Is this any good? - Shawn Loughlin editorial
Years ago, the landscape was dotted with these magical places, often full of young people with strong convictions about what they thought about the art of the motion picture – usually to the point of being somewhat snobby. These places were called video stores – Rogers, Blockbuster, Jumbo Video, etc. – and I used to work at one.
For about seven years, I slung videotapes and then DVDs over the counter in a Pickering Rogers Video before beginning my time with The Citizen. There, I learned a lot about customer service, patience and work ethic. I was a troublesome employee who would fight with customers, managers and co-workers alike. My impatient, often combative career in customer service is kind of beside the point here, but it’s always one of the first things that comes to mind thinking back to those days. What I really wanted to write about this week is the peril of taking or making a recommendation. You need to understand so much before you dive in with both feet. Who is making the recommendation? How compatible are you with that person?
We all ask for them. Everyone has sat down at a restaurant and asked the wait staff “what’s good here?” or which dish they prefer as you sit torn between two options. At the video store, we were hit up with questions like these constantly. People would ask us if we’d seen a movie and, if so, was it any good?
We had access to rentals the night before they came out, so we could get a jump on the new releases before the general public did, enabling us to make recommendations. Not dissimilar, my friend Scott had worked at a local (to Pickering) movie theatre and it would screen movies for the employees before those movies opened to the public for the same reasons. That way the employees could speak intelligently about the movies playing in the cinema and recommend them (or not).
For me, I was always honest. Often the exchanges were pretty innocuous. Someone would materialize at the counter holding one of the week’s biggest releases, ask if it was any good and I’d answer yes or no. If I hadn’t seen it, and it was one of the bigger movies of the week, odds were that someone else working that night had, so they could step in.
Where I received a real education on the peril of recommending things to people was when the store implemented a section for staff picks. We were, for a time, allowed to choose our own Mount Rushmore of favourite movies (eight to a shelf, with two employees picking four each) and send them out into the world, like our own little children off on their first day of school. This was when my relationship with the movie-renting public got a bit more dicey.
People didn’t like the weird movies I liked. However, they’d come to me and would hear an enthusiastic vote of confidence for the movie in question. Sure, my picks landed with the odd person (odd in number and likely odd in personality as well), but most people were passing on the Shawn shelf, regardless of how much effort I put into it, how often I changed it up and the themes I tried to hit with them.
More often than not, I’d get disappointed reviews from people after they watched a film I’d recommended. They wouldn’t normally turn it off, come in and ask for a refund (or to rent something else), but the number of times that happened isn’t zero - we’ll just say that.
Being a recommender of things comes with great responsibility, but so does taking a recommendation. Do your homework before you blindly jump into something and save a disappointing brush with the Shawn shelf.