On Reviews.

steve cuocci
6 min readMar 15, 2024

What are you looking for when you read a review?

No, seriously, I’m asking you. You. When you see a review is written, do you go and read it? Do you read it in full? Do you scroll down to the bottom for a basic quantifying “score” or “rating”?

Do you take into account who wrote the review? Does that context help you in any way?

I’ll give you a second to contextualize that information. Get it to the front of your mind.

I find that I write a lot of ””””reviews”””””. When I engage with a piece of media, I want to pace the way that I walk through it and try to create a frame of reference for when I talk about it to other people. I try to look at it from a novice perspective. I’m not trying to impress an audience with how I listen, how I watch, how I experience. I want the piece of media to be the star. First and foremost, I want to try to “sell” the work of art to more people. I want my contribution to the media’s mythos to be a cobblestone in the massive highway of its Word of Mouth.

I like to think that I write less ‘reviews’ and more ‘reactions’. I like to think that I write about how I felt when I digested something, less ABOUT the something that I digested.

I used to come from a very different space. I used to believe that my opinion was very important. That whatever passed through the archway of my perception was going to be forever painted with my mark, and whether that mark was positive or negative was entirely based on the ‘objective’ quality of that work. I spent a lot of time writing negative reviews for bands. I spent a lot of time tearing down movies that I didn’t like. I spent a lot of time explaining why people who did enjoy these things were wrong. In the end, I wanted to steal that joy from them. I wanted that experience of finding a new band, a new director, a new scene, a new song, a new film, a new album to be flattened from an emotional connection to an impartial judgment.

I hated what I had become.
We’re here to build things up, not tear things down[, man].

Do you like reviews to be long and descriptive? Would you prefer a review to be brief and direct, providing more in the way of suggestion than reaction?

On a scale of 1–10, how much do you want to know about the critic’s expert analysis?
On a scale of 1–10, how much do you want to know about the critic’s emotion?

I can tell you what I’m out there for.
I don’t want to ‘read your review’.
I won’t believe it. It won’t help me.
It isn’t me.
I can just listen, watch, read, play.
If there isn’t a part of you in your ‘review’, I won’t even get close to it.

I want to know what you thought. I want to know what you felt. Don’t walk me through each song. Don’t explain the plot of the film. Don’t give me a synopsis of the book. Don’t introduce me to the characters. The piece of media exists out in the world on its own. It took a person or people a great deal of time and effort and emotion and blood to make this Thing. Please don’t intend to reduce this Thing to how you want to describe it.

When I’m clicking into your ‘review’, I don’t want to know:

  • What’s it about?
  • What does it sound like?
  • What’s it like?

I want you to draw me inside of your heart. I want to be pulled into your skull. I want to be beside you in your car when you just leave the theater and are filled with a whole new inspiration on how Things can be created. I want that headphones passing moment of:

“You have to hear this.”

Give me your history. Give me your context.
Make me feel.
Talk to me.

I don’t want to know “what you don’t like.”
I also don’t want to know “what you hate.”

Do you want to find more bands, songs, albums?
Do you want to know about more films, more directors?
Do you want to know how people keep finding these life-affirming books?

How do you choose what new stuff you’re going to engage with?
Are you cool with what you already know?
Are you maxed out? Is your media inventory at capacity?

What would it take to change your opinion on something you’ve already judged?

We’re all out here together, man. There is such a constant wave of new music coming out, of new trailers hitting our feeds, of new books in our Goodreads feed. There is so much out there that the only way we can needle it down and make room for any of it, is through context. Whether it’s our own ability to judge a book by its cover, or to draw a line through some extended family tree, or to hear about it from someone we know. The pipeline gets slimmer and slimmer every day, and the deluge of information gets wider and broader and thicker and more dissonant every day. Every day.

I try my best to extend a certain trust to People I Follow Online. I try to believe that when someone takes their time to post about a new Thing that it will also be worth my time. I’ll usually add it to a list, write it in a notebook, type it into a Google Doc. I’ll always check it out. And when I do, I usually attempt to pay it forward. I usually want to continue to move that progress forward. I want to continue to be a link in the chain of its Word of Mouth.

What I want more though, whether it’s a line or a paragraph or a full essay is this: tell me what made this special to you. Something so special that you needed to get words out there for me. Something that could not be contained within your skin, something that you needed to bring a group together around. Something that you needed to set a fire in the name of. What enlisted you to the cause of this Thing’s propagation?

Talk to me.
Tell me what made you want to extend this Thing’s life.
Tell me what made you want to breathe thing Thing into a higher existence.

Don’t explain it to me. Stop explaining it to me.
Stop telling me what they did in the studio.
Stop telling me the style it was written in.
Stop telling me what ‘vein’ it was in.

If you want to do that, make a documentary[, man].
When I’m looking for a review, I’m not looking for CRITICS[, man].

That’s when I will just see your number, your letter, your star rating, and keep it moving.
Contextless, depthless, a bar suspended in some abstract middle ground.

1–6 → Not worth my time. (D-C) [★★★]
7–8 → Good. (B) [★★★★]
9–10 → Great. (A) [★★★★★]

I don’t believe any of that.

If you want me to feel what you felt…
If you want me to experience this with you…
If you want me to believe you…
Take me with you, man.
Make me know you.