I think the biggest story in the online film world this week, outside of the forthcoming release of The Dark Knight Rises, was probably the vitriolic response that a number of critics got from Rotten Tomatoes users to their less than 100% positive reviews of that film. There’s been plenty of writing on the subject of Batman fans’ reactions to those reviews, and the whole story is wrapped up nicely by Matt Singer over at Criticwire. Some have said that these responses, which have included horrible misogynistic comments and death threats, are the result of some sort of insanity specific to Batman and Nolan fans. I don’t take this view, maybe because I consider myself a huge fan of Nolan’s work and his Batman films, and I also consider myself a fairly reasonable person.
I don’t think it’s fair to single out Batman fans. We saw the same sort of thing happen to several critics who dared to point out the flaws of The Avengers before that film came out. You know what? I kind of sympathize with those terrible fans. I kind of get where they’re coming from. I love Nolan’s work and I love his take on Batman. I look at The Dark Knight Rises, which I haven’t yet seen, and I do very much want to enjoy it. I want it to be great. When I see a negative reaction to the film from a critic, I don’t want to believe them. I don’t want them to be right. I consider their opinion, and even if it’s just for a moment I forget that it’s an opinion and my mind assumes they must be wrong. It’s a silly thing, but I get the impulse. It’s not that I know they’re wrong, or that they can even be wrong, but that I just don’t want to believe I might end up agreeing with them.
Given, then, that I somewhat sympathize with these so-called fans, why then am I not so vitriolic? Well, I think the answer lies partly outside the fans themselves, and at the online, fan-centred, movie news industry and blogs. It’s us. We created the monsters.
Sure, you could maybe blame the marketing departments of the studios who put out endless press releases, with new information, images, videos, trailers, etc. It’s their job to build the hype for a film so that people will actually drop hard-earned dollars to see it. That’s why I don’t quite blame them. But the online world of movie blogs and websites? They’re not just reporting on these films. They’re not even just being straight tools of these marketing departments. In fact, websites that cover film news one-up the studios. They live and breathe on getting hits, and the more posts they can write about a film like The Dark Knight Rises, the better. It’s terrible. It creates an inflated sense of importance for many of these films.
Maybe instead of wondering why Batman fans are so much crazier than all other fans (which itself is a somewhat baseless claim, but we’ll run with it anyway), we should look at the environment that creates and supports their undying adoration for a comic book movie. /Film tallied it up, and according to them, they’ve written almost 600 articles about The Dark Knight Rises since 2008. That’s 2008, the year The Dark Knight was released. We’re talking, just after the previous film came out, two years before Nolan ever said anything about actually doing another sequel, two years before The Dark Knight Rises was announced, almost three years before it even had an official title. For four years we’ve been inundated by articles featuring every tiny bit of potential information about this film.
Of course, you don’t have to read these articles. I read a lot of them, out of curiosity, but not all of them, and mostly I wasn’t insanely invested. But for someone who does get a bit more invested in this stuff? This is dangerous. It’s like giving a crack addict a house full of crack. It’s an unending supply, pushed out every couple days, feeding the monster. Is it any wonder then that the monster goes wild when the hype and expectations that have been built don’t climax in something crazy like a 100% on Rotten Tomatoes?
If we’re going to call out the insane fans who spew terrible language, misogyny and even death threats at critics, we should also look back at ourselves and see how we supported them all this time. And not just supported them. We practically created them. We play into that awful hype machine and treat a movie like The Dark Knight Rises as though it’s the most important event in modern history, and then we act surprised when the event arrives and a select few people actually behave like all that was true. It shouldn’t surprise us that the monsters we create sometimes get loose and turn on us.