February 24, 2013

"Rant of the Week: Ranting about ranting!"

Ranting about ranting. A popular past time on several model railway forums at the minute. 

You can't say this, you can't say that, you don't know that or the most infuriating one, you don't know that, I do but I'm not letting on what the answer is

End result is that people start complaining about other people complaining.

Complaining about complaining. Ranting about ranting. It's an absolutely exasperating concept. 

Model X has a detail wrong. Modeller 1 says its fine, not bothered. Modeller 2 says he doesn't like the look of it, but thinks adding an after market extra would improve it. Modeller 3 says Modeller 2 is a whiner and then Modeller 1 joins in to start complaining about how ungrateful Modeller 2 is.

Modellers 4 and 5 then ask why Modellers 1 and 3 are complaining about Modeller 2's plans for improving Model X, as the core subject - railway modelling - is defined by actually doing more than opening the red/blue/blue & silver/yellow cardboard box and plonking it on some track, and at what point did the hobby arbitrarily decide that modellers shouldn't critique models in order to make them better or personalise them...?

Modellers 1, 3, and 6, 7, 8, 9 and probably 10 onwards all start to chime in with posts supporting how absolutely phenomenal Model X is (even if there's a missing detail, or the motor arrangement peeks into the corridor partition, or in fact the bogies have been designed the wrong way and, guess what, traction tyres and strange couplings are provided as standard...which don't actually work) and that Modellers 2, 4 and 5 are ungrateful/missing the point/have OCD/fill in the insult of your choice here.

This may sound a familiar concept to you. Guess what: it's been symptomatic of a few years in which we've seen some fantastic models from the major manufacturers, and at least one particular lemon, which was given a thorough looking over by some very well informed modellers, and actually drew the conclusion that it wasn't very good. 

It started out with a release of a four car EMU. Some people pointed out potential pitfalls, and accuracy problems, explained how to fix them and make the model better. This is inherently a good thing. 

Positive, constructive critique that (by way of being critical - not unkind, critical, which is an entirely different thing) shows how a model can be improved using A or B after market products. This helps everyone. People can make up their mind whether to buy, with whatever faults there are, and if they do want to improve the model, how to.

However with a recent lemon of the last two years, a change started happening. A sudden undercurrent of positivity. It was absolutely frowned on to make any criticism of the model, drawing quite surprising abuse aimed at modellers doing their level best to give a reasoned and balanced one. Ranting about so-called complaining that...wasn't actually complaining at all.

Complaining implies there was no truth to the critique: that it was unsubstantiated and put across in a very negative manner. This could not be further from the truth with the many honest and thoughtful individuals, reviewers and bloggers in the model railway community. 

It has however become the fashion to make it look like this is the case, for whatever purposes that entails.

As such, I am now reading a lot of posts ranting and raving about a lot of ranting and raving that doesn't seem to actually exist. 

This has been happening an awful lot lately and I simply don't understand why it has been allowed to be so one sided against any form of critique.

I fully agree with the view that sometimes people need to be reigned in with what they say and "engage the grey matter" in order to present their views in the most constructive manner, but it goes both ways. 

Without any constructive criticism or discussion of a model beyond "X and Y are producing this, how much does it cost and when is it coming", what exactly does this hobby entail then? Opening the box and putting it on a section of set track? Slaps on the back when the latest new red or blue box appears, without then going on and talking about what you're doing with it thereafter?

Years ago on a certain model railway forum, we were positively encouraged to talk about using RTR as a basis for improving or personalising for our own use. You know, the thing I talked about earlier - what was it called? Modelling? 

Now on certain forums (and I do use the plural here with good reason) it's almost become offensive for anyone to suggest that a new off the shelf model can be enhanced. At what point did looking at a new model and saying "that doesn't look right - here's a method of improving it" suddenly become something to be sneered at? 

You know, the very thing which defines railway modelling - individualism and creative use of materials to model a chosen subject - becoming the very thing which gets peoples backs up with new releases?

There's been a similar aggravation with the cost of new models. In my view, the consumer has a right to question whether he's getting the bang for his buck. He or she is always going to compare to similar products in the market and ask whether the specifications of one and its cost are comparable to another. 

Let's take the recent Hornby 2-BIL as an example. I personally don't care who chose what or who got what to market first, the fact is Bachmann did the 4CEP, Hornby did the 4VEP and have now done a 5-BEL and a 2-BIL whereas Bachmann have done a 2-EPB, are doing a Thumper unit and have also done the 350 Desiro in the meantime. 

All perfectly comparable EMU/DMU units of varying specifications and prices that you could have a fair and reasonable debate on price against specification on.

In fact, it's pretty easy to do a comparison of similar models. Try the Hornby 4VEP against the Bachmann 4CEP: which is better value for money? Look at their specifications, RRPs and their accuracy to their respective prototypes. 

In my view, that's a one horse race where only the model in the blue box is actually in the race. I say this having owned both models for an extended period, and the former causing a lot of angst in terms of trying to get it to a form which was acceptable to me. It wasn't possible, more for the wholly inadequate running characteristics, and particularly and markedly when the latter was just so weighty and smooth in its movements.

Let's take another example: which flips the debate a little bit. The Hornby B1 can be rightly compared to the Bachmann B1 by virtue of being the same locomotive prototype, more or less (though the two models actually cater for different batches and other details) and although the Bachmann B1 has a new lease of life with its excellent new chassis, the body is showing its age, and Hornby's model overall eclipses it. 

This is a fair comparison. I don't think it's negative, nasty or otherwise to say that the Bachmann model is inferior. It's a stonewall fact of the matter that it is not as good as the Hornby B1.

However, can the Bachmann B1 with some work be turned into a good model? Yes it can, undoubtedly so. There's lots of material out there on the model railway forums which show what can be done to a Bachmann B1.

The Hornby B1 is by no means 100% perfect either. Neither the chimney nor the dome are very good for shape against the prototype, however the rest of the model is excellent. In my case, neither item is poor enough to warrant changing, but for some modellers it is, and that's fine. It's their model and they want theirs to be more accurate. I respect those modellers greatly for it, as they are doing something creative which will enhance their model, for them. 

I believe completely in the right of the individual to look at critiques other modellers give on new models, and make their minds up for themselves with all the information to hand. Not to be told what to do or what to think without being able to read a range of views.

A very wise man once said that "It is important to draw wisdom from different places. If you take it from only one place it will become rigid and stale".

It is the same with opinions on model railway products. That's why we have forums. To discuss the pros and cons of the various products on offer, and how to improve them if they are not wholly to our liking.

That is what I was always led to believe. It is becoming much more difficult to believe that, however.

I fear the real death of the hobby won't be old age, interest or disposable income. It will be the death of debate, and the ability to constructively critique a model and see what can be done to improve on it.

Until next time.


DP said...

Okay, so does this mean you're ranting about ranting about ranting? The level of meta here is giving me a headache.

Copley Hill said...

Yes, it is a bit of a head scratcher isn't it?!