Reviews film

THE LITTLE MAN – Austin Kleon

San francisco chronicle movie review icons

The Little Man: The San Francisco Chronicle’s Rating System

Yesterday I read this little paragraph in roger ebert’s response to the claims that he gives too many stars:

the only classification system that makes any sense is the little man in the san franciscio chronicle, who is seen (1) jumping out of his seat and clapping wildly; (2) sitting happily and clapping; (3) sit attentively; (4) asleep in his seat; or (5) gone from his seat…the blessing of the little man’s system is that it offers a true middle ground, like three on a five star scale.

so I did some research. the little man was the brainchild of chronicle artist warren goodrich in the early 1940s:

On the occasion of the little man’s 50th birthday, Goodrich recalled that it was just another task he quickly accomplished, noting, “I’m surprised it continued”… Goodrich, who died last year, once recalled that a woman ( possibly a disgruntled actress) once hit him over the head with her umbrella and said “I hate the little man!”

the woman is not alone. many of the chronicle writers hate the little man. they boo that the image already tells the story!

The beloved icon of this newspaper’s entertainment sections is, in fact, a complete nuisance to the critics… that’s because the little man gives you a visual clue as to what you’re about to read.

And they complain about what ebert loves: the middle man on the scales, the man with ambiguous feelings.

[t]he message is often unclear… when you’re just sitting in your chair, watching. no applause. don’t jump out of his seat and clap your hands. she didn’t collapse into his seat. not out of his seat. just sitting there.

I guess a comment could be made here about how people can’t handle ambiguity in their lives: they want things to be black and white, no shades of grey. as ebert cites siskel,

“What is the first thing people ask you? should i watch this movie? they don’t want a speech about the director’s career. thumbs up-yes. thumbs down, no.”

In fact, the editorial team was so upset about the neutral broker that they redesigned it:

few are aware that the l.m. it was modernized about 10 years ago with a more benign expression. the little man’s pose between the politely clapping little man and the dozing little man was reworked in a microscopic makeover: the “alert bystander” little man’s expressionless mouth was modified with a slight upward curve, to indicate a hint of a smile of mona lisa, suggesting vague fun. His raised eyebrows indicate interest but not entirely approval, denoting mixed feelings. after the artistic spinal fusion, he also sat more alert, which means a mixed review.

All of this came after Talmudic editorial discussions about the meaning of the enigmatic no. 3 little man: did her unreadable look of his indicate intrigue or ennui? polite shyness or glassy-eyed apathy? as one diary editor noted, “he’s the middle child and the most unmanageable.”

say: 3 on a scale of 1 out of 5 should be ambiguous and neutral. instead, he stands erect as if engaged and smiling, as if he likes it. your back should be against the chair:

the little man redesign

and to be totally ambiguous, your mouth should be a straight line (or no line at all), with no eyebrows. a blank face:

the little man

An ambiguous visual requires an explanatory text! And so, the neutral man is a friend of the good critic: if the visual is ambiguous, then the reader should be more tempted to investigate the text of the article . to get the writer’s take!

the little man - the new lineup

note: this was a new post from my tumblelog. sorry for duplication.

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