Dumbing Down the Discourse

If I see another stone-stupid, amateur YouTube blab fest passing itself off as an intelligent product review, I may just throw up. Honestly, the open availability of the internet and video cameras (really good ones are now standard equipment in any smart phone) and the urge to be a media personality have produced a slew of extremely bad, boring and pointless video reviews.

They actually aren’t reviews. They are a painful rehashing of data available from the maker’s site. There it is in a condensed and accessible format. On Johnny Blade’s video channel, it is just part of the mash up. Here is a recent example. I’m researching various knives, folding and fixed blades, for opinions and demonstrations on ergonomics, use and function. There are many, many YouTube knife “review” videos out there, such as this one (my fictional compilation resulting from exposure to too many of these so called reviews).

First, a crudely done title card appears, accompanied by bad heavy metal bar band music. Then, a sudden slightly out of focus cut to a kitchen table where upon lies a knife. The reviewer’s voice, “What’s up, guys? Rusty Ninja here. Today, I thought I’d, like, take a look at my new blade… Cool. Got it last week and I really like it. Its a Blatherslice Mall Warrior.

A hand and wrist wrapped in a thick “survival bracelet” appears in the frame, grabs the knife, and the hand flips the blade out as the guy says something like “Ka-swish! Awesome blade, dudes…!”

He brings the knife closer to the camera so it is even more out of focus and turns it, spins it around, points it in different directions while commenting, “Awesome… Check that blade. Cool G10 scales, pocket clip (he points helpfully to the pocket clip as if the viewer has never seen one before), tight lockup, no blade play (as he grabs the blade in one hand and tries to wiggle it back and forth).”

“Yeah, another cool blade from Blatherslice. OK, let’s go over the specs on this one. The blade is, uh…, let me check, ah… yeah, four point two inches long, the overall length is…”

This goes on for perhaps four or five minutes which is about half the entire video, if we are lucky. After the recitation of specifications, we are treated once again to the disembodied hands and forearms moving, twisting, opening, closing, turning the knife in various ways while the voice reads off the various features: scales, clip, opening device, blade shape (as if we can’t see that already). Everything one could get from a quick look at the maker’s page and specifications table.

One helpful reviewer explained, twice, what the “cutting edge” means. Just in case you weren’t sure. 

If we are lucky, the disembodied voice will keep his personal life, past adventures and preferences for particular knives to himself, but usually we are not that fortunate. One video “reviewer” spent about 20% of the time talking about the braided lanyard he had made for his knife. Another, by a very well known, opinionated reviewer, spent almost a half an hour on one knife review, much of which wandered far off topic, including a peruse through the maker’s catalog for a number of those minutes.

Some reviewers spend far too long droning on about themselves and criteria that don’t really have much use in describing a knife’s design requirements and functionality. Some reviewers have constructed lists of items that must be laboriously checked off. This could be easily distilled into a few salient points that are relevant to the particular design, but that would require some actual analysis and possible field experience. 

 

Good knife designers create and build knives for distinct purposes which, if the designer knows his or her stuff, will be expressed in the characteristics of the knife. Hopefully, these features will be there because they derive from the designed purpose, not to make them attractive to mass market customers who will buy something mostly because it looks cool.

What criteria and function did the designer have in mind when he chose the blade shape, grind, steel and length? Why is the swedge where it is and shaped as it is? Why did the designer choose a thick (or thin) blade? Why is the handle shaped as it is? For what intended purpose? Is the handle material suitable for the intended use and if so why, or why not if the reviewer disagrees? Does it cut well? Show me. What kind of cutting work is it best suited for? Show me.

Reviewing stuff is not easy if it is done well. You can’t get a new gizmo, play with it for a day or two and create anything meaningful for a review unless it is a review of how happy you are to have bought or been given something you like in the first place. I have reviewed, among other things, guns, holsters and firearms accessories. These things are serious pieces of equipment, and are made to be used. One has to spend time putting them to the uses the designers intended in order to understand how they perform and will last in their jobs. At times, what seemed to be good initially, turned out to be not so good, but without using it and paying close attention to those parameters over time, it is not possible to produce a decent, useful review.

My opinion is that the best knife reviews, both video and text reviews, are smart, focus on the design and use of particular knives, demonstrate excellent video and graphics and well written, in depth text. Not poorly made or written summaries that point out the obvious and rehash information readily available from the maker. 

Some reviewers that I particularly like:

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