Friday, December 18, 2009

Critiques, reviews, and snark. Oh my.

This is another post that will probably make half my readers leave, but fuck it. I've been brooding on this for years and, well, here it is.

There are a lot of great things about the knitting community, both in real life and on line. People are kind, and helpful, and do nice things, and are fun and funny. But if you dare criticize - even nicely - someone's public work (things that are published or otherwise made public, not project pages on Ravelry or blogs or the thing the lady next to you is knitting), someone will pipe up with how you're a meaniemeanieboogerhead and cruel and unworthy and don't fuckin' get it. The hostility seems to be all out of proportion, and infinitely stronger than in other creative groups.

You Knit What? Got run out of business. Basically they quit blogging over there because they were tired of the hate mail. Sure, they were snarky. Sure, they were bitchy. They also pointed out a lot of really truly awful stuff, and were hilarious. Why is snark and bitch so horrible? Really? Every other creative industry has all kinds of review web sites and blogs and magazines and whatall. If you think everything they say is nice, you live in a different universe than I do. Rose-Kim Knits, with her "Thursdays are for What the Fuck is this?" gets a lot of crap, but so far she has hung in there and is soldiering on. Often she doesn't even SAY anything, just posts pictures. And still the hate mail rolls in. Two days ago I got a comment on the VK Holiday 09 review telling me I was a "snarky bitch" and that it's easier for me to "shit on other people's stuff" than to come up with my own designs. Actually, it's not. It takes me four to six hours to write a VK review. I could certainly write up a simple design faster than that. (We can have a race, if you like.) As for 'snark' and 'bitch', well. I've been snarky and bitchy. Quite a lot. But I didn't think that last review was either. I guess it's in the eye of the beholder.

What I don't understand are the beholders.

I do a lot of reviews around here, not just the VK ones. I once said Miami Vice was the dumbest, worst-looking, lamest movie I'd seen in years. No one piped up to ask me how the actors or producer or director would feel if they saw the review. No one told me I was cruel or bitchy or snarky. It was a movie review and I thought the movie sucked. End of discussion. I once reviewed "20,000 Years of Fashion", said it was dry and long-winded and brutal and implied I was insane for reading it. No one told me I would hurt the author's feelings or that I should shut up and write my own book. It was a review and that's what I thought and everyone went "okay" and that was it. I have continually bitched about military medicine for four years, practically foaming at the mouth and chewing the scenery, and I get nothing but sympathy. (Which I appreciate, really.) I call the guy who screwed up our orders at PSD "fuckhead the wonder monkey" and no one asks how his momma would feel if she saw that. I enjoy some disagreement. Life would be so boring otherwise. I once said Shakespeare was a hack, and people checked in to disagree to various levels, and I e-mailed back and forth with Amy Lane for about a week, both of us giving point and counterpoint and really having a good time and agreeing to disagree. Historic Stitcher and I have disagreed regularly on points of history (both textile and other) and e-mail back and forth about it. It's all good.

Yet I review VK and declare a knitting design unflattering or badly written or just dumb looking, and people come out of the woodwork to go berserk. I don't fuckin' get it. The source of rage seems to come from three different directions.

There is the 'who the hell do you think you are?' response. And my answer to that is, I AM THE ONE WHO PAID FOR THE MAGAZINE. The design was published for the whole world to see. I bought a copy. That gives me the right to determine if it sucks or not, and say so. If you don't like people saying the design sucks, don't publish it. I've been knitting over twenty years. I have knit VK designs (and never once met one without an error of some kind in it). I run this blog in part to educate and help less experienced knitters, and if I can save them from the frustration and cost of trying to knit a screwed up or unflattering pattern, I will.

There is the 'what the hell do you know?' response. Well. See above about knitting for over twenty years. One of the reasons I'm so good at spotting bad patterns is because I got burned by VK repeatedly back in the eighties when I learned to knit. And it was VK (and spending hundreds of dollars on yarn to knit one of their patterns, that I was then unable to figure out) that inspired me to research and learn how patterns are written and how knitwear design works. Which then gives me the knowledge to know when said patterns are goofy. I think the phrase for this is 'hoist by your own petard'.

Finally there is the 'you don't know what it's like' response. I can't POSSIBLY understand what it's like to DELIBERATELY put my work out there for the whole world to see. Guess again. I have published articles - more than one - with Knitty. If you think no one does reviews of Knitty, you haven't looked. Every quarter quite a few people do review it. Some of those people are bitchy and snarky, and they review the articles (like the ones I write) as well as the designs. There are blogs out there that have shredded my articles. I have gotten e-mail running from "I disagree" to "you are an ignorant moron" and beyond. I was accused of plagiarism by someone who couldn't define the word if her life depended on it, over an article that I had footnoted. I wrote an article saying Arabic/Muslim people invented knitting. After 9-11. In a world where a lot of irrational people spaz out at the word "Muslim"; I tell you, there are folks out there who are absolutely enraged by the suggestion that their favorite hobby was invented by the people they think are the boogeyman of the modern world. (For the record: I do not think that.) I've never responded to a review of my work; I do reply to polite e-mails, but that's it (that includes disagreeing e-mail, so long as it's rational). No matter how full of shit I think the reviewer is, I don't reply. It's a review. It's their opinion. Arguing with it will just make me look like an idiot.

I've been wondering for years now, what it is about some knitters that makes them so insanely hostile to criticism. Not necessarily designers. Regular old knitters jump in with the 'how dare you?' on stuff they had nothing to do with. It's like there's some cognitive disconnect. A review is mean, so people get mean in response to them? The cure for 'bitchy and snarky' is to attack? It's like jumping into the middle of a feeding frenzy and biting a shark. It hasn't ever made sense to me. Sure, some of my earlier reviews of VK were bitchy and snarky. The last year's worth, or so, have been entirely to help knitters figure out what patterns are flattering or well written, I've left out nearly all the personal opinion, and yet I get more hostility now than when I was just bitching and moaning. I don't suppose hostility is logical, so I should give up on understanding it. But it's really strange to me.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying that I'm allowed to be mean, and no one else is. I've been bitched out by people who, I admit, had a reason to be mad. I was bitchy, they were bitchy. Tit for tat. What I don't get is the current trend of people being mortally offended by a simple review.

So, long story short, there's a new VK out, and I'm going to go find a copy and review the damn thing. I think I'm going to time myself, and then write a generic pullover pattern, and see how long THAT takes, for comparison. But I'm sure, no matter how polite I am in the review, unless i say I love everything, someone will leave some pissed off (and anonymous, of course) comment.

Still don't get it.

55 comments:

debsnm said...

Wow, seems no one has stepped up yet - which is weird. I don't always agree with your reviews, I actually hated the VK Holiday issue, you found way more good in it than I did. But why attack you on a personal level? That's just stupid. And, for my 2-cents' worth, if you're going to attack someone, you should at least have the balls to sign your attack. It's not like people can't find out who you are, anyway.
The stupids rule the world, I tell you!

piggie1230 said...

The stupid thing about that comment is that your reviews are always useful. And you do the good critique thing of pointing out what you do like, and what you don't like. And... I don't know. Your VK reviews are rarely ever what I would consider snarky or bitchy. I'm kind of confused. I think the snarkiest thing you said was about the yarn. And knitting editors not knowing what fair isle is.

Hell, I'd like it if you did even more reviews, of interweave and whatnot. They do make it so I can never figure out if I actually want to get the magazine though.

Roz said...

I'll leave a comment, not a dissertation.

I agree with you -- what is it with these people? As a longtime TV reporter/correspondent/sometimes anchor, I've heard every sort of rant from all corners about my work, my on-air demeanor, my HAIR. I worked very hard to develop my expertise, but I learned a long time ago not to take the haters personally. The critics from hell have tiny lives and no sense of perspective. If I had the time, I'd pity them. But I don't.

Keep doing what you're doing -- your fans love you! And THAT is all that matters -- the rest of them can suck it.

Raychill Canuck said...

Honestly and this is going to be sexist - it's because women are supposed to be "nice". Not only do the menfolk expect it, other women do to. It's okay to be snarky/bitchy/etc. etc. as a woman as long as it's in a male dominated field (or traditionally male). However when it's perceived as a women's only club, we all have to sit nicely with our cups of tea and only speak when we have something nice to say.

The same fight erupts regularly on review blogs for romance novels.

amy said...

Just saying I'm amongst the half that won't be leaving.

Louiz said...

It doesn't surprise me that it takes so long to write a VK review. They are very thorough, and cover everything from the way the model looks in the item to the yarn to the sizing.

Have you ever had a comment from Vogue or their designers themselves? The way I see it, they are the only people who would have a right to be outraged by your reviews.

I enjoy your reviews, although I no longer subscribe to the magazine (now called something like Designer Knits in the UK rather than Vogue Knits... not sure why) and am always impressed by your research and thoroughness.

Tesha said...

Hell, we've talked/known each other for a while know. You are a very upfront, no bull shit kinda person, and it's one of my favorite things about you. I'm not now, nor will I ever likely be, a knitter, but I read ever single review on the subject because they are fricking funny as hell. You write your opinion in much the same way you talk. Frank and matter of fact with sarcasm and humor. If some people think it as being snarky and bitchy then so be it. They don't like it, fine, they can stop reading. It's just as easy as turning the dial on a radio or changing the channel on a TV. Myself, I'd like a little more snark in the reviews. ;) (And feel free to harp on me about all the grammatical errors and issues in this comment. heh)

Barbara said...

Yeah, I don't get it either. My theory is that people are lurking around trying to find something to be offended by or they've got their feelings stuck out about four inches beyond their skin so that any negative is felt to their very core. Get a life, people! I love Julie's smart, thorough reviews (they're opinions, in case you don't know, that's what reviews are by their very definition) and I'm not checking out.

I'm tired of narrow-minded people and wish they would go back in their caves.

verification word: "fleapece" when you're calm but itchy

nestra said...

I love reading your reviews of VK. I don't always agree with you, but your critiques have opened my eyes to some of the tricks that are used to disguise poorly designed garments.

I think that some people really love the chance to attack others and any excuse will do.

Melodye said...

I'm not leaving, either. I love your reviews and think some of them are hysterical. Keep 'em coming!

Michelle said...

I think people aren't used to being critiqued. And if they have never been critiqued then they probably have a thin skin. I'm going through the masters degree thesis process where inevitably you not only get critiqued but have to explain yourself. Experiences like that toughen you up and realize that not everything is personal. Sometimes things are wrong, so fix it and move on with life already. Not every person is going to be a shining star.

kate said...

All I know is that I am totally looking forward to any and all upcoming VK reviews. Because yeah, they're hilarious, but they're also really quite useful. Not many things are both hilarious and useful.

Then again, I love snarkiness, so I'm probably not the best judge.

Cynder said...

I love your VK reviews, and look forward to them every time I see that a new VK is coming out.

The people who attack your reviews are probably people who can't get past a garter stitch square (cause a scarf is too hard for them) and definably don't have the history of fashion back ground that you seem to have.

Rooie said...

What nestra said...I never really thought before about how the poses affect the garments...and what those poses might be hiding. (Though I have frequently done the math in my head to see just how much it would cost to knit some of the Vogue monstrosities.

Anyway...I'm not leaving either. Keep on reviewing!!

Anonymous said...

Not leaving either. I don't think I've been offended by anything you've written but I will admit that if a post gets long I might not read it.

HA what a concept, I don't like it, I stop reading it and move on.

And trust me I have also been known to ride a broom to work on many occasions, since that is the favorite mode of trasportantions for witches.

Got to go, my word is suphot, as in my dinner is ready.

Pam

Jessica said...

Thanks for the shout out. I, too, am amazed by how personally people take critique of other people's work. I think Raychill Canuck hit it on the head that we women are supposed to be nice and we knitters are supposed to be especially nice. When we fail to be super-extra-sweet people get their nose's out of joint.

And I have to admit, sometimes that makes it even more fun. Heh.

ChiaLynn said...

It's not just knitters. I haven't been knitting long, but I've witnesses very similar behavior in the online bellydance community. There, it's compounded by this feeling that "this is her ART, and it is EMPOWERING HER." Well, that may be, but if she's holding herself out as a professional, she needs to be judged by professional standards. (If she's not, then that's a whole different conversation - but I certainly wouldn't categorize VK as a hobby publication.)

katharhino said...

Is it something about crafting? The only other community I've seen get THIS hypersensitive about honest critique is the online scrapbooking community.

Okay, no never mind. People get hypersensitive about fandoms too.

Anyway, I don't get it. But I love your blog. It makes me grin. Be snarky, I say, be snarky.

Roxie said...

I'm still here, and licking my lips in anticipation of the review.

Karen said...

I'm going to agree with Roz, women, especially older women were raised to be nice, and while TV and media has made bitchiness ok that's more for younger people supposedly. I'm blunt and tactless because I can't seem nice to me and it's the toughest part of motherhood I've ever run into. Once my son reached school age and I started volunteering I've accidently caused myself more trouble than I did when I was a stupid teen. I actually got kicked out of the book fair for saying something inappropriate, only they didn't tell me what. Women especially of a certain age just don't do snark. We've recently had a mini-typhoon in our knitting guild over stuff said and emails and one side honestly can't see that their approach and tone seem very confrontational to the other group, so now we get all new officers. It's a weird cultural thing that's worse in the midwest and if you don't get it its considered your fault.

Emily said...

I enjoy your reviews, whether I agree with them or not (my only complaint has been that the models shouldn't be blamed for their blunder-hiding poses! That's the other people on the shoot). Your arguments are clear, detailed, and you usually point out stuff I would not have seen.

Secretly I suspect that some people just need to get mad & will snatch any opportunity, whether it makes sense or not. And given that they're not physically reachable, they feel safe in pouring out their frustration at the world or life or whatever.

I think you're brilliant & loads of fun to read; I am perpetually in awe.

winslowd said...

Keep doing what you're doing. We don't all think alike, so we're going to disagree. Such is life.

I do have a question about the thrummed mittens. Did you make them bigger than you usually make a regular pair of mittens to allow for the thrums?

bobbins said...

I'm still here and I will be haunting your blog for the next article. You express yourself eloquently and with sass, an enjoyable read all around. You have something to say and say it well.

I'll be back again. Love every topic: history, textiles, knitting, fashion, food, botany. More, please!!

Donna Lee said...

your reviews don't stop me from buying the magazine if I want to read it. I am addicted to magazines and have a hard time saying no.

I am a relatively new knitter and one who has benefited from your more experienced eye. I appreciate the information that you put out there. It helps me make better decisions on what to knit.

Wanna really start a riot? Criticize the yarn harlot for anything (anything at all). Lots of perfectly normal seeming women will try to take you down......

I'd read whatever you wrote. I have a feeling we think a lot alike.

stellar7 said...

I look forward to your reviews! I find them educational and funny. And always truthful. Sometimes it's good to remember that just because a piece of clothing looks good on a posed model...well... think about what it'll look like without the hunched shoulders and on a REAL woman. Plus, I enjoy your blog. Just sayin...

Clumsy Knitter said...

I don't know why people get so upset, either. My favorite blogs to read are those in which the writers are not afraid to step up and say what they think! I have only been reading your blog for a few months, but I absolutely LOVED the last VK review you did. I may not have agreed with everything you said (I honestly can't even remember now), but heck, I'm always happy to see someone with an OPINION!

I'm looking forward to your next review, flattering or otherwise.

Alwen said...

You could always use the flounce generator if the flames were particularly hot:

http://margalite.webatu.com/goodbye.html

(Except if I seriously thought your blog would go away, I would have a sad!)

Laura said...

I will join the throng of your supporters in saying that you should review away! I found your most recent VK review very funny and informative and would love to read more of the same. People who publish their work can expect people to review it, and some people probably won't like it. That's just how it goes. I didn't think you were particularly mean, nor did you personally attack any designers; you just offered up your opinion of their work. And you did it well, I say. Please continue!

Wren said...

I love your reviews, but I have only known about them a short time.

If you _do_ manage to figure out the reason why reviews such as your own get so much hate, please tackle next the question of why so many knitting pattern sellers (who have not even the slightest interest in selling knitted items) get their panties in a twist about sales of said knitted items.

PICAdrienne said...

I love and look forward to your reviews. But then again, I also look forward to the WTF posts on Rose-Kim Knits, and frequently comment on them.

You generally come off as witty in your reviews. I would also guess your humor runs to self-deprecating, when directed at yourself. I have never picked up an "I am perfect, and my stuff don't stink" vibe from your posts.

I am looking forward to the review, when it is complete.

Georgi said...

I agreed with you on the VH review, but I agree with you, people are a wee bit touchy in blogger land (or is it knitter's land). And I think snarky is great!

kelebek }{ said...

Looking forward to the new review.

Galad said...

I always look forward to your reviews. I've mentioned before how much I learn about evaluating patterns and how they really fit (as opposed to how the model is posed)

Keep it up!

Amy Lane said...

I've said this before-- having been victimized by some seriously BITCHY reviews, (and having seen you fess up when you cross the line) what you do is constructive and extremely intelligent. And yeah--I'm evil. I don't mind snark-- well done snark can be appreciated by the people being snarked on!

TinkingBell said...

What a great post - well said and I think it needed saying. Your reviews are great - I don't always agree, but they often make me look at designs with new eyes - and isn't that what it's all about - as I say (a lot) I never leave your blog without having learned something

and a review is an opinion - and you might disagree, and that's fine - if we all had the same taste and wore the same stuff - well, we'd be living in the USSR in the 1960s
Thanks - keep reviewing - sometimes I cry laughing - and I love it!

nanacindynz said...

i really love your educational blog. I love your reviews and you teach me something new in most posts you put up (even if sometimes it is that sekhmet is again a fucker). This goes for your reviews too. They point out things that i maybe wouldn't have noticed before and reading over the last couple of years has taught me how to find a well designed pattern. I guess you're like the Simon Cowell of knitting, you're saying what we're all thinking in a witty way (not that i'm a fan of Mr. Cowell but IMHO he's on the nose most of the time)

TL;DR - your blog is (educational)1 and you are funny.

Caryn said...

I think there is a persistent perception among knitters (and others) that knitting is not a serious business, that knitting designers are all talented amateurs who humbly place their work out there for our use and we shouldn't discourage them by dissing their efforts.

Keep up the reviews. They are very helpful.

Judy said...

I won't be leaving either. I don't always agree with your reviews but I enjoy reading them.

Mandy said...

Well said! However, I don't think the irrational reactions are confined to the knitting world - I think perhaps you are just a lightning rod for them because you have a well-known blog and don't try to sugarcoat your opinions. Keep it up - the reasonable knitters of the world will enjoy what you do, and enjoy politely disagreeing with you when warranted for a long time to come!

ellen in indy said...

please don't let the whiners cause you to turn off the snark!

my body and vogue patterns don't really even belong in the same universe, but if i wanted to knit something for model-built niece #2, vk is where i'd turn . . . AND THEN CHECK your review before casting on.

if actual designers are offended by your viewpoints, tough -- if they can't take the heat, they should stay out of the dyepots. you're not attacking them as people, you are critiquing their work from a CUSTOMER's viewpoint.

if general readers are offended because you're not being "nice," well, tough shit. as the bumper sticker says, "well-behaved women seldom make history." (for "well-behaved," substitute "uptight conventional 'ladies' ")

you have the right to your opinions, the knowledge and skills to make them more valid than the average person's and the ability to convey them in an interesting and often amusing way.

you GO, girl!

p.s.: merry pigsbird christmas to you, the husbeast and the goober.

MagicChupacabra said...

Hmmm...

People not liking the fact that people don't like all the work that other people do is something that offends me, I'm sure someone is offended by that and if so they can lick my left ass cheek. Only the left one though, in a top to bottom direction.

Now that I'm done offending people with that response, I demand the history of the coconut thingy. It can be multiple posts and thats fine but I want the history of that crack that you sent me.

that shit is good.

NeedleTart said...

Hmmm...Seems that if the Vogue editors read your review they would apologize to all the knitters who bought it, their productions values would go up and they would be more successful. No?
BTW I consider (full disclosure: Reform Jew) _any_ fundamentalist religion the bogeyman. If we should all die because we don't believe as they do, they are in the wrong. Begin the hate mail over at needletart.

Walden said...

I like your reviews, whether I agree with all of them or not. It's always nice to get another person's honest opinion. When I review things, I am honest. A review isn't a review if the writer isn't honest.

Anonymous said...

OMG. AND YOU WERE SO VERY RESTRAINED! I love all your VK reviews. Everyone should be educated about the model poses to disguise flaws, etc. And it's WORKING. I got a recent email that indicated I could go on line to get "expanded sizes" for some VK patterns! We love you.

Deborah L

BammerKT said...

I hope you don't quit, but you're right. In fact I would say it goes even further than that in the community, but I don't need to go into it. A review that's been sugar coated is not useful to me, so snark away, darling! Some of us are actually real, and bitches in public even (when the situation warrants it) and I applaud you!

Lola said...

Looking forward to your VK review. I depend on your reviews to help me decide whether to buy the said issue at the bookstore or wait for the sale bin at one of my LYS. Either way, the designer is already compensated by VK (even though the compensation rate may be unfair) so there is no need for others to be mean and complain about your reviews.

If you don't like what Samurai Knitter has to say, go write your own review. You just might find in writing your own review that SK's points may have been valid after all (or not).

Hannah said...

Here, here!! Bring on the snark!

Merry Christmas!

Donna said...

I have only found your blog within the last year and just LOVE your reviews of VK. I have gone back and read the reviews of the magazines I have never seen. Please don't stop!!! They are some
of the funniest reading on the web!! Thank you!

Berta in Texas said...

Personally, I can not wait to see your comments on that THING with the enormous cowl and short sleeves. And not even a Size 0 can wear the hip pouches (too big for pockets)on the other one.

Berta

Shoveling Ferret said...

I concur with the previous commenters who have brought up the gender issue. It's something I've run into in many other areas and I'm sure you and other readers have as well. Women are supposed to be "nice" and "polite" and "tactful" which often translates as "backhanded" and "passive-aggressive" but at least it isn't "mean." Being direct, being snarky, and being unwilling to let things pass- traits that are often admired and encouraged in men are often denounced as overly aggressive and bitchy in women by both men and women. It's fascinating to observe and infuriating to deal with directly.
The thing that fascinates me is people jumping in to be offended on behalf of *other* people. Although we can't know for sure with the most recent comment as they were anonymous, it seems reasonable to conclude that they are not involved with VK but simply decided to be offended on behalf of people who are. Or they're just a holiday troll spreading shit and stupid as they voyage out from their bridge on lo, these magical evenings. ;)

Bev said...

I've always enjoyed your reviews. Not only do I find them amusing, but I have actually learned quite a bit. I don't look at any patterns the same way I use before I started reading your blog. Thanks! (As a former dependent myself, I also really enjoyed your comments of the military life. Thanks for your service!)

OttawaGuy said...

Fuck 'em if they can't take a joke.

I read here regularly, I love the fashion history and the VK reviews especially. As far as I'm concerned you could turn UP the snark in the reviews because it sure as hell is warranted.

MLJ1954 said...

snarky bitch . . . love it. I think it could be my motto . . . you should do cups, t-shirts, bags.

Julie, seriously, I love your reviews. It makes me focus on various things, including how the photographers manipulate the crap they have to work with . . . I know look at all magazines and see how the models are posed . . . did you ever notice that all the covers of Prevention Magazine show women in scooped neck t-shirts, leaning forward, minimizing their ass and hips? I digress.

Those who protest should be at a knitting session whenever someone gets the latest copy of any knitting magazine or new book. Snarky bitchiness galore. and I so enjoy it . . . plus we laugh our asses off . . . gee maybe we could be on the cover of Prevention.

David said...

I'm going to go with a different direction. I think that the Dec 16th commenter is trying to alter your style through intimidation, which is a form of censorship. Screw him. Merry Christmas Dooie!

David (who doesn't even knit but loves reading your writing)

BB said...

I personally prefer that you call it like it is.
If the design sucks, the pattern is wrong, the model looks awful, say so! We have eyes, we can see it, and judge for ourselves.

I stopped subscribing to VK a few years ago because I got sick of the awful designs, the cost to make them, and the awful models.