Critic’s Notebook: Rave vs. Review vs. Recommendation



Unalloyed enthusiasm. Instinctive, primordial, coupled with an evangelical fervor. (NB: Evangelical, not in any explicitly religious sense, but more closely related to “spreading the word.”) “You gotta see/read/consume, etc. XYZ!” In geekspeak, to squee over something. A wellspring of Dionysian delight. While lacking the rigor of a review or the demographic specificity of a recommendation, the enthusiastic rawness of a rave has incredible value. A rave is akin to the fickle enthusiasms of Public Opinion (itself a shape-shifting, schizophrenic, contradictory metric of The Now).



More sober and calculated than a rave, a review is an examination, yet at the same time a bit of a come-on. The intent of the piece is to offer the reader and/or viewer (depending on the media of delivery) with a summary of the product. Spoilers are eschewed and it operates differently than a literary essay. The admixture of Dionysian enthusiasm and Apollonian analysis is a delicate balance. A review questions and dissects more than a flat-out rave. Depending on its construction and circumstances, the review can also function as a recommendation. While money can taint the trustworthiness of a recommendation, time can work for or against a review. Of-the-moment reviews can either spotlight an obscure artist or prompt a reviewer to get a case of Acute Foot-in-Mouth Disease. Reviews are the stepchildren of journalism and literature. Reviews can become great literature (see: Elizabeth Hardwick, Cynthia Ozick, Daniel Mendelsohn) or become yesterday’s trash.



God bless the Algorithm, hallowed be Thy Name. If you like X, you might like Y. But a very large CAVEAT EMPTOR for the recommendation. Beware of clickbait: “If you are over 40 and into RPGs, you need to own this game!” Beware of AI: Amazon, YouTube, etc. Does the recommendation come from a genuine, sincere place, or is money involved? Would you trust a recommendation from a small-scale literary blog or from a Best Buy salesperson aiming for a phat commission? All that aside, recommendations exist in an Apollonian environment: hermetic, mathematical, rational. Recommendations seem more trustworthy if supported by some kind of mathematical formula. Its appeal is that is cold and calculating. (Contra: the rave.) Its best function is calibrating a product’s acceptability in terms of the demographic slice. Politics, with its fetishizing polls and trying to rationalize the mentalities of the American populace, has smashed together Demographics and Public Opinion into a monstrous octopus of contrived categories and sociological horseshittery.

Re: the algorithm: Is it based on what you think you want? Or is it motivated to make you think they think they know what you know you want?

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