Sunday, 21 February 2016

Review squared: Arrow.

Most people have read reviews for films or restaurants or whatever they don't agree with, usually (I think) because the reviewer comes down too hard, or is too pretentious, or too negative, rather than the alternative of being supportive of the thing they're reviewing.
Last week our favourite coffee spot (which has appeared in many of K'la's posts) was the subject of a critical review, which was only sparingly complementary. Even if not scathing, it still seemed more harsh than fair, and out of touch with both my tastes and those of most people.

The people at the cafe in question really are fantastic, and deserve better. So I took it upon myself to pen a small defence of Arrow, and may have gotten a little carried away, as the final reply ended up being almost as long as the original article:

Reviews come in a lot of shapes and colours, but this one is hard to place.
It is not the review of a connoisseur or expert in the field, as the author is clearly misinformed about coffee and has barely entry-level tastes. For example, the treatment of the foamed milk has some remarkable influences on the textural, flavour composition and crema of the coffee, regardless of the motif of the pour, the fact that a motif can be done is a good sign. The only other place that compares for coffee in Manhattan is Sparrow - while other cafes (even those that the reviewer has previously described as serving "good coffee") might as well be serving bland, textureless dishwater. Note well: I know Arrow pride themselves on the coffee blends they choose; the addition of a syrup is on the menu of a coffee shop is a simple courtesy, but is not the option for sophisticated tastes.
Nor is it the review of a populist, as Arrow is certainly popularly well-received: Indicated in the article by the tables-packed "complaint", despite the venue having recently doubled in size AND opened a new site. And also indicated by an almost perfect 5-star ranking on their facebook page.
Nor is the review something that a cynic might see as brown-nosing to the Manhattan commercial set, or having a marketing agenda. A negative review like this in a small place like Manhattan can have negative effects not just on the venue, but on people's perception of the town; but I think the worst reflection is on the reviewer.
Not sophisticated, not populist, not marketing. So I can think of two reasons for such a review to exist. Either the criticisms are the author's way of puffing their own alleged superiority, or this is some strange attempt to score hits by softly courting controversy. Well, in the case of the second scenario, you've got one hit.
Speaking of "one", I give this review one star. :)"

I really am quite intrigued about what motivates a thing like this. It seems a strange thing, to be a reviewer; especially so publicly. A negative review is doubly mysterious. Triply in a small town where at most people are separated by 2 degrees of separation, by and large. To do so without any real expertise is just... well... weird.

We live in this society that is so exquisitely tone-policed by the algorithms of culture and society, such that "positivity" is something I find is liberally prescribed to me several times a day, regardless of the facts. And yet when it comes to published reviews by "official" journalists, I get the feeling that there is a tendency to err on the side of nastiness. I don't think this is a unique observation. It is something I'll continue to give thought to.

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