, I don’t have the time, money or inclination to go about doing things the way he wants me to. I wrote my review of Brennan’s Colony based on my experience. Brennan’s Colony was pretty crappy. I cannot change that, nor do I want to, nor will I “try again.”

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