Crynicisms is a series in which I write short-lengthy and very cynical criticisms (cynical + criticism = Cyrnicims) about various things, from websites to books, to times of the day if I really wanted to. These are all written in one go (and sometimes edited), as per my style.
Let me get something out of the way here: I don’t HATE the idea of this website and I don’t want to disgrace the names behind it, but dear god is it just mediocre as all hell.
Part One: Reviews
What is the point in trying to do a review website if you suck at reviewing things? A good review is one that doesn’t make you skip to the bottom to find out the score or the pros/cons, but with CSM, the reviews are so short that they barely even hold your attention, to begin with. Length isn’t the issue here, however: the actual reviews are.
When reviewing something on a complex scale such as a 1-5 rating, you want to give your readers proper justification for your rating. A good writer doesn’t say that a movie is totally awesome only to shit on it like it wasn’t, just as they wouldn’t give a movie a 5/10 and then almost never bring up the positives or negatives. Unfortunately, those who write for this website often find themselves struggling to adhere to this. There are some gems somewhere, I wouldn’t really know it, but I can bet on it. Those gems, however, become increasingly hard to find when you have people who give movies like Drive 4/5 without ever really saying anything negative about the film. I get that criticizing something can be hard when you can’t poof words into existence that describe your feeling… in which case, find something else that you can criticize (love/hate).
As it stands, I don’t really trust CSM with reviews – but then again, I rarely ever trust one critic to hold my interest on a topic. I get that this sounds silly from someone who’s a critic, but trust me: always read more than one review, or even talk to others who have seen/read/played/etc. what you’re interested in. Not one person is ever right, and you might find yourself hating a widely loved thing or even disliking it slightly if you’re not a robot.
Part Two: Content Ratings
If you’ve ever heard of Common Sense Media, it’s for this reason alone. I’m not here to say that they’re bad in this regard. Though these do often times have very rough edges that I’ll get into briefly here, they mostly nail down the type of content contained within the product that they’re overviewing. Now that I’m done kissing CSM’s ass, here’s my criticism of their content ratings.
In my opinion, Content Ratings should not be recommending the age group for a certain item. I get that it’s a fast solution to any overly concerned parent out there, but whether or not your son or daughter should be able to play/watch something should always come down to their maturity as a person, not as a digit. While this does come in handy with books (which often times, if at all, don’t contain content warnings), movies and video games come with content descriptions for a reason. If those are too vague for you, then this site can help you, but, as I’m about to tell you, they have some issues.
Without a doubt, my biggest issue with ALL Content Ratings is that they can be inaccurate or can even sugarcoat key details. If you don’t want your child to watch anything with Nudity, then it would suck to be suckered into something that clearly has explicit Nudity in it. If you think that my complaint of sugarcoating is unrealistic, it’s not. It is has happened before, and enough times for me to count it as an actual issue. These issues often times hit the biggest with User-Based Content Ratings (like IMDB’s Parent Guides), but bigger sites like CSM aren’t innocent, either.
A big example of this is in CSM’s Rating of the 2016 movie ‘The Hunt For the Wilderpeople’. In the movie, there’s a scene in which a kid describes things that sound VERY dirty, and one of the main characters is called a molester/pervert on multiple occasions both in this scene and in others. Though the rating does mention the part about the word ‘molester’ in its sex category, they SUPER Sugarcoat everything said before it making it seem like it’s not a big deal, and have rated it very low. There was also a mention of weed in the film, and, although brief, was not in the rating. The fact that they could miss such a key detail like this is astounding and actually upset many of the parents who thought the movie was perfectly safe for their younglings. If you don’t believe me, check out the page for yourself… or, I have a link to an archived version in case they ever fix these mistakes: https://web.archive.org/web/20170510070458/https://www.commonsensemedia.org/movie-reviews/hunt-for-the-wilderpeople
Another issue I have with these content rating as is that they often times spoil things without warning you at all. Although other variations of this concept may be a lot rougher around the edges (again, I have to bring up IMDB here), they actually make an effort to warn you about potential spoilers. CSM does not give a single damn in this regard. Should I also not forget to mention that almost every Video Game with Blood (even if slight) is described as if it’s a Hard R film? Again, as a parent, you should let yourself decide and not some website that you have little-to-no relation with.
Part Three: The Community
Yeah, this site has one. I’m not here to say that a bad community is unique, every online community is technically bad because of a few rotten or non-ripe apples that sit on it, but when your community is meant to fill in some blanks you’re afraid might exist, maybe you’re not exactly thinking of things rationally or ethically. It shouldn’t take long for anyone to figure out that with the power of anonymity comes danger. When no one’s watching, people will lie, will turn shady, and will do things that will make you question humanity for better or for worse.
When you give your community the power to do some work for you, should you not be surprised when the ‘Sex & Nudity’ section on the IMDB Parents Guide for Purple Rain only contains the three words ‘sex and titties’? The answer is a simple and aggressive ‘YES’. This applies to Common Sense Media just as much as it does IMDB, more-so in many regards. If you don’t believe me, then look at all the community reviews on CSM for any GTA game… especially V. The CSM rating clearly displays just how mature Grand Theft Auto V is, barely even missing a beat… then you have kids who write that it’s fine for 11-year-olds to play it. This wouldn’t be an issue if those types of reviews didn’t get the most praise, but you must remember that the internet is a place where Norm of the North can get 10/10s’ on various review sites because it mildly entertained the reviewer’s kid(s) – actual criticisms be damned.
If GTA V wasn’t a good enough example for you, I’m going to revisit Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive. In my opinion, if you can handle quick and brutal violence with a small (key detail here being small) amount of nudity with meaningful visuals and dialog, Drive is your film. I mentioned Nudity there for a reason, too. There’s a scene in the film where the main character interrogates someone at a strip club. Not noticing that Strip Clubs are highly sexual and can contain nudity, one parent gave the film a bad score because “What is the point of the long topless scene? I do not understand why there is pointless nudity in so many movies today…”. That is their review, word for word. I’d credit them, but their username is Anonymous82 so I don’t know how I could possibly tell them how to properly write a review. This review doesn’t just seem like it was written by a person who didn’t see the film and used their position to stand on their own soapbox, it reeks of that quality so much, that I see that as the only way this review can be real.
Common Sense Media isn’t a terrible site, but it’s also not good. Their content ratings are very helpful when they’re well done, despite the inevitable issues that ALL content rating sites have. That is the only real reason you should go to their website, and, again, it will always have issues of its own. I wouldn’t be surprised if their educational packets contained small and unintentional logical fallacies like False Dilemmas. Reading into their almost non-existent justifications for many review scores was a dilemma within itself for me…