There Is No Good Time to Review Something (Or So My Brain Thinks)

As I write this I’ve just finished reading Volume Three of the incredible Saga series of comics by Brian K. Vaughn and Fiona Staples. From the opening page of Volume One, I’ve been completely enthralled with Saga and yet I haven’t so much as considered writing about the series or, if I did, what I would want to say about it. The justification of this abdication is that I haven’t finished the story yet. That there are still six volumes to go (at least so far) and that thoughts in the middle of something aren’t as interesting as thoughts at the conclusion of it. (Writing those words out makes me feel like that thought is patently false but it remains a mental roadblock for me.) This is the first prong of a problem that I have.

Over the weekend my wife and I watched Hamilton after it appeared on Disney+. I’m on the record as saying that I think Hamilton is one of the greatest artistic achievements of the last decade and, in the wake of a #CancelHamilton movement that was revitalized by the current sociopolitical climate, I have thoughts. I’ve scribbled some of those down but they also remain an incomprehensible mess. And I’m a white guy and this is not about me. But even if it was, our recent viewing and the current backlash both seem almost too fresh to analyze. Maybe if I let my thoughts breathe for a bit, I’ll be better able to write about the subject matter with the necessary nuance.

I had been waiting for Final Fantasy VII Remake for years, so when I finally finished it a few weeks ago—having scribbled down page after page of notes during my playthrough—I started writing a review of what is, inarguably, one of the most important video games of the current decade. I’ve spent a couple of hours in that review, trying to sort out my thoughts and determine the best way to approach them but I’m no closer to being done writing it. At this point, so much time has passed since I played it that I’m starting to wonder if I need to play all the way through the game again in order to strip the sheen of novelty and wonder off the experience, thereby allowing me to turn my million impressions into a cogent analysis.

Or not.

Honestly, I don’t know. The reality of the situation seems to be that no matter where I am in the consumption of a piece of art—in the middle of a comic, having just finished a musical or a few weeks out from a video game—I seem incapable of organizing and articulating my thoughts. At present, I’m chalking this up to pandemic fatigue but the elephant in the room is that, unless I can say something truly insightful, I’m simply not sure that reviews really matter any more. If criticism is really about the critic these days, as I’ve come to fear that it most often is, then that critic had better be interesting.

I’m a white suburban dad who works at a bank. You be the judge.

2 thoughts on “There Is No Good Time to Review Something (Or So My Brain Thinks)

  1. I’m sometimes paralysed by the sense that, when there is so much nonsense already swilling around the internet, it’s difficult to justify what value my ideas and words about a book/film/theatre/event will add. The pressure to talk about the new is also difficult for me – I relate to what you’ve written about wanting to think things over first and make sure the nuance isn’t missed due to hasty words – I think the race to say something first often seems to come at the expense of saying something meaningful.
    Anyway, thanks for sharing your thoughts!

    1. There are, I think, two competing perspectives in any review. The first argues that you should write for your reader who, if they are anything like me, is eager to read someone else’s thoughts about something new that they’ve just come across. In the broadest sense, that means that you should write as frequently as possible about new releases (of whatever medium) and current events. The second would argue that the most satisfying pieces to write are those that effectively communicate the kind of subtle but meaningful thinking that takes time to develop. The kind of thing that is for the writer rather than the reader. Almost definitionally that will limit your audience but it’s the road that seems the most satisfying, at least for me as I write in a non-commercial capacity.

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