The Fanboy Effect

(Ethan Gates)– Do you want to get depressed? Start reading the 500+ comments on Marshall Fine’s review of “The Dark Knight Rises” on Rotten Tomatoes. Fine was the first critic to give the film a negative, “rotten” review, knocking the film down from the vaunted 100% fresh rating that is normally reserved for unquestionable masterpieces – “The Godfather,” “Citizen Kane,” “All About Eve” and the like. Immediately the hounds were released, because this is the Internet and god help us, someone said something mean about Batman. Accusations of “trolling” and intentional contrariness quickly devolved into death threats toward Fine and his family. Rotten Tomatoes has now restricted commenting on “The Dark Knight Rises” because these bullies were getting so out of hand.

Again, this is the Internet, so it’s not like Fine should be hiring personal bodyguards or anything. Sadly, this kind of inflammatory language is the norm, but the likelihood of anyone following through on one of these threats is extremely doubtful. But let’s look at this incident for a moment and consider how it shows the stunningly illogical mindset of the fanboy.

First off, Rotten Tomatoes is a fairly recent invention. If it had been around since Day 1 of the Internet, it would still be a fairly recent invention, but it hasn’t even been that long. Do you know how hard it is to find consensus on anything, particularly anything NEW, in the Internet Age? It’s damn near impossible. Sure, movies like “Singin’ in the Rain” and “Rear Window” have 100% positive ratings, but that’s because their reputations were solidified decades before Rotten Tomatoes and the Internet were a thing. No critic would dare write a negative review of “Battleship Potemkin” 90 years after the fact (even though, let me tell you, it would fully deserve a couple) because everyone wants to look like they’re part of the film snob buddy club. Even I, a lowly 22-year-old unpaid blogger, am not immune to this syndrome – I would never, ever in a million years recommend “The Birth of a Nation” to anyone, but have a written a glowing school paper about how groundbreaking it was? You bet your ass.

New films, however, do not come to us safely pre-packaged in the bubble wrap of consensus. I found one film from post-1990 with a 100% Rotten Tomatoes Fresh rating (minimum 30 reviews): “Toy Story 2.” In other words, to be universally loved these days, you have to be Pixar. Does that come as a surprise to anyone? So a couple of people didn’t like “The Dark Knight Rises.” What a shocker.

Could Fine have been “trolling,” intentionally posting a negative review to spoil the rating and piss off Internet folk? Let me tell you, critics could NOT care less about review aggregate sites like Rotten Tomatoes or Metacritic. They are told to watch movies, read books, listen to music or whatever, and give their opinion. Fine does not give a crap what people on the Internet think of his review.

There are times when I suspect critics are intentionally contrary. Armond White of City Arts does it all the time. But even if Fine was negative in order to buck the mainstream, I am sure he did not do it for the supposed “increased publicity” that comes with the first negative review. Most of you will forget Marshall Fine’s name after reading this blog post, and he knows that. People do not go into the criticism business for fame – if they were, they wouldn’t just be barking up the wrong tree, they’d be barking at a tree on the wrong planet. They do it because they have something to say about culture and art. Disagreeing with the mainstream can make such points on occasion (and if Fine was ultimately trying to prove something about fanboy culture with his negative review, boy, did they walk right into that one).

The last point to make here is of course staring us all in the face: the MOVIE HASN’T BEEN RELEASED YET. Not a single one of those 500+ commenters has actually even seen the movie. They are just going by the fact that it’s Batman, and it will therefore be the most awesome thing ever created. I am a zillion times more inclined to respect the opinion of a professional film critic who has actually seen the film than a hundred slobbering fanboys who are blindly assuming things (not to mention making death threats right and left). The lack of recognition on the part of fanboys that they have been specifically targeted and manipulated by the studios to get excited about this film is stunning, and hilarious considering you can bet that most of those commenters probably used the word “sheeple” approximately 1,349 times on other sites.

I’m heading to a midnight showing of “The Dark Knight Rises” tonight to make up my own mind. Because in this day and age, when we have an unprecedented amount of access to movies, TV, music, etc., there is no more excuse for discouraging objectivity.