The Droid You’re Looking For has a hilarious 5 step chart for how to cope with bad reviews of The Dark Knight Rises. Not only hilarious, but apparently essential to the health of our society. Death threats were made by raving fanboys over the temerity of critics to criticize the new Batman movie. The likelihood that anyone who readily resorts to such tactics has the acuity (mental, physical, or constitutional) to carry through on such threats is infinitesimally small. The fact that this sort of thing is common is regrettable. Both Sonny Bunch and Glenn Kenny (among many others) have weighed in on this, and I’d like to highlight one quote from each. Bunch:
Fanboy fascism and elite groupthink are, in a way, flip sides of the same coin. Both in-groups are desperate to maintain their privilege; both looks warily at the other. A certain subset of fanboy harbors the sense that a few critics out there will never respect comic book films; a certain subset of criticism does them a solid by constantly slagging comic book films and acting as if they can never, at least, suffice as entertaining summer fare—and God help anyone who thinks they can be more than that. C’est la vie. The world turns. We will soon move on to the next Internet emergency.
[T]his thing called “fan culture” or “nerd cuture” or whatever it is you want to call it is largely predicated on emotional immaturity combined with a variety of willed cultural illiteracy. Fan culture doesn’t say “comic books can be high art,” it says, “comic books are the only art.” And, further, “the film of the comic book must provide an analogous heightened experience of the comic book, and YOU, the person on the outside of our purview who is now being gifted with this artifact of AWESOMENESS, must fall into line and PRAISE this artifact and confer upon it the legitimacy it has always deserved but which YOU have been too blinkered by your own pretentious prejudices to recognize.” That’s what fan culture wants. That’s what it demands. “Nerd culture” is Peter Pan as a brain-eating zombie.
To me, this is of a piece with the Tosh rape kerfuffle and what Alex over at Confused Gender considers to be the scourge of Internet discourse. I’d like to say that the relative anonymity of the Internet is what fuels the fanboy fire, but I don’t think that’s necessarily the case. I’ve encountered many, many people in real life (who aren’t critics or bloggers or Internet debaters in particular) whose reaction to a difference of taste is frighteningly disproportionate to the “offense” or is a maddening brand of willed cultural illiteracy, as Kenny puts it. My guess is that while the Internet offers these brain eating zombies a forum for airing their grievances in the safest, most vile way possible, it’s not the Internet that causes it (though it’s probably a contributing factor). Instead, I get the impression that there’s something more generational at work. People my age, or perhaps a little older, simply don’t care that they are, for lack of a better word, being stupid. They don’t care that they’re being jackasses. They celebrate being stupid jackasses because they damn well have the right and they don’t give a crap about anyone or anything else, goddarn it. Except they do, of course. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be upset by things like a “ruined” Tomatometer or the fact that some people think that some rape jokes are out of line. Like the self-appointed feminist warriors who simply declaim Game of Thrones on the basis of male-gaze-rape-fantasy-and-if-you-disagree-you’re-probably-a-racist-rapist, those who truly own their nerdrage are so insecure about their own taste and cultural position that, rather than simply praise something they love — or, if they want to engage in debate, meet their opponents on a genuinely critical field of battle — feel compelled to dehumanize those who disagree with them.
On one level, Bunch and Kenny are right to be a bit snarky about this whole thing: it’s kind of silly, and as idiotic as fanboys are, nobody’s in direct, literal danger here. It’s one of those “Internet emergencies” that will blow over. On another level, though, I don’t think they or anyone else of their caliber would be commenting on it if it didn’t signal a broader, more fundamental undercurrent that, if equally silly, is more dangerous to the intellectual health of our culture. One of the points I emphasized in my Tosh post was that we live in a culture where making death threats is considered to be a legitimate response in discourse. Or dismissing your opponents as misogynist-rapist-racists. Or designating them as people who deserve to be raped. As long as everyone knows that you’re not really saying these things 100% seriously, what’s the beef, right?
Here’s my beef: it may be my obligation to let personal insults roll off my back, to thicken my skin, to turn the other cheek, etc. At the same time, you — and by “you,” I mean You Fanboys who get genuinely, seriously pissed off when someone dumps on your Holy Bat-Trilogy or whatever idol you’re worshipping this month — have an obligation to act smarter, to be more thoughtful, and to do better than threaten a critic’s life when his careening trolley car of paid opinion smashes your rickety, mealy apple cart of uncultivated cultural sensibility. Are these obligations legally binding, morally sacred, or enshrined in some unwritten (yet ironclad) tome of social etiquette? No. It’s simply what people do when they want to exist together and build something worth preserving. In this case, it’s cultural discourse. It’s being able to sit down and talk about what we think about art and entertainment and such — or politics, or philosophy, or how much rain our respective lawns need — without first having to establish whether one of us is an utter nincompoop. That is, if you want your viewpoint to be taken seriously. If you want your perspective to count. Because if you really mean the things you say when you say a woman should be raped by five guys, or liking Game of Thrones is tantamount to excusing rape/racism, or that a film critic should be murdered, then you’re a horrible psychopath; and if you’re just resorting to that rhetoric because you’re too lazy or uninspired to come up with something that we actually could take seriously, then you’re just wasting everyone’s time. Is it any wonder that your opponents are so quick to dismiss you and that which you love?☕