how many points make a star?

Readers tend to like them, editors certainly like them. Critics don’t particularly like them and neither do performers unless they are given a lot, in which case they will probably turn a blind eye.

Pretty much every newspaper or magazine concert/play/film review now comes with a star rating, effectively a mark out of five. Editors love these devices for the exact reason their writers don’t – they offer a simple summing up of the event and that presents a direct challenge to the critic’s livelihood. What value 300 of the journalist’s finest words, when the job can be done with a handful of twinklers? (This begs the question why, to save readers the trouble of reading them, all newspaper stories do not have a rating too. The day’s events would boil down to a series of grades awarded by a cadre of experienced news reviewers, and public opinion would form that way.)

But while reviewers protest that only they have the astute critical senses and dab vocabularical hands necessary for the job, performers retort that they have no business sitting in judgement in the first place, and who the hell do they think they are, and three stars – were they even listening to the bloody concert, Smith at the Gazette gave it four and you can’t usually please that bastard…?

The real problem with the star rating system is that it gives the impression of statistical precision even though five stars is surely not enough to mark something as nebulous as art. In other words, it is both too specific and not specific enough. Which means, therefore, where once there was vagueness, there should be precision; where there was precision, bring on the clouds of uncertainty.

That is why I give you Viola d’odio’s All-New Star Rating Review System. Under this, the reviewer may still award up to five stars, the difference being that they need not be sequential. The five available stars represent the same spectrum running from shit (first star) to brilliant (fifth). But the beauty of it is that the clarity ends there. Mere number of stars alone is no longer significant; now their position is crucial too.

The best mark would be a single fifth star since it would indicate a performance of brilliance unadulterated by even a whiff of the merely good (ie a second, fourth star). A single first star would denote irredeemable bollocks. But what could possibly earn a first-and-fifth star review? And what to make of a show awarded a full house of five? It would combine every possible quality from mediocrity outwards in both directions.

Add the possibility of seven different three-star reviews to the ten two-stars (not forgetting two four-stars) and you see how Vd’oA-NSRS offers reviewers a much subtler statistical palette (so subtle, in fact, that we might even have to read the review to discover what they really think). Meanwhile, performers can just shrug the whole thing off, safe in the knowledge that it’s all nonsense anyway.

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