Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Average vs. very average

A friend of mine won tickets to see a sneak preview of the new Watchmen movie on Monday and said it was "very good." That reassured me a little bit, but still... there is a lot of wiggle room within "very good" and the skeptic in me demands proof. And that got me thinking about how I will describe it after I have seen the movie. What criteria will I use to rate it?

To me, rating things on a scale - whether it's 5, 10 or 100 points - is meaningless unless I have some frame of reference. I like my choices clearly labeled. Does your five-point scale mean "very good - good - fair - poor - awful"? Or is it a more forgiving "excellent - very good - good - fair - poor"? I saw one survey last year that was tilted towards the negative ("satisfied - somewhat satisfied - somewhat not satisfied - not satisfied - extremely unsatisfied"), which to me is a cry for help.

On my iPod, for example, I tend to have only songs I like, so my five-star scale is tilted towards the good. If something is awful, there's no sense parsing it. ("Hmm... is this a 2 or a 3 on a scale of 10,000?") Also, there isn't much of a market for truly horrendous things, so everything should come in with a little bit of the benefit of the doubt. (Yes, even you, Robbie Williams.) It's kind of like grades in school: anything less than 60% is a fail, but most kids manage to at least muddle through.

When I think about how movies or music or etc. stack up, this is how I define my five-star scale:

***** essential (outstanding, best of genre)
**** recommended (standout, very good)
*** worthwhile (solid, good)
** tolerable (fair, does not merit special attention)
* poor (annoying, mostly alien robot zombies)

For example, I give this blog entry two stars.

P.S. - Half-stars are for people with no backbone. Commit!