It’s the start of another year and while everyone out there is scribbling down a series of New Year’s resolutions that will quickly fall by the wayside before the start of February, I’ve instead decided to propose a set of resolutions for all of us wrapped up into the world of fandom. There’s a world of wonders within the fan community, a sense of support and kinship that is fostered by what we collectively love. These proposed New Year’s resolutions are to embolden the wondrous elements that unite us and shunning the ugly side that turns what we love into fuel for hate. Fandom can do better, and here are a few suggestions on how we can all do better.
Be Awesome to One Another
You know, growing up before the internet there was a certain tribalism to fandom – there were the horror geeks, sci-fi nerds, comic book fiends, and the gamers (be it D&D, Magic: The Gathering, or the emerging presence of video games). Yet these different tribes were united by being outcasts to what considered cool. Now, these are all indelible aspects of the pop culture. With the advent of the internet and the rise of the superhero movie, geek culture suddenly became the predominant aspect of pop culture, which has caused a certain level of growing pains that find themselves more and more embedded into a warped sense of tribalism.
Nowadays it’s DC fans who are constantly mad at Marvel fans or vice versa. Star Wars fans are mad at the people who make Star Wars. Of course, everyone hates the critics (but more on them later). Tweets and comments are flung with anonymous user names and toxic venom. The hurling of insults over territorial markings within the pop culture sphere is a wholly destructive act, one that builds walls when they should be coming down. It’s easy to point fingers at supposed gatekeepers, but the reality is an angry streak of fandom is much worse than a gatekeeper, hurling flaming insults while safely behind a moat of anonymity.
There’s nothing wrong with debate the very nature of a story, its themes, and what it may mean for the future of its characters. There is something wrong with attack people for liking a story or attacking someone who doesn’t like a story. It is the embodiment of the very subjective nature of art. How we interact with art depends on our own experiences, thus explaining how different people react to the exact same images with such wildly divergent results. Each of us, in one way or another, is guilty of this – I confess that you could look at my Twitter feed and find some examples of me making jokes about the die-hard fans of Bright.
Fandom has no prerequisites. You don’t earn a series of badges because of what movies or books you may have read. Enjoying something makes you a fan. That’s it. And if we collectively work together to pull more people into a community that’s supportive it makes the culture as a whole better. You know what’s better than lambasting someone for blind spots in their fandom? Providing with the reasons why that piece of work is so important and vital. Don’t give into tribal feuds. Lend a hand to your fellow fan. Who knows, maybe they’ll be creating the next thing you love.
Be Awesome to Creators
In order to extend goodwill to our fellow fans, we must also extend that goodwill to the people who create these characters and stories that we love to absorb and debate. We’re in a special time where the internet and social media allows us to interact with the people behind the stories we love. Guardians of the Galaxy’s James Gunn and Doctor Strange’s Scott Derrickson are prime examples of creators who interact with fans, providing little tidbits of trivia and behind the scenes glimpses. It takes filmmakers, who were once rarely seen mythical giants, and reminds us that they’re just people with passions that have taken them to high profile and high paying jobs. However, that high profile and lucrative pay doesn’t mean that they should subject themselves to torrents of hate and rude behavior.
As a quick caveat: If a creator is using their platform to bully someone or is in the midst of a viscous tirade, speak truth to power and let them have it. But if they’ve just made a movie you didn’t like, you don’t need to personally trash them. They’ve worked hard on their project and are probably more aware of its shortcomings than you’ll ever know. They are just people and sometimes people fail. You’re not prevented from voicing your opinions. If a movie is bad, say it’s bad – hell, I do that multiple times on a weekly basis. But you don’t need to go out of your way to inform the people who have spent years of their life on something through social media that they failed, and especially not in the crudest way possible, nor do you have to snitch on someone who isn’t a fan of their work.
It’s remarkable that all sorts of creators are available to easily interact with. We shouldn’t let raw emotion drive them away from these platforms, nor should we use social media to tell creators that their work is being indulged through piracy. They know it’s being pirated and it frustrates them, and flaunting it in their feeds is cruel and insulting.
The biggest filmmakers and movie stars want to play in the sandbox of all your favorite characters, and they’re there to tease new installments and interact with fans online. Don’t screw this all up by being dick.
Rotten Tomatoes is Simply a Marketing Tool
I’m sure at one point or another each of us have looked at a score on Rotten Tomatoes and wondered, “Just what in the hell were they seeing?” The world of film criticism is by no means infallible, and again is subject to same whims of taste as anybody. As a critic, I’m sometimes wrong about a movie. Sometimes I think longer or revisit a movie I either loved or hated initially only to find that I missed it. Sometimes this happens to my colleagues, them loving a movie I find loathsome. Do I get into petty arguments with them? No, because they interacted with a work of art differently than I did. I’ll read their criticisms and hope to glean some kind of understanding of their point. You know, we’re dealing with people on every single level of this process and sometimes people just flat out get it wrong. Bad movies get good reviews. Bad movies are hits. Great movies get bad reviews. Great movies flop.
Time is the great equalizer here, and maybe something that was a critically panned flop gets a new life. Like the Oscars, Rotten Tomatoes is just capturing a moment, and time might look back unkindly to how something was received. Today we widely mock Crash as a bad movie. It was literally a punchline in an episode of Documentary Now! And yet Crash still won Best Picture and is “Certified Fresh” on Rotten Tomatoes. Do either of these make Crash a good movie? Nope. The same way that Best Picture Oscar doesn’t make The Greatest Show on Earth, Cecil B. Demille’s 1952 woeful circus epic, even slightly watchable. In the moment people thought they were watching greatness and time has stepped in as the great arbitrator and deemed these people woefully wrong.
Regardless, whether a movie is acclaimed or panned, a hit or a flop, all that matters is what you think of it. There are movies I love that were panned in their time, lost money, and years later hailed as masterworks – I believe the filmography of John Carpenter is a prime example of a filmmaker having gone a critical reevaluation. Sometimes what you love about a movie is exactly what others hate, and it doesn’t make either one of you wrong when dealing with a subjective work of art. It’s important not to conflate someone trash talking a movie with trash talking your personal taste.
On top of everything, Rotten Tomatoes is just an aggregator. It’s a plus or minus system, leaving no room nuance. A mild pan counts against a movie the same as the most vicious scathing review. A raving endorsement is valued just as much as faint praise. The end result is something that only works in service of marketing departments and those seeking easy answers. The best way is find critics that you trust and read their work. Glancing at Rotten Tomatoes might give you a general impression of how the critical community is responding to a film, but it’s not by any means a final word. There is no such thing as a “critical consensus.” Don’t believe me? Get a room of film critics together and try and make them all agree. The only thing “Certified Fresh” really means is that the studio has a fancy little sticker they can put on the newspaper ads and Blu-ray covers. And, no, there are no critics being paid off by the studios to provide positive reviews. That’s just lunacy.
Be More Skeptical of Online Reporting
This one is near and dear to my heart because it seems like almost a weekly basis that some unsubstantiated rumor that has been proven false comes up in a casual conversation and I have to be the messenger to break the bad news that a friend has fallen for some serious bullshit. With so many movie sites across the internet, it’s easy for a completely false rumor to spread like wildfire. It is on myself and my colleague to call bullshit whenever we encounter this sort of nonsense, which seems to be happening with more frequency in recent months.
Because so much of online advertising is based on clicks, sites are hungry to get as many of those valuable clicks as possible. One thing that almost always brings the clicks are rumors about superhero movies and Star Wars. If you’re dealing with verifiable facts, you’ll be running similar stories that are running across various sites and won’t have that big one that attracts all the attention. In order to stand out, some sites must sacrifice their soul – purveying patently false information for the shortsighted pursuit of clicks.
A recent trend along these lines focuses on the running times of early cuts of highly anticipated movies. For example, “The first cut of Black Panther runs four hours long.” There is no four hour cut of Black Panther or any other major superhero or Star Wars film. These are what is known as an assembly cut, where all the footage is placed into a timeline with absolutely no editing being done. It will certainly run long, and the process of making it into a watchable film begins by cutting unnecessary moments and fine tuning individual scenes to make an actual movie. This, mind you, is just one example of the sorts of nonsense that make the rounds online, and I caution you, dear reader, to exercise ample caution when it comes to these thinly sourced or simply made up stories.
Simply put, you don’t want to be like your paranoid uncle who doesn’t drink tap water because the fluoride is a tool for mind control and only reads “news” from sites that still run on Geocities; you know, that but for movies.
That’s all, folks. Be kind to each other. Fandom is a vast world full of small connections and it’s better foster friendships over what we all love than tear each other down over minor differences concerning fictional characters. That extends to the filmmakers who brings these stories to the page and screen for us. Even when they fail, wish them well and hope they learn from their mistakes. We also as fans need to trust in our own taste and not place too much weight on an immediate critical evaluation that may evolve over time. Finally, be skeptical. Sometimes reporting is flat out made up by small sites in the hopes of getting a brief flash of big numbers. Sometimes major sites report on something that could change during production. Don’t get too invested in what something could be. Speculation is fun and all but it also creates expectations, and expectations are poison. None of the reporting and speculation matters until that final flickering image appears on the screen. Then we’re free to debate all we want in a thoughtful and civilized manner, of course. We’ve got Solo: A Star Wars Story, Aquaman, Avengers: Infinity War, Black Panther, Ant-Man and the Wasp, and so many other nerdy properties to absorb this year. Some of these movies are going to suck. Some of these movies are going to be good. How we react to them is also important. Together let’s make 2018 great for all of fandom.