I mentioned elsewhere on the blog that the odd bit of punditry or contention might occasionally bubble to the surface, and the subject of criticism of RTR models, never too far away on the Interweb, has raised its head quite noticeably in a few places lately. Now I’ve never had any intention of turning this site into the new Electric Nose; I don’t like the idea of sitting around taking passive-aggressive potshots from a platform that gives no right of reply, but I do faintly despair at the excessively apologist tone of some posters on the various forums that I’ve inhabited over the past few years. I don’t want to get into the rights and wrongs of individual models here, such things are invariably subjective anyway and the recent examples are not models that I would particularly be buying. But the principle is still very relevant; it’s just as applicable to things that do interest me and as it underscores my own approach to the critique of any model, it’s going to be something pretty basic to the content of this site.
At its most basic, my view is that if something is wrong on a model, and can be reasonably proven to be wrong by somebody who knows their onions, then it’s wrong, simples. Even an error of 1mm or so, on a model that is quite small to begin with, can alter the proportions sufficiently to be noticeable to a knowing eye. However, I do think that most folk can accept that something like this may be wrong for a perfectly good reason. We’re all human, manufacturers included, we all drop the ball on occasion, and sometimes conscious compromises have to be made between what’s desirable and what’s practical.
Now in terms of cold hard fact, if something is wrong, there’s no amount of mitigation that will make it any less wrong. But – big but – that doesn’t make it the end of the world as we know it. As far as I’m concerned, to say that something is wrong is just an observation; it may well be seen as criticism by some but it should still surely be possible to voice it in a factual, unemotional, non-judgmental manner without anybody getting bent out of shape about it.
Focussed discussions on forums about new RTR though are often hindered by several factors. There are often polarised extremes; at one end is inaccurate, unfair or vague criticism, often based on half-understood hearsay and which helps no-one. Or, there are folk telling other folk that they’re rivet counters or nitpickers, they should have some perspective and be grateful to the manufacturers. A common argument is that the gauge (of OO models) is wrong by 2.33mm, therefore any millimetric error elsewhere shouldn’t matter. Well, there’d be some pretty funny looking models about if that became a rule of thumb. One particular gem (and I’ve admittedly used it myself) is “well, it looks like a [47/Black Five/whatever] doesn’t it?” Being more objective though, a model doesn’t actually have to be that good to pass that pretty basic test of authenticity; the Hornby Dublo Deltic ‘looked like a Deltic’ in that it patently wasn’t meant to be anything else, but I don’t see many claiming it to be an accurate scale model, even by the standards of its time.
Yet another old chestnut is the glib assertion that putting it right by doing some modelling will give us a sense of achievement. I know that, thank you very much, I’ve been doing it nearly forty years now, but I have quite enough things in my ‘to do’ pile without adding to it with stuff that will absorb yet more hours on unproductive time. I’m one of those folk who for most of his adult life has seen RTR as just part of the picture, somewhere between a blank canvas, a means to an end and a timesaver, but that seems to be an increasingly odd concept to some observers.
Now with that, we bring in the more personal perspectives, the ones that shape our own buying decisions. Whether this hypothetical 1mm actually matters to you is another issue entirely, and this is where opinion comes more into play. We all have our own set of tolerances, and that’s just fine – even my own are sometimes more than a tad inconsistent, in that I’ll accept a 4mm error on one model and jib at less than 1mm on another. But nevertheless, they are my own tolerances and it’s me that has to live with them.
More importantly, once an error is identified and it’s perhaps looking like something that I know is going to bug me, I can then start thinking about whether I can alter it without an excessive input of time, or whether it’s just too much of a compromise and whether I can either do without the model or find another way of getting that prototype. This is where that raw information can become useful knowledge. Ideally, I would like to be able to spend just a little time perhaps personalising a model with details, or making a subtly different variant, and then crack on with the painting side of things, which is what I enjoy most. That’s not always going to be possible though and some models are always going to need more work, but that work has to be balanced against how essential that model is to the concept in question. In some cases I may decide not to buy it at all, that’s my decision and as long as I don’t ram it down anybody’s throat, I don’t need folk insisting I should take it and be happy with it.
In the context of a review then, I believe that said review should be sufficiently informative and objective on basic points of accuracy as to enable the reader, armed with that information, to make a duly informed choice. Whilst I might still offer my opinion an error in a model – what’s the point in having a blog if I don’t do that – it’s not my place to make the buying decision for you, either way. If I say (as I have in the tippler review) that a particular detail is half a millimetre out, and you think ‘what on earth is he on about’ and choose to disregard it, that’s absolutely fine. You don’t have to agree with me, you’ve had access to the information, plus anything you’ve read elsewhere, and you’ve made a decision based on it and your own tolerances. If however I noticed these things, but chose not to draw them to your attention, then I feel that I’d be arbitrarily restricting your choice to make that decision.
As for where we came in, I believe there are a large number of ‘hands on’ modellers who not only look on new models with a discerning eye, but are also more than prepared to do something themselves about any errors they come across. But in order to do that, it’s first necessary to actually talk about those errors with others whose judgment one respects. Just lately though, I’ve been quite exasperated to not be able to do that without getting caught between more polarised and intolerant viewpoints. Very few people expect perfection at the prices we pay for RTR, but at the other end of the scale, I don’t believe people should be holding back standards, either by foisting lesser expectations on others or by stifling their attempts at self-improvement.