(But your reaction is yours to keep.)

Thoughtful piece on the difference between an opinion and a reaction when it comes to critiquing creative media. There’s probably some nitpicking in the semantics of the phrasing in here, I think, but the essence of the argument is… worth considering, if nothing else, in this the Age of the Internet Expert.

Smart, cool, creative people know that their opinions are not them. Their opinions are a snapshot of them, at a particular time, under a particular set of circumstances.

The “you” that matters is not your opinion. What matters is the “you” that can thoughtfully generate an independent opinion. And that you changes over time. Opinions that don’t change when presented with new circumstances are not opinions, they’re dogma.

For the record, while I haven’t been to Sukiyabashi Jiro (it’s super, super hard to get reservations for), I have been to a similar–albeit less famous and, I think, more “traditional”–three-Michelin-starred sushi place in Tokyo. In these places you sit down at what is essentially a bar, with the “bartender” being the chef. Then he makes you sushi. And you eat it. If you’re very, very lucky, he might ask you if you like wasabi or not. But that’s it. You get the food that you’re given, and you eat it and you enjoy it because you’re in one of the world’s best restaurants and the point of being there is to experience what the chef wants you to experience. I don’t like shellfish but do you think I at least tried my raw octopus and prawn and clam?1 Fucking yes I did. I still don’t like it much and wouldn’t order it myself anywhere else, but if one of the world’s best sushi makers is feeding me sea urchin, I’m gonna goddamn try it, just in case.

This is, incidentally, a pretty common way for top-end restaurants to operate. You might get a printed menu in a Western-style venue, but the place will still function on a get-what-you’re-given model.2 A lot of people seem to baulk at the idea of this. “What if you don’t like something?” Firstly, it happens, but not that often. But more importantly: there is a general feeling of, well. If you really, really think you’re going to hate the chef’s food, then… don’t pay $500-1,000 a head to eat at his restaurant? I mean. Duh? This is, like, an okay thing to happen. The chef (probably?) isn’t going to go home and cry into his awards because one person didn’t like his cooking. Example: you know whose cooking I don’t really like? Joël Robuchon. This is this chef who literally has the most Michelin stars of anyone else in the entire world. I’ve actually met him–he wandered into his restaurant while we were eating there, and we took photos and had a chat–and I think his cooking is… well, I think it’s super overrated. It’s Asian-influenced French stuff and I can see, kinda, where he’s going with it, but… IDK. It just doesn’t do much for me. And you know who gives literally zero shits about my opinion on/reaction to this?

Joël Robuchon. And, incidentally, you. You should not care about my opinion on this, and if you ever get a chance to go to one of Robuchon’s restaurants? I’d say go for it. See for yourself.

Not everything is for everybody. The idea that it is–the idea that you are The Expert and your opinions are sacrosanct and should never be challenged ever–is Starbucks culture. It’s US-centric service industry, customer-is-always-right-tipping-culture culture.

Having a subjective dislike of something doesn’t mean that thing is “wrong”. Joël Robuchon is still the world’s most lauded chef. Me being a bit “meh” about him doesn’t change that.3 I really dislike Stanley Kubrick films, too–I think they’re soulless and boring–but I don’t think they should all be, like, burned or that no film student should ever whack off to them ever again or whatever. If you like Kubrick, then good for you, and here’s a box of clean tissues. Ditto for console FPSes, board games, sports, hot yoga, superhero comics, or any one of the ten million other things that are not my bag, baby.

I will eat sea urchin when eating it is part of an experience, but damned if I’m going to cook it at home for myself. I’ve struggled through (most of) The Lord of the Rings as much as the next person, but when it came to writing my own Norse mythology-based high fantasy story, it was less about rugged heroes and provincial everymen, and more about the women they forget and the supposed “monsters” that they murder.

These, I suppose, are my opinions, formed from my reactions. And when I put them out there, other people will have reactions and opinions of their own. Some will be good. Some… maybe not so much.

And so on it goes.

  1. With apologies to our sushi chef, who was very adamant that all us dirty foreigners call all the dishes by their Japanese names, because sushi is a Japanese food. Which, okay, we did our best. But we still Googled pictures of everything because we were curious what things were. []
  2. Exception: you’re allergic to something. The waiters will generally ask before the food comes, and the goal is not, in fact, to poison customers. []
  3. FWIW, in some respects Robuchon is to fine dining what Tolkien is to fantasy. His cooking tastes a bit mild and cliched to me precisely because it was so lauded and revolutionary that it became so imitated. And, meanwhile, I’ve spent years eating at the Discworlds and Dragon Ages of the restaurant world. []