I know this may sound strange coming from what is essentially an online editorial, but people like me should not replace your consumption of new media and new opinions – like ever. Much talk has been made of opinions, some of which I disagree with (namely I don’t hold to the ridiculous notion that opinions are all equal). That said, there has been a rising industry that deals in opinions, editorials, and other subjective viewpoints, some of which pose as objective fact.
To help promote stronger online literacy, I’m dedicating this blog post to helping spot second-hand opinion, and knowing when and how to deal with too much influence in your thought process. Remember, an independent brain is a terrible thing to waste.
For starters, there is nothing innately dangerous with opinions – nor with seeking out the opinions of others. It can be a great way to foster discussion and expose you to new avenues of thought that you may not have considered before. If you want to read all 228 reviews for Troy on Rotten Tomatoes I won’t stop you, but please also watch the movie for yourself.
This is my main point: Never let someone else’s opinion become a substitute for your own, especially on issues of purely subjective content like art. In short, make sure you yourself are not going around spouting second-hand opinions.
There are several reasons for this, the first and foremost being: You’re unique. I know that sounds corny but it’s true. We’re all individuals and we all will have various takeaways from the reality we interact with. On this level, sites like Rotten Tomatoes are reductive, lumping movies into only two categories: fresh and rotten. I promise you, if you do dive into those reviews – you will find quite a few “fresh” articles that go negative and a great many “rotten” reviews full of positive praise…at least for most things.
But that’s just with movies – where everything and everyone has an equal opinion, at least so long as they’ve actually consumed the content. Let’s talk about other types of opinions, ones that are somehow sinister.
Remember when I said how not all opinions are equal? Well that’s true for even as rudimentary items as books, games, and movies. How can some of these opinions not be equal?
Example: I’ve just seen Scoob! (which I have) and I start talking to someone about it. They say they heard the movie was terrible and, worse, had some kind of hidden agenda designed to make kids buy water bottles or something. Soon enough, they are disparaging the movie on their own – acting like they personally saw it.
Who has the better opinion? Well, I’m always going to go with the person who saw/read/played the thing, rather than the person who “heard.” This is called an uninformed opinion and it takes many shapes.
Let’s do another example: You went to the doctor and were told you broke your leg. Your 43-year-old plumber cousin then insists that no, your leg isn’t broken and that you are fine to run the marathon tomorrow. Who will you listen to?
While there are many kinds of uninformed opinions, I’ve found that they generally break down into two categories:
“The Well-Meaning Idiot”
The first is mostly harmless. It’s someone who wants to help but may not know what they’re talking about. They’ll offer advice like “You shouldn’t swim during a thunderstorm, you may get eaten by a shark!”
They’re right about the first part…but not for the reasons they think. I see this a lot whenever there’s a big event, such as our recent COVID-19 pandemic. Let’s do a video example:
Okay so here is a medical doctor named Jeffrey VanWingen providing tips on how to sanitize food to protect yourself from COVID-19. At first glance, this seems pretty great. After all, the guy is an MD and he clearly is doing this as what he sees as a public service.
But there’s a problem…while Dr. VanWingen is an MD, he is not an expert on food or food sanitizing. So, while he meant to help, this poor fellow actually gave some really terrible advice – advice that food experts quickly became alarmed about. In particular, you should never wash food – especially things like fruit – with warm soap and water, like ever. It’s a great way to get food poisoning and make yourself sick.
Now, because this was an innocent gaff, Dr. VanWingen did upload another video, one where he corrected himself on his wrong advice. That said, this initial video went viral so it is not unreasonable to think that some people may have listened to his advice and done something dangerous.
We all want to help, especially in situations where people are looking for answers and information – but please, please do your research before you share what could be dangerous opinions.
“The Ignorant and Proud”
I know I’m being hard on Dr. VanWingen so let me be clear: He made a mistake and he did his best to fix it. I think that shows he’s a good person. I think most “well meaning idiots” rarely do lasting harm because, in the end, they’re after the same thing you are – helpful advice and opinions. If you correct them with new information, they will change their opinion. It’s the way it’s supposed to work.
But welcome to 21st century America…it don’t usually work that way. The other type of uninformed opinion – “the ignorant and proud” can be some of the most dangerous people in modern society. Right now odds are everyone knows at least one. You know, that person who refuses to wear a mask because they remain unconvinced by nearly every single infectious disease expert on the planet.
They trust the TV people though and those with flashy YouTube videos…oh and those hilarious, affirming memes.
Yeah, these people are bad news. Never trust anyone who jumps to conspiracies as a first form of argument more than once out of every 100 times. Ignorant and proud people don’t need experts because they don’t trust them – or they think these experts are actively out to attack “normal” people. If the above video were created by an ignorant and proud person, there never would have been a followup apologizing for getting it wrong. Let’s do a classic:
Guys…guys…I know, I know. I want it to be real but let’s be honest: There is no Loch Ness Monster. There never was. Heck, we know the famous surgeon’s photograph – the modern image of Nessie – is fake. And yet, every decade or so there’s a TV program made or a book written that incites a reaction from those who really want reality to be more fun.
Now this is a pretty harmless example of ignorant and proud, which is why I chose it. Most of these people will never admit they are wrong and that there is no Nessie. They’ll go on looking and taking blurry pictures and the rest of the world will spin on.
But I will say this: A lot of money has been spent looking for an imaginary monster, a creature logic has long told us could not exist. That money could have gone elsewhere. I know Scotland is not a Utopia – there’s probably poor people whose lives could have been changed dramatically…but the money went to looking for a dinosaur instead.
It’s okay to tell stories about our world – and fantastic creatures like the mythical Nessie did exist at one point. So the next time you want to find Nessie? Maybe donate to a paleontology group instead. They will get you closer than Scotland ever could.
Okay here is another type of often uninformed opinion that deserves its own category: propaganda. Merriam-Webster defines propaganda as “the spreading of ideas, information, or rumor for the purpose of helping or injuring an institution, a cause, or a person.” That’s right, people who use propaganda frequently have…an agenda!
I don’t want to get into this too much now, in part because I’ve got ideas for later posts and in part because I know I will go off on many, many tangents. Let me just say this: people who use propaganda may know the truth, but they don’t care about it. They’re much more concerned with bringing you to their side than they are about actually educating you.
And if you think Americans aren’t exposed to propaganda – or are only exposed to political propaganda during election years…you may want to rethink that view:
Okay, last but not least (and perhaps worst of all) is the bigoted opinion. Some people are consumed by hatred – hatred for people of different color, different sexuality, different gender, different religion. It doesn’t really matter what’s different, just so long as something is different.
These people are often uninformed (tragically many fall into the “ignorant and proud” category) and many use propaganda to further their own ends. It really hurts that there’s no scientific evidence for genetic superiority so, you know, they work with what they have.
Bigots can take a moral high ground, and will often claim that the material in question is “an insult to those who are actually _______.” In subjective media – this blank is often replaced by “fans.” For instance, the new Hellboy reboot was supposed to be terrible (I have not seen it so I have no opinion) but it didn’t garner the rage that say the 2016 Ghostbusters film did. There wasn’t that same “this is an assault on the true fans” fire and brimstone rhetoric being thrown around. People weren’t harassed and bullied to the point they had to leave social media.
Also stuff like “I don’t think gays should have the same rights” or “I’m tired of seeing women in movies” or “I’m not racist but I’m pretty sure every person of color to run for office isn’t really American” are in fact, all opinions…they are just super bigoted ones and should be treated accordingly. You’re never allowed to delegate someone’s humanity and their treatment to a matter of opinion.
Oh, and there’s the crap happening around Last of Us Part II…but that’s a blog post for another day!
Anyway, I hope you found this post helpful. Remember: exposure to new things, especially new art, is almost always good, even if it’s bad. Just be careful with how you approach what’s out there. The internet is full of information and knowledge, but it also contains propaganda, uninformed opinions and, sadly, bigotry.
You have a special and unique voice. Never give someone else the honor of supplanting it with their own exact viewpoints.