Thursday, March 12, 2009
The Fine Art of Pretending Not to Have an Opinion
I rarely visit the boards at makeupalley.com, mainly because I put my time in at high school and don't see any reason to go back. Still, the attraction is there. Maybe it's like high school, sure, but a high school where everyone's talking about perfume. At least when they're being bitchy, one hopes, it's about Habanita, rather than the new girl in Social Studies and the weird, even stupid knee socks she has on. When I do stray into that minefield of insult and injury, I often wish it amused me more. But I don't derive much if any pleasure from people saying ugly things about each other, and a lot of sadism seems to permeate the tommygun posts on the boards. More often than not, you're pepper-sprayed with lazy, arm chair negativity.
Like in high school, some of the most frequent posters are really rather chummy. It's only when they're talking about people unlucky enough not to have been deemed worthy of their circle that they get downright pissy. The funny thing about writing a blog that people within a tight community of interest read is that you become a little bigger in their minds than you really are. At the end of the day, even Chandler Burr and Luca Turin--shock!--are fan-boy geeks. We all are. We're all just expressing our opinions. So it's weird to see Abigail slammed on makeupalley.com as if she's a celebrity or something. It's like I've strayed onto perezhilton and there's a picture of her with little hand drawn farts and squiggles superimposed over her figure. What is it about someone who puts herself out there that makes her a legitimate target of verbal abuse and childish graffiti?
When I do go to makeupalley, and I do a lot, I use it as a resource, an alternative to basenotes.net. I read the user reviews. Call me kooky, but I like to hear what others are saying about a fragrance. The more people sound in, the happier I am. I can take the overload of negative reviews from, say, user-names "Caltha" and "Trebor", and though I disagree with much of what Foetidus says (I'm bound to, as he's written 2064 reviews--and counting) I never tire of the way he phrases it. I can't think of a time a review, or even a series of overwhelmingly negative reviews, dissuaded me from buying or loving a perfume. Typically, reviews help me articulate my appreciation for or defense of them.
What I do find amusing on the makeupalley boards is the oft-iterated idea that an opinion is a harmful thing when it comes to perfume criticism; or, more plainly, that perfume criticism should make a commitment to being unbiased. I love the idea that a careless or thoughtless reviewer might ruin your favorite perfume for you. They say cumin, perhaps, and all you can smell, forever after, is sweat and stale food. They say cat urine, rendering Joy Joyless. What if they have their facts wrong, and think that galbanum is eucalyptus, or that Lyra was composed by Marc Buxton rather than Maurice Roucel? Then they've damaged not just you but the sanctity of a great artist's reputation. I love the idea that anything I say on my nothing little blog has that much sway, as if I wield the power to thrust the planet off its axis, bring the perfume industry down to its knees, get the damn postman to bring my perfume orders first thing in the morning, or entice niche lines to send me free bottles of any perfume I review favorably (hint, hint), when in reality I can barely remember what I was saying five minutes ago.
All of this becomes even more amusing when you consider how blatantly hypocritical it is. Without exception, everyone I've ever heard decry unbiased perfume criticism on makeupalley makes it a habit to offer his or her opinion on a regular basis. Recently, several people were saddened and disappointed when Abigail failed to merely regurgitate the Serge Lutens ad copy during an unforgivably opinionated review of Nuit de Cellophane. How dare she call it a bid for mainstream ubiquity. Who died and made her the last word on Sheldrake? It amazed me that anyone bothered to embarrass themselves by making this kind of complaint. It seemed surreal that the chain would go any further than that (26 comments, last time I looked). Then again, people got really upset when Dan Rather dispensed with so-called journalistic impartiality to verbally challenge Bush Senior.
Then too there's the fact that to post at all means having an opinion. If you think as everyone else does, what's to post? Someone else has already said it for you. Posting stems from the urge to distinguish oneself, to express a singular opinion in a way, you believe, no one else can, has, or will. Here's a newsflash (and sit down; I don't want you to pass out): If you're posting, at all, on makeupalley, you're a critic. Write me, I'll send you your membership card. With membership: a clue. If you respond to a Lutens review by saying reviews are only much fun for the person writing them, well, I mean, have you seriously surveyed everyone on that issue--but you would know, I guess, wouldn't you, having written, the same day, that "Cedre = the powdery sexiness of Tigress plus tobacco; a tiny pinch of cumin & sweet tobacco." Great. You party pooper. Thanks for ruining Cedre for me. And I was just about to go buy some. Before that, you'd written that someone ruined your newest favorite by comparing it to Cabotine. And you hate Cabotine. And now you must kill yourself, for whatever else can you do but save humanity by terminating this insidiously contagious brain poison?
It seems so obvious that we never say it, and I speak for Abigail here too I think, but we write this blog because we want to throw our opinions into the pot. Neither of us has any interest in playing authority or even in being the last word on anything. We met on a fragrance blog, where we both made it a practice to consume as many biased reviews as humanly possible. It never occurs to us that some reader on makeupalley might be crushed by our opinion or anything we write on our blog. We assume people are made of stronger stuff than that, and really, if you don't want an opinion, we wonder what the hell you're doing on the internet, or why you ever leave the house (assuming you do), or turn on the TV, or smell a perfume in the first place. Another newsflash: perfume itself is a perspective (i.e. an opinion). Michel Roudnitska's Emotionelle is said to evoke France (for HIM). Whether or not it does for you is what we're all doing here. If you don't want an opinion, for God's sake, keep a cap on it.