Is it hard to call a spade a spade when you know the person who crafted the tool? You betcha. I write critical commentary for a living, and keeping a certain objective distance can be incredibly difficult when you have what some would regard as a personal relationship with the subject being analyzed. If you’re too positive, you’re “fangirling” or you’re “biased.” If you’re negative, it can be seen as a betrayal of the source material and the creators of said material.
Sometimes, I feel awful being “mean” in reviews. Even though I know that being “nice,” would be a disservice. I really do feel that honest criticism is better than sugarcoating. Because blowing sunshine up someone’s ass is not going to lead to improvement; all it does is validate patterns that may not actually be working. Holding back may keep a professional relationship from growing rocky, may be the “”safe” choice, but sometimes you have to take a walk on the critical wild side.
Why the pondering of this issue right now? Because I hit the blog circuit to read reviews of Suzanne Brockmann’s latest novel, Dark of Night, and it seems that an overwhelming sentiment therein is that negative reviews are biased, that readers disappointed with her work are “whiners” or “bitter,” and those readers who are being overwhelmingly positive are the ones with a valid interpretation. Kinda funny, actually, in that it’s the polar opposite to what would happen in my industry. Where negative commentary is seen as on-the-nose and accurate and anytime you’re glowing and bathing someone in praise, it’s suspect.
Don’t get me wrong, I love being able to be complimentary. And I do have a lot of passionate, positive critical pieces to that effect. But that doesn’t mean I devalue calling a spade a spade. If something doesn’t sit right with me, if something feels “off,” with my favorite author or my favorite TV show, I think it’s just as important to articulate why. Sometimes, the greatest satisfaction can come from dissatisfaction. Because it’s constructive. It says, “Hey, listen, you’re not perfect. Let’s work on it, okay?”