The Theory of Smells

27 Oct

I promised on twitter today that I was going to write a blog about why saying you like something and saying you don’t like something are not simply the opposite of each other. This is it.

Just to steam right in with a qualification, I’m referring primarily to expressing a view on cultural artefacts – songs, bands, films, artists, etc. It seems to me that people think saying “I like this band” is really the same as saying “I don’t like this band”: they are both just opinions, equally valid, one positive, one negative.

But no. They are not the same thing at all. And I refer you now to my 9 year old son Spencer’s Theory of Smells, (which I mentioned in a crafty follow up tweet, hoping that some of my followers might join the dots). His theory is that, however many lovely smells there are, one bad smell will ruin all of them. This is true, isn’t it? It might be a freshly-wrought theory from a young mind, but you can very quickly ascertain from your experience that he’s not wrong.

And it is also true of negative sentiments. If you express a positive opinion it spreads curiosity, feelings of well-being, smiles, hugs, butterflies dancing in the sunlight and sundry lovelinesses. I grant that it may eventually lead to disappointment, “That was rubbish. I don’t like the same doilies as Moose. He has very poor taste in doilies”, but it doesn’t really affect you personally. It just makes you adjust your trust in my taste.

However, if you express a negative sentiment, there is a good chance that someone will feel hurt, bemused, dismayed and personally affronted by it. Dark clouds will gather on the horizon, a shadow will fall over their mood, they will feel immersed in a creeping woe.

Think about every time someone says they don’t like a book that you love, or a song that you cherish, or your favourite darts player. It makes your day a little dimmer doesn’t it? The problem is, as with terrible smells, a negative opinion has a contaminating effect: however lovely the fragrances in your border, a lurking stinkhorn will send you running for fresh air.

Just because you enjoy the smell doesn’t mean others will too.

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2 Responses to “The Theory of Smells”

  1. fennerpearson October 28, 2014 at 10:31 pm #

    I completely agree with this!

    I’ve been thinking recently about how pointless it is publishing a review by someone who doesn’t like something; a positive review is always more informative. For example, I don’t really like musicals. If I were to write a review of a musical, it’s not going to be informative; the only people who will agree with it – or my reasons for disliking it – will be other people who don’t like musicals. Someone who does like musicals and who likes a particular musical will review it in a way that will enable other people who like musicals to decide whether they would like it.

    Similarly, loads and loads of people like Coldplay. They want to read a read review by someone else who likes Coldplay, i.e. not me. That person might say that the album is as good as their first one or just like that one that Brian Eno produced. As a Coldplay fan, you’ll know what they’re talking about and get some idea of whether you’ll like it. At the end of the day, though, the only way you’ll know is by listening yourself.

    In fact, it occurs to me that the best way to do reviews would be to let a load of reviewers see or listen to something and let the person or people who liked it write a review. Imagine, the music section in a newspaper lists 20 albums. There are 15 (positive) reviews written by various members of their review team. Readers can draw their own conclusions about the ones that no one wanted to review!

    • mooseallain October 29, 2014 at 8:36 am #

      Yes, I think this is an interesting idea, and Coldplay are a good example because it’s fashionable not to like them, whereas clearly some people are passionate about their music. Of course I’m all for critical appraisal, so a good writer who didn’t like the artist should be able to write a decent review. Simply saying “Coldplay are rubbish” gets you nowhere. Thank you, Fenner!

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