The Internet: a place built on one half of a certain long-held adage (that everyone has an opinion) and sustained by the utter lack of comprehension of its other half (that this makes them easily comparable to arseholes). A place where everyone’s an expert, everyone’s the one and only person to whom the political and creative elites should be listening, and where the loudest/most obnoxious person in the thread is always right – especially when they’re wrong.
It’s my firm belief that we’ve entered the ‘Elvis-in-a-Jumpsuit’ era of modern pop culture fandom. We’ve gotten too spoiled, too pampered, too drunk on our own third-hand knowledge of the entertainment business and the creative process to keep a healthy modicum of perspective. As I’ve mentioned on our show, I’ve worked as a freelance writer on games, film and television for fifteen years. I also have BAs in English Literature, and Film and Performance Arts, so it’s fair to say that I hold myself to pretty high standards when it comes to criticism and analysis.
What’s more, one of the things I’ve always held dear about the geek life is the way we relish diving deep into the things we love. It’s the reason Mike, Chani and I started the podcast, and at one time it was all we, the global geek collective, had. Swapping interpretations, theories – in the playground, later in bars, basically anywhere out of the earshot of those weird ‘normal’ people. Making our banquets the themes and characters gifted us by the films, shows and books that spoke to us, helped define us as the people we had, and would, become. Developing our own tastes while learning about others’. We didn’t always agree, but the conversation was always passionate while being respectful. Sometimes we were right, sometimes wrong. No matter; often, the things that left us cold when young would come back to us at a later age, finding us ready to understand it, and they would sometimes become all the sweeter for that rediscovery.
Maybe this is all just old-fart, rose-tinted-glasses masturbation. But then again, once upon a time these conversations were so special because finding like-minded people was simply hard. This was way back in the dark ages, before geek culture became embraced by the mainstream. Before Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings. Before ‘geek chic’, or Ready Player One. Before The Big Bollocking Bang Theory. We’re talking, like, the Nineties here.
Even earlier than that, for some of us. Once upon a time, you couldn’t walk into a conversation with non-hardcore geek people and go shouting your melodramatic opinions on Tolkien or Star Wars. At best, nobody would give a shit; at worst, you would be Leeroy Jenkinsing yourself into irreparable social ostracisation. Geek culture was underground, and you learned to cherish the people you could find who did share these passions. Also, technology being what it was, most of these interactions would be face-to-face, which is usually enough on its own to make people behave themselves.
For me, ‘toxic fandom’ means more than abusive racist and mysogynistic behaviour online (though it goes without saying that we’ve had more of that than we can stand, and the shit keeps on coming). It’s also about a slow, insidious erosion of critical standards. It’s about an anti-intellectual trend that’s sustained hoary old dichotomies between the professional critic and the ‘honest’ everyday fan. Print-based critics have become a dying breed, while fluffy, Entertainment Tonight-aping outlets like Nerdist and Collider pump out digestible, click-friendly reactions on YouTube, filling their ranks with the loudest and gimmickiest that platform has to ‘offer’ (And don’t even get me started on fucking Cinemasins). Meanwhile, the once-glamorous gonzo film blog crowd has slowly faded into obscurity, accumulating sexual harassment accusations rather than developing their voice.
The problem is, the assumption that fans (or the less ‘conventionally-trained’ critics of the types mentioned above) are more truthful or reliable than the old-school pros is a false equivalence that has sustained for years, but just gets shakier as fans get more opportunities to make their voices heard. The latest battleground in this long, pointless war is review aggregate sites such as Rotten Tomatoes, which many have held up as proof that all those snooty, biased critics simply can’t relate to the honest, everyday fan. Problem is, these sites have been misused by agenda-driven fans to the point of inconsequentiality.
Hey, don’t ask me. Martin Scorcese agrees. You really think you have the balls to question Scorcese?
Now, we can’t move without having to listen to mealy-mouthed rants – always negative, always ill-thought out or just plain inaccurate – from fanboys who simply can’t let any discussion of their favourite franchise exist online, without them throwing themselves into the conversation. Whether what they have to say is relevant to the topic at hand or not is immaterial: they rage on; they troll; they gatekeep; they play the victim as soon as anyone calls them on their bullshit, and everyone walks away a bit angrier and a bit dumber for the experience.
Spread this across the entire cultural landscape, and it makes being a geek a wholly exhausting enterprise in 2018 – and unless you’re willing to walk away from social media, YouTube and the Internet in general, you can never fully escape it.
We now labour under a ‘gotcha’ culture that has conflated criticism with criticisms. It’s created a feverish market where fans believe that mainstream storytelling should be tailored exclusively to their own expectations, and content creators seem more concerned with pumping out lists of perceived flaws than the actual intellectual empathy and legwork that comes with true analysis. Once, we talked about our entertainment and cultural works to appreciate them all the more deeply; now, too many of us just seem to be in it to feel smarter than the things we purport to love, and the people who make them.
I say, fuck that. Emotive arguments are easy, lazy, and disingenuous. Let’s stop letting simpletons with keyboards and inflated senses of self-importance dictate the timbre of our geek deep-dives, and put some brains back into this stuff.
Enter Pedanticide, a hopefully regular-ish column where we take a widely (which usually also means, ‘inaccurately’) criticized slice of pop culture and give its most miserly, myopic and frankly munted nitpicks a taste of their own medicine, hopefully clearing the air a little. You never know, maybe we can even pay the artworks, and artists that created them, a bit more of the respect they deserve while we’re at it (Or at the very least, judge their failures a bit more accurately).
The first installment should be up in the next day or two, and it’ll be a doozy. All I’ll say for now, is… drink up.