How many things can truly be said to «be for everyone»? Oxygen is one, nutrients in enough abundance and appropriate variety is another. But beyond the obvious physical and physiological needs of a human body, what can be said to «be for everyone»?

But before that, why is it said that something is «not for everyone»?

The phrase turns up a lot in reviews and general discussion of media—including but not limited to comics, books, series, movies, video games, et cetera—and more often than not when discussing media that is somehow «not mainstream».

Let’s dissect this

  1. Saying that X is «not for everyone» is done upon the assumption that there are things that are for everyone, or at least for most people. This is what is usually called the «mainstream»: something that is understood to be popular with a majority. It’s really hard to draw a line to define it, because there’s no good way of establishing what constitutes «being popular» and a real «majority» in an absolute sense.

    For instance, imagine slasher films. If we asked everyone on the planet, it’s very unlikely that more than 50% of them will say they like it. But if we ask the active users of, say, readers of «Slasher Fanatics» magazine, the reverse is most likely to be true. The first group might say they don’t like «A Nightmare on Elm Street» and the second might say it’s one of the best films ever. Which, then, is mainstream?

    Saying that «mainstream» is numerically defined by an absolute majority (i.e. more than 50%) is inviting trouble. An absolute majority of which population? If it’s of the whole world, good luck trying to find anything truly mainstream. The moment you define a subset of the whole world as the standard, this argument by numbers loses its power. «Mainstream» then, cannot exist without a defined population of sorts, and even then the exact threshold number is a subject of debate.1

  2. Saying that X is «not for everyone» is also done on the tacit idea that the listener/audience is somehow looking for a recommendation, review or opinion of sorts, maybe for experiencing the media themselves.

    Try asking someone for their opinion on something but tell them beforehand that you’re not remotely interested in buying the game/watching the movie/et cetera. I can almost guarantee the phrase «not for everyone» will not turn up. If all you’re asking is my opinion on the thing, there’s no good reason to drop my recommendation unless I am—or wish to be perceived as—an entitled, egocentric shit.

  3. Saying that X is «not for everyone» also carries the idea that people don’t want to have a bad experience with X. There’s two objections to this, one personal and one objective.

    My personal claim to this is that in many walks of life «we» seem to wish to eradicate negative feelings completely, and I posit that such a wish is not only ill advised, but ultimately doomed to fail. Without extending myself too much—for that will come in another essay—I believe that Life does have negative feelings/experiences that are not optional, and avoiding them entirely only makes us ill equipped to deal with them when they do arrive. But more on that in another place.

    My objective claim is that for some things, people sometimes do want to have a bad experience, for any out of a number of possible reasons. Why then is it that there exist bad movie festivals? Why is it that the genres of horror and suspense exist? «Mystery Science Theater 3000» is living proof that a bad picture does not equate having a bad time watching it. Legions of artists and amateurs like studying the bad to learn from past mistakes. Schadenfreude is a thing. I re-read Eragon to try and understand my past self: why did I like it so much and why didn’t I notice its terrible prose before?

    The list could go on and on, but the point is hopefully clear: Just because something is «bad» doesn’t mean that something «good» can’t come from it.

What to say then?

I’ve come to despise the phrase and more often than not it seems to be a sign of lazy writers. «Not for everyone» is fucking unhelpful because by itself it doesn’t tell me why, or what to experience instead, or by what standard it’s to be avoided.

So it might be better to refine one’s reasoning—and therefore one’s writing—to better understand one’s own argument. Consider instead using the following:

  • If you’ve liked X you might like Y—gives me a reasonable standard for knowing where to direct my attention.
  • If you don’ like X, you might not like Y—looks almost similar, but it’s not. Taste is very personal and seldom objective; so one might not always know why something is disliked. But signaling to similar things can aid those vague feelings in either direction.
  • Good for people who like to experience X, Y, Z—this is a much bolder claim, and often the mark of a more confident writer2 who is able to express specific points of praise and/or grievances. If you tell me right now that a movie is a good example of terror, I can know very easily if I want to watch it or not. But the lazy «not for everyone» tells me jack shit, because I like some things that are unpopular and I dislike some things that are popular.
  • Or, you know, writing a proper review that mentions strengths and weaknesses of the thing, its original ideas, context of the work and/or its author, previous work, similar experiences, goals… Something that actually informs the interlocutor/audience of what to expect, what its goals are and how well those goals are met.

  1. For instance, why should something surpass the 50% mark to be admired by the majority? Given that this is ultimately about popularity, why should a simple majority be what determines something as being «popular»? Consider this: right now the Steam reviews for Sniper Elite V2 Remastered stand at 66% approval, marking it as “Mixed.”

    The reverse is also true: a smaller number cannot automatically be a mark of something being unpopular. «The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth» has never had more than 80 thousand concurrent players. The peak for «Among us» is 447 thousand. The former’s positive reviews sit at 98%, the latter’s at 94%. Which number is more important, then? Number of users or approval? Neither seems to be a good absolute solution for all cases.

  2. Not necessarily a good one.

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