Sunday, May 9, 2010

Overrated and Underrated: What do you mean?


As bloggers, and perusers of the ever expanding internet you'd be hard pressed to go far before you see usage of the words Overrated and/or Underrated. In the realm of film and entertainment it's practically a disease how often these are mentioned. And, I would note, while not perfect, I do everything in my power to avoid their use entirely.

The reason being, few of us really think about what we're saying when we use them. Let me try and explain what I mean through an example (key word). (fine print: Throughout this post I'll deal mostly with the notion of overrated, as the use of underrated is far more often correctly applied - in my opinion)

XYZ movie is overrated!
(! for emphasis of course)

Now, what are you really saying? In so far as I've observed, most people are trying to say one of the following 3 things:

1) I thought XYZ was going to be good, but I overestimated its value, and it turned out to be rubbish.
2) I thought XYZ was worse than what everyone else thought, but that's just me.
3) XYZ was horrible, how could anyone else think more of it than me?

The first one is what I would associate with being the most correct use of the word, since rating (and how one evaluates their rating upon return) is a personal association. The second isn't so bad, but more apathetic than anything. While the third commits the ultimate crime of self obsession, and is here where I take real exception. Try and go 5 websites and find a blog where a post on this doesn't occur. The most overrated singers/films/actors/actresses/dancers/musicals/etc. are everywhere. It's almost a plague.

But, it's what you're really saying that bothers me:

I feel a certain way about something, therefore everyone else is only allowed to like/dislike that same thing within a reasonable range of me.

It's an arrogance, and placement of self absolutism in an environment where universal fact is void, and personal preference reigns. I talk about this constantly because, without any shadow of a doubt, I HATE that. What it has become is an acceptable way to complain about how we feel left out of the opinion of something. So, instead of just saying "I didn't like it, what did you think?" we make grand posts pointing out how everyone is wrong. When, let's be honest, all you really wanted to know is if anyone out there feels the same about it as you, because those in close vicinity to you don't.

Surely, there's a better way of doing it than criticizing the opinion of everyone who feels differently. Which is, in essence, what you're trying to do.

For, you see, in all my 7+ years in blogging I have come up with one theory in film opinion: No matter what your favorite film in the world is, to someone else it is the most abysmal thing ever created, and vice versa aptly apply. So, please, remember that the next time you go to criticize a film. It's your opinion that matters, not whether or not others agree with it.

Also, note, I'm not attacking those of you who do it (wouldn't take much digging to find my own usage of it). It's so commonplace none of us even think of what it's really saying. Perhaps, there in lies my real complaint (put carefully at the end because nobody's read this far).

So, how do you feel about the claiming of a film as being overrated/underrated in blog posts?

15 better thoughts:

Rick "The Hat" Bman said...

My pet peeve with this is when people use the "Emperor's New Clothes" argument to describe a movie. You know, when they say something like, "This movie is so bad, I can't see how any one likes it... come one people, the emperor has no clothes. Open your eyes." When people say that, they are basically saying that they are the only person that is enlightened enough to see through the bullshit of the movie and understand just how bad it is. Any fans that the movie has must be blind idiots that only say they like the movie so they can look intelligent.

Every time I see a review that is written like that I just want to reach through the computer and choke someone.

Castor said...

(deletes top 10 most overrated movies of decade)

Ahaha I was actually (slowly) working on a post like that myself. I think there is nothing wrong expressing your opinion as long as you are making good points and not attacking or debasing anyone.

filmgeek said...


Univarn said...

@Rick Couldn't (and perhaps didn't) have put it better myself. And that's such a prevailing usage of the word it drives me mad (especially on forums).

@Castor Well, the point of this isn't to get people to stop writing them, so much as think more carefully about them. To avoid that level of elitism, when it's not relevant.

@filmgeek no worries, many of us (myself included) are. I didn't start thinking about it until very recently.

Rachel said...

I did a search for the word on my blog and couldn't find it, but I know I've used it even if only in the comments of others' blogs.

I've found myself to use the word, in conversation or blogging, more often when I liked a film but didn't love it like everyone around me. As in I can see where a film is likable and good, but I feel everyone is overlooking said film's flaws and making it out to be greater than it truly is.

Brian Dunn said...

I think it's the difference between declarative and opinion-based sentences. For example, my previous sentence is opinion-based. "It's the difference between declarative and opinion-based" is declarative because it's being stated as a truth rather than what I think.

There's nothing wrong with people who know film declaring a film to be good or bad. If everyone just agrees to let everyone's opinion about a film be equal, then discussions on film can never really begin. Someone can be declarative and still listen to others' arguments. If he or she isn't willing to hear someone else's take on a movie, then he or she is not a discussion starter, and that's what blogging should be about.

I have no problem saying a film is overrated, but I'm always open to hearing why I'm wrong, as long as the other person is willing to listen to why I'm right.

By the way, feel free to read this entire comment with the words "I think" starting each sentence. :)

Shubhajit said...

A very pertinent post I must say providing some food for thought. I too don't use much the words 'overrate' & 'underrate', but at the end of the day I don't think I'll stop using the words just because they are overused. And anyway, 'overestimate' & 'underestimate', respectively, wouldn't capture the feel of the 2 words. I agree a lot of personal opinion comes into play while using the 2 words. Contrarily when has film appreciation has been objective anyway. It is and will remain a totally subjective exercise.

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

Hmm, good question. I don't the issue is so much saying something is overrated/underrated as it is backing up your argument. It can't just be some incidental hatred like X film is overrated, because I don't like it. It'll still be subjective, but if one can assimilate a valid/logical argument as to why X should not be as praised as it could be I thin it could work (unfortunately, I don't have the skill to do that). But, of course one needs to ensure that it's done with tact.

PS. See, told you that you'd wow us with your intelligence

Univarn said...

@Rachel that definitely falls into the second category which I don't think is too bad. It's the acknowledging that your opinion is your own that separates those who complain about others' opinions.

@Brian You see though, by saying a film is overrated, removing the personal estimation in value, you're delcaring your opinion to be superior to others, ignoring notions of preference and taste.... I think :P

@Shub I definitely don't think they shouldn't be used, but more appropriately would be better. Instead of all these most overrated people posts that deal entirely with personal taste.

@Andrew I'm not sure it can be done. Because almost every time they're attempting to apply their opinion as fact. You see lots of these:

X musician is overrated.
I don't see how anyone likes X.
Because their music sucks.

All they did there was state their opinion, and write it off as fact. Now if they said X can't hit certain notes, drags on, and got into technical and nitty griddy stuff there may be a argument for validity. But, it likely won't change opinion.

Brian Dunn said...

Regarding removing one's personal estimation in value implying that your opinion is superior to others, wouldn't writing any declarative review that you want others to pay attention to be a show that your take is superior to others?

I don't agree that there's an implication of superiority by saying something's overrated.

Univarn said...

@Brian That would be touchy ground. What I would say is that when writing your review, declarative or not, you're expressing your opinion on a film (a good review anyways).

While writing an overrated post, you need a frame of reference for how something is overrated. And unless your frame of reference is yourself then it must be other people, there in by objectifying a group's opinion in relation to your own (since for any film you could easily point to any number of groups and get a completely different point of view on the movie).

Brian Dunn said...

I've never written an entire post dedicated to whether or not a film is overrated. That seems like a waste of a post to me.

I think I'd agree with you if you think that the best place to start looking at a film is the film itself rather than an established "praise" of a film.

Though maybe the exception for me would be the Oscars. I think the Oscars overpraise films by giving them Best Picture awards. For example, I think Crash is pretty mediocre and I thought Departures (Foreign Film 2008) is an absolute abomination. I think the use of the word overrated for something as established as the Oscars is fair game.

Simon said...

I hardly ever say overrated, okay? I always take care to phrase it differently. Do your research!


Ross McG said...

interesting post Univarn. the trick is to just judge a film on its own merits, not worry what everyone says about it and just be honest. although that can be hard sometimes.

Univarn said...

@Brian Interesting point about the Oscars, we all know the Foreign Oscar is usually bleh at best. While Crash, a film I do very much enjoy I'll add (and even own), may be more of an everything going on around it thing (you know what I'm referring too). Though I'm not sure either of them makes the overrated, as much as incorrectly selected in your eyes.

@Simon Didn't mention you once :)

@Ross Thanks. I agree completely. Sometimes pointing out other things people have said you agree with is good, but you can't worry what everyone will think.

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