Contemplation: Meaningful Star Ratings

“Star ratings are meaningless”

With those four words Roger Ebert displays a fascinating glimpse at his inner mind and in a way, raises a question about a film rating system, to which he has definitely provided a significant contribution to popularizing.  Mr. Ebert utters the words at the end of a new review of the 1976 Nicolas Roeg film “The Man Who Fell to Earth.”

The thing that I find most interesting about the comment is whether it is actually true or not, and further, whether Mr. Ebert actually believes it is true.  I think that I get the sentiment that Mr. Ebert is trying to display in the statement, but that does not mean I agree with it.  In fact, I would counter to say that star ratings, or any rating system for that matter, are entirely meaningful, for if they were not, then their existence would not be necessary in the first place.

I think to consider this further it is worth taking some time to consider art criticism and review first of all (as Mr. Ebert is a film critic and his writing primarily focuses on the review and critique of art produced in that area).  Art criticism, where it be of film, stories, paintings, or whatever else, has long been of interest to me.  Why is it so important?  Why does our society empower certain individuals with a degree of certitude that they can offer an analysis of a work of art and it will be, if not accepted, at least legitimate?  Anyone can be critical of a work of art.  We are endowed with the ability to view art, analyze it, and make a judgement upon it.  However, for many of us, these individual criticisms may mean little besides our own subjective view.  Others may find it interesting or they may disagree entirely, but in general, most of our own critiques are not apt to hold a significant influence.  On the other hand, the professional critic, has been given some degree more sway of influence.  This isn’t to say that others cannot disagree with the final say of a critic, but more so, that the critic has earned some level of legitimacy in that their critiques are in fact meaningful and important.

With this in mind critical analysis of the arts, especially things like movies and music, often use rating systems to demonstrate the quality and worth of the individual pieces of art.  Certainly, we can agree, that these ratings, only have meaning insofar that we agree upon what that meaning is.  if we are to say, “Ebert’s star rating means nothing,” then we have not endowed that rating system with any particular worth.  However, it seems more often than not, we allow the legitimacy of the rating system though we may find disagreement on the individual ratings of specific pieces of art.

Star ratings are not meaningless, they are in fact full of a ton of meaning. They are markers of worth as applied by individuals whom we have legitimized to apply these degrees (or lack thereof) of worth.  While we are not beholden to ever agree upon a rating for any specific piece of art, we do tend to agree that the rating serves the purpose of demonstrating an individuals analysis of the work’s worth.

I suppose, from a philosophical perspective, it is difficult to argue about a things meaningfulness or meaninglessness.  Meaning is a complex and complicated concept.  However, I will say, from a personal perspective, that I think that more often than not, things are meaningful.  There may not be entire consensus upon what the particular meaning of a thing is, but there is meaning never the less, even if it is on an individual basis.  I think that perhaps, it is not wise to rush towards deeming anything as completely “meaningless.”  It will be a hard point to prove.

~ by Nathaniel on July 14, 2011.

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