Today, Matt Singer kicked up a bit of a storm of commentary when he wrote a heartfelt post over at his Indiewire Criticwire blog about extremely sexist comments left on a negative review of The Avengers at Rotten Tomatoes.
If you asked me now, I would observe an interesting coincidence: that eighth grade was also the year when I received the harshest bullying of my entire life.
The abuse I endured wasn’t especially serious, but it was serious enough to understand how bad it hurts to be teased or called a name because of how you look or act. I was less than five feet tall through most of my freshman and sophomore years of high school. I didn’t hit puberty until I was 16. I had big glasses. I wore white sneakers and tapered jeans. I may as well have walked around with a gigantic target on my backpack.
What did I do instead? I found comic books.
What Matt highlights is the message behind many of the very best and most popular comic book properties. These are stories about outcasts, often people who were bullied or suffered traumatic events in their youth, who overcome adversity. These stories are regularly a plea for tolerance and acceptance, of understanding different points of view and coming to terms with those who are different from us. Though they are regularly violent, they usually depict violence as a last resort to stop those who would rather destroy peace than be a part of it. I never really read comic books as a kid, but I was bullied, and I deeply sympathize with Matt’s concerns that these self-described comic book fans have completely missed the point of comic books.
The problems stretch further than a simple “missing the point,” though. In many instances these kinds of hate-filled comments feed on each other. One person is nasty and then the next person pushes it. I wouldn’t even care to say that the person who said of Amy Nicholson, “She asked her boyfriend what score she should give. Just stick to rom-coms, bitch,” on her Avengers review a misogynist. Such labels miss the sad reality that people often say things they don’t mean just because they can say them.
In normal face-to-face interactions, you might say mean things about someone behind their back, but even then you’d probably temper your language because the people around you might be offended. On the internet, where anonymity is easy, people feel they can say whatever they want without consequence. The id comes out to play.
On the one hand it’s easy to brush these commenters aside as idiots and goofs not to be taken seriously, but what I think does need to be taken seriously is the environment that allows such comments to appear normal or acceptable in any way. I don’t do much moderation on comments on my blog, but you can bet that if I ever got comments like the ones Amy Nicholson got I would either delete them or shame them.
Rotten Tomatoes is a cool site, and it’s useful even with its flaws, but that they do so little to curb the kinds of nasty comments left on negative reviews is shameful. To let them be is to accept that they are okay. They are not okay, and this needs to be repeated over and over and over again until everybody understands it. The truth is these kinds of comments will likely never go away. There will always be people online trying to ruin the party, but that doesn’t make it reasonable to give up and let them take over.
I think it’s safe to say that we all love the internet. It’s a gift. An amazing tool for education, interaction and communication. When the nastier elements of the internet bleed into the areas we all enjoy we need to stand up to them. We shouldn’t just laugh them off, we should confront these hurtful comments. Make it understood that they do not represent the kind of internet the rest of us would like to engage in. There’s no reason we as an internet culture should be allowing people to anonymously say things like, “Her boss/lover says it’s better than having her make the coffee and answering phones and besides what else was she going to do with that creative writing degree daddy paid for?” There’s no reason at all, and the more we moderate it and call it out the less it will happen. Hopefully. A boy can dream.
And please, read Matt Singer’s post on the subject, it’s fantastic.
While you’re at it, go listen to him talk about the piece with Erik Davis.
Also, go ahead and check out Amy Nicholson’s review and the comments that inspired all this.