Friday, June 1, 2012

Don't be a sheep!

I know the title is very ambiguous, vague, and any other adjective that would indicate a high level of lack of clarity. But read on, and you'll see what this is all about. I've been writing this blog for almost 4 years now, and over a short period of time, it transformed from a blog that merely 'spoke' about the food that I ate, to one that got into the depth of food and actually 'reviewing' restaurants, the latter an outcome of a lot of comments left on the blog.

After I started reviewing restaurants, I kind of moved on to the 'big league' - I was given the opportunity to do the reviewing formally, for the Bangalore Mirror (thanks to Amit Akali), something that I went about doing for 2 full years, loving every bit of it. And yet, throughout the last 4 years, one thing has slowly dawned on me with regard to the reviews that I, and many others, wrote and continue to write about restaurants - there are people who follow us and take our word seriously about the places we've visited and the food we write about.

Moving on to the broader picture, where reviews of anything - movies, books, gadgets, or restaurants - are concerned, I've observed that far too many people exhibit a tendency to put their thinking on hold while reading these reviews. Sure, if there is a whole lot of 'factual' data that is spoken about, then one can be excused for not wanting to take the time off to perhaps Google the content and verify it (some people are busy, while some are happy to be spoon-fed, and both are perfectly normal, so don't worry). However, whenever there's an assertion made that is an inference, or a conclusion made from an opinion or based on a preference, then dear reader, I would request you to not readily accept the 'logic' behind the conclusion at face value but employ a little bit of thinking on your part as well.

In the case of restaurants, a person writing a review may arrive at a conclusion (about something in particular) based on a personal preference or simply a personal opinion. You can agree with the conclusion if that preference or opinion works for you as well, but always remember, it's a preference/opinion, so it doesn't necessitate the acceptance of that conclusion as the law. To use an oft repeated example, a person who's used to and enjoys eating extremely spicy Indian food (like Andhra food), would probably never be able to fully appreciate the finer subtleties of European or Mediterranean food. However, that doesn't mean such a person 'should' start developing a liking to food served at Mediterranean cuisine restaurants just because the review of that place is positive. The taste, however authentic, will be something that will probably not be appreciated on the palate. Taste is a very personal matter, and what works for one needn't work for another, and the converse also holds true. If a connoisseur of spicy food slams a Med cuisine place for lack of 'spiciness', you might want to hold off on passing judgement. However, if the place suffers from a lack of {insert adjective here} that results in sloppy, uncooked food being served, then there can be no two ways about it - it's bad!

Another example, moving over to a movie review this time to keep things a little different, is like when the movie Satya released, there was a lot of hue and cry about the language used and the amount of violence, and due to these two factors, some reviewers said the movie wasn't worth the watch in spite of a stellar performance by Manoj Bajpai. This opinion was later voiced by many a man on the street (rather thoughtlessly, I might add). The story actually centered around elements of the Mumbai underworld, and so firstly, the language used was more or less in line with what could be deemed 'routine' in those circles. Secondly, the savagery of the underworld in any country cannot be ever disputed, and so the violence shown was also justified. If the reviewer was squeamish about watching people being beaten to death, and based his conclusion on that, well, violent movies quite clearly aren't for him. Had the people who readily accepted the reviews, reviews that were quite clearly conclusions drawn on the basis of opinions and preferences, thought for a moment, they'd have found the folly in the reasoning.

Why am I writing this post all of a sudden? Simply because of late I've been seeing a lot of mindless parroting of lines from reviews, and not necessarily ones where the conclusion was based on fact. Remember that agreeing with an opinion because it merely 'sounds right' isn't a very smart thing to do. If this post can get some of the readers here to question potentially faulty conclusions, or even get them to agree to disagree with a conclusion that's been drawn based on opinion and not fact (as simple as "it works for you, but not for me"), then I think the quality of the diners (in terms of being discerning) in the city can certainly improve. Mind you, as a member of the debate team in school, I strongly believe that while opinions are sacred, it's better to develop opinions based on fact and not sentiment. And why limit this post to just diners? It's applicable to anyone reading any review of anything. So dear reader, don't be a sheep.

Note: It goes without saying that I can hardly be called an expert in the field I write in, and I will readily agree that for me it's a learning process too, and hopefully the quality of posts (reviews) have improved over the years and will continue to improve. That said, it goes without saying that the posts here are open to scrutiny as well, and if genuine errors in are pointed out, it will be appreciated.


Charishma said...

This was a very good post Karthik

Karthik Shetty said...

Thanks Charishma :)

Me! In words said...

Karthik, I totally agree with you that a person should not always take a reviewer's word for it and try and form their own opinions. Like you mentioned, its a learning process for the reviewer as well and quite a fun one at that I would say... wonder why many choose not to see that way

Suhas said...

Agree one hundred percent. Lost count of the number of times when a plan gets made to check out a particular restaurant (or movie) only for someone to chime in with "No man, X says it's bad" or "I read somewhere that it's no good".

Not knowing what to expect from a place is part of the fun of checking it out, after all.


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