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Open Season on Critics

The Joker threatens to puncture an unimpressed film critic.
by Rob Gonsalves

Perhaps he erred in judgment. Perhaps he should've kept his opinion to himself. But he aired his opinion anyway, on the wild, wild internet, and the internet forum exploded with scorn and derision.

These were some of the responses to his opinion:

You do not deserve to live.

As Morgan Freeman would say, "Shoot this mother******"

I hope you die.

Douchebag! I'm gonna friggin kill you!

This guy is gay. I think I should go down to his house with my boys and tune his asss up until he comes out clean...

please drop dead

I should go over to your house and beat the living ***** out of you low life son of a b!tch.

I hope you contract AIDs

...So what was the opinion that drew such rage? What did this guy say? Did he say that Hitler was right? Did he say that child molesters are awesome?

No, he said that The Dark Knight is flawed.

Meet David Denby. Currently one of two film critics for The New Yorker (Anthony Lane alternates weeks with him), Denby has been writing about movies since the early '70s. He is also the author of two books, the engaging Great Books (about Denby's experience taking college courses and reading all the classics) and the rather drier American Sucker (about his stock investment foibles). I've been reading Denby since 1990 or so, and stuck with him over the years. He used to be considerably looser and funnier than he is now. But writers change. He's still one of the finer, more serious critics out there.

I doubt Denby knew or cared that his dissenting Dark Knight review would cause such a ruckus. I don't picture him poring over the 329 (and counting) comments on his review on Rotten Tomatoes — some of which, to be fair, are calls for sanity, the gist being "Jesus, you fucking fanboys, shut up and let someone have a different opinion — you haven't even seen the damn movie yet." But if the fanboys get ahold of his email address, or if it occurs to them to fire off snail-mail to the offices of The New Yorker, he is going to be inundated with seething hate letters.

Just ask our own Brian Orndorf. A few weeks back, he dared to bad-mouth WALL•E and watched as his in-box became a teeming maggot-fest of vituperation. Before that, this asshole you're reading right now got slammed — I dared to say bad things about Iron Man. I caught flack in emails, in comments at Rotten Tomatoes, and in comments underneath my review here on the site (some of the dimwit commenters said stuff like "This critic sucks," not realizing that the comments appear under everyone else's reviews here too, even those that gave Iron Man five stars).

What's the deal here? Well, some readers of Rotten Tomatoes can't stand it when their favorite movies don't get a high or even perfect Tomatometer score. The Dark Knight was 100% fresh before Denby and a few other critics weighed in, bringing the film down to a measly, grotesque 88%. This, apparently, is not acceptable. How dare someone say that a movie the general public hasn't even seen yet is less than a masterpiece? Hell, Nick Nunziata of CHUD came right out and said, in effect, "Look, overall it's pretty awesome, but it's not a masterpiece." And he got slammed by the fanboys. Who ... hadn't seen the film yet.

I enjoy having my reviews linked at Rotten Tomatoes — it brings more traffic to this site and, hell, it gets more eyes on my writing. And I like being in the company of Denby and Roger Ebert and J. Hoberman. What I don't like is that Rotten Tomatoes has — quite without meaning to — fostered groupthink to the exclusion of any possible dissent. Either you're with The Dark Knight or you're against it, and if you're against it, we will smoke you out, you evildoer.

The anti-intellectualism in a lot of the comments on Denby's review shouldn't surprise me by now, but it does. Many of them excoriate Denby for liking X and not Y, where X = a movie many people disliked (say, Hancock) and Y = a movie many people liked (say, Iron Man). It's painfully obvious most of these commenters didn't read the actual review; they're knee-jerking about the pull-quote and the green splash that indicates a "rotten" rating. (This is another thing I don't care for about Rotten Tomatoes: the rating system allows for no middle ground — it's either fresh or rotten. Well, what if some parts of a movie are fresh and some parts are rotten?) Because Denby liked a movie you didn't like, and/or disliked a movie you liked (or, horror of horrors, disliked a movie you haven't seen yet but are looking forward to with an insane amount of adrenaline), that apparently invalidates everything he has to say about movies.

Another idiocy: Denby got roughed up by some commenters because he only agrees with the Tomatometer 68% of the time. Well, so the fuck what? Are we all supposed to agree on what the fanboys want us to agree on? There's no respect whatsoever for an honest dissenting view. If he agreed with the Tomatometer 100% of the time, would that make him the greatest critic ever? (I agree with the Tomatometer 70% of the time, which I guess makes me almost as egregious as Denby. Yes, I write every review intending to tear down whatever's popular and go against the grain just for ego's sake — that's why I gave five stars to WALL•E.)

Presumably, Denby is catching all the shrapnel because he was the first to file a "rotten" review. Others since have expressed their doubts about The Dark Knight being a chocolate orgasm on Christmas, and they, too, have attracted the pinheads in the comments section. And, like Nick Nunziata, several critics who gave the film a fresh rating are still being festooned with venom because their reviews — or, more precisely, their pull-quotes — aren't sufficiently ecstatic over The Dark Knight.

This isn't genuine intellectual give-and-take discussing a critic's take on a film; this is bullying, and since these are fanboys, it's probably a case of the once-bullied turning into bullies. They can sit there anonymously, without fear of reprisal or getting their asses kicked, and make comments like "Douchebag! I'm gonna friggin kill you!" They make fun of a critic's appearance, as if these fanboys were golden gods themselves; they make many, many homophobic remarks involving what a critic receives into various orifices, and if the critic is a woman, the comments get astronomically rancid.

Opinions are like assholes — everyone has one. Combine opinions, assholes, and the internet, and you get the trough of oafish viciousness that the Rotten Tomatoes comments sections have become. I'd like to point out for the record that I don't always agree with David Denby's reviews. I read him anyway. Why? Because I like his writing. I don't use him as a Consumer Reports guide to which movies to see, and I don't demand that he toe the line in order to keep a film's Tomatometer rating high on Rotten Tomatoes. Even if I really, really like a film and he hates it and gives it a "rotten" rating, I somehow, mysteriously, don't lose my shit. I read the review, find interest in where his views diverge from mine, and get on with my life.

Finally, I wonder what the world would be like if these fanboys focused such passion and rage on targets that actually deserve it. Instead of getting pissed off at some critic who didn't care for a fucking Batman movie, why not get pissed that gas prices are skyrocketing, people are losing their houses, people are losing their lives/limbs/sanity in a bullshit war, tax-paying Americans are being told they can't marry, Americans who've been paying into health insurance for years are being told their illnesses aren't covered, the environment is fucked and getting more fucked by the minute ... and fanboys sit at home like the bloated asshats in WALL•E and type that they hope a critic who didn't like a Batman movie gets AIDS.

Perspective, fanboys. Get some.

link directly to this feature at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/feature.php?feature=2520
originally posted: 07/14/08 21:18:09
last updated: 07/14/08 22:48:21
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