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On iTunes Reviews

by Noah Lugeons

(Warning: Excessive naval-gazing ahead)

Up to this point, reviewers on iTunes have been quite kind to us.  I’d love to fan the flames of my own arrogance with this fact, but in truth it tends to be the case that the vast majority of the reviews for a new podcast are overwhelmingly positive.  This probably has something to do with the fact that most of the people who would take the time to search out a new podcast would be (a) predisposed to like podcasts in the genre and (b) willing to overlook some of the flaws that newer podcast producers are working through.

I have to admit, I check iTunes daily and at least once a week I go international and check our reviews in the rest of the English speaking world as well.  I suppose every podcaster is compelled by a need for approval on some level so this is probably largely the norm… or at least, I hope it is.

iTunes gives reviewers the option of leaving a rating (1-5 stars) and writing a review.  You can rate without taking the time to add a written review and about 33% of the people that have rated us have chosen that option.  Almost all of our negative ratings have come sans-review.  There was one one-star review that dismissed Heath and I as “mean”; which I’ll admit to.  A three-star review asked that I get rid of the crappy music and another three-star review faulted us for not being less like us.

But yesterday we got what I consider to be our first honest negative review.  On a five point scale you can’t exactly call a three star review negative and I can’t take the “you guys are mean!” review too seriously, but the one I read yesterday was a two-star review that didn’t seem ideologically motivated:

It seems like he’s trying too hard to rile religious folks up.  There’s too many strong man arguments and no variety of opinion… not exactly inspiring intellectual conversation or provoking real convincing thoughts.  It’s really all for entertainment value and I can easily say the fans are just finding more broken records to reinforce their beliefs.  I mean, the quality of the audio and everything was really good.  Content on the other hand..?  It’s a lot of fool’s humor and pathetic stories of other fools to mock.  Suit yourself if you like.

Obviously there are a few things there to unpack.  He’s free to say whatever he wants, obviously, but I think it’s a bit of a low blow to go after the fans of the show (he’s talking about you!).  The notion that I’m “trying too hard to rile religious people up” is kind of stupid, as it would require religious people to be listening to our show (I’m guessing none do).  I could also pick on him for saying “strong man arguments” but I’m too highbrow for that.

But my main issue with this review (and similar feedback I’ve gotten via email) is that the gist of the review is: “I want this to be a different show.”

I don’t mind that he doesn’t find our brand of humor funny.  Obviously it’s not for everyone.  I don’t mind that he doesn’t find the thoughts and ideas we express compelling… most of them aren’t meant to be.  But the unspoken premise of this review is that an atheist show is supposed to be a certain way.  It’s supposed to include diverse opinion, thought provoking discussions, weaker man arguments (okay, I was bullshitting about the highbrow bit).  And I’d be happy to point him to a few shows that are more likely to suit him.  But I’m not persuaded by the “this shouldn’t be this!” argument.

And yes, I’m probably pissier than the review warrants.  It’s good that the people who don’t like the show take the time to rate it so that people won’t start getting the impression that it’s beloved by all.  I’m glad that he took the time to actually tell me what he didn’t like and why.  And I’m glad he was so complimentary about the sound quality because, in my opinion, that’s the worst thing about the show.  But I’d feel better about it if he hadn’t felt the need to say it in such a “I’m better than people who listen to this show” way.  There’s too damn much of that in the atheist movement.  We’re often drowning one another out by criticizing the methods and ignoring the message.

Incidentally, if you’d care to hear me opine a bit more on that exact subject, don’t miss my appearance on Atheistically Speaking next Thursday, where David, Thomas and I discuss this exact point in depth.

And forgive me for all the caterwauling.  I’m halfway through the Phish Food and I’m already feeling better.

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  1. bob
    February 7, 2014 at 10:25 AM

    Noah, kind of reminds me about a post a while back about a godkin who wanted to come on and tell everybody about jesusy stuff. In both that case and this one, it seems that there is an assumption that a “podcast” is by default some kind of soap box that exists to proselytize to some audience. A podcast is expected, by default, to be some passionate asshole’s teaching platform, for convincing, converting, or for something airy and erudite and serious. For some reason people seem to have a hard time thinking that maybe a podcast can be just for fun and entertaining, just BECAUSE. I can’t imagine somebody sitting around watching… whatever the current TV sitcom of choice is… and then complaining that they didn’t have a message that really spoke to them that evening, or whatever. If the podcast is funny, if the podcast is entertaining, if we enjoy “hanging out” with you guys (and girl) for thirty minutes a week, that’s all that matters. If we don’t like it, we can saddle up and mosey on up the road.

    • February 7, 2014 at 11:54 AM

      Thanks, Bob. To be honest, my wife says I’m a bit too thin-skinned for podcasting. I take the negative to heart and I shouldn’t. But I wouldn’t have written about it if not for the larger point you’re making. The idea that “diversity of opinion” should be a prerequisite to an atheist podcast directly implies some kind of fault with the opinion that god doesn’t exist.

  2. February 7, 2014 at 10:41 PM

    This is my favoritist atheist podcast I’ve found so far. Unashamed to be yourselves. I only found it yesterday and have already listened to four hours worth or so. I think the “first honest negative review” is poppycock, with the exception of the last sentence. I will suit myself, thank you very much. Please keep it up. I like it enough to even consider giving a donation.

  3. Dr P. Ness D.B.S.
    February 8, 2014 at 12:19 AM

    As someone whose a huge fan of podcasts that “inspiring intellectual conversation or provoking real convincing thoughts” on a wide variety of subjects, I have to say that my new favorite day of the week is Thursday so I can get the latest episode of Scathing Atheist. This reviewer clearly missed the point, sometimes its nice to take a break from all the talk of logic, skepticism and critical thinking (or listening to a debate where a creationist has to be corrected on one of the 5 or 6 “arguments” that have been refuted thousands of times over) and just laugh at how silly it all is. Fuck diversity of opinion, and fuck anyone that wants to make the show different, don’t ever change Noah!

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