Earlier this week Peter Hall at Movies.com put up the article Geeks Are Entering the Age of Instant Backlash and It’s Getting Really Tiresome, talking about how comic book fans reacted negatively to the announcement of Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice.
Maybe movie journalism works differently than videogame journalism, but from where I stand we’ve been in the age of instant backlash for about a decade or so. Hall says:
[…]Internet immediately lost its mind and pounced on the title like a bunch of ghouls feasting on a newborn. And as I watched the vitriol flow across social media, all I could do is sit back and wonder why everyone is so angry all of the time these days.
There’s a certain irony in accusing people of “feasting on newborns” when talking about how they over-react. At any rate, this probably has more to do with where you hang out on the internet than with anything going on in geekdom. In my experience the backlash was basically a bunch of eye-rolling and head-shaking. I witnessed no anger, much less newborn-feasting.
Here was my reaction:
How much confidence does WB have in the new Superman? So little that they gave him second billing in his own sequel: http://t.co/PbkHmN5Y9K
— Shamus Young (@shamusyoung) May 21, 2014
That was a completely instant gut reaction. I wasn’t jumping on any bandwagon or contributing to any echo-chamber. I had not read any opinions when I wrote that, and had no idea what other fans were saying.
Isn’t that how it’s supposed to work? We hear some news and then react to it? It happens in real life all the time. If I’m sitting on the couch with friends watching trailers because I’m too lazy to find the remote and fast-forward to the DVD menu, then I’m likely to comment to my friend:
“This looks like it might be kinda good. Wait nope. Brett Ratner. It’s probably ass.”
“Ugh. Are they still making these? Didn’t they sort of run out of ideas two movies ago?
“Hey cool. Michael Caine is still alive.”
The only difference is that when it happens on the internet, there are a hundred thousand of us on the couch. I think it’s significant when those hundred thousand people all say roughly the same thing. What would Hall prefer they do? Not comment? “Man, I have something negative to say but I’ll keep it to myself just in case thousands of other people come to the same conclusion and we form a backlash.”
And if you’re unhappy that someone, somewhere is having an apoplectic freak-out over entertainment news? You might as well get mad at the weather. You might have a point, but there’s no fighting human nature.
In this case, I suspect the backlash is the result of prolonged frustration. It’s not just that the title of this particular movie is bad. By giving Batman top billing in Superman’s movie, it shows that Warner Brothers is still clueless and repeating mistakes that have been plaguing the studio for years. They do not get why the audience likes these characters. The DC movies so far (and I’m including the Nolan Batman in this) are a series of basically competent movies that fail to capture the tone and thematic thrust of the source material. The most recent Superman movie wasn’t a bad movie. If it had been about some new hero I would have really enjoyed it. But the tone was wrong for a movie about Supes. I spent the whole time sitting there thinking, “This doesn’t feel like a Superman movie.” Too dark. Too grim. Superman is morose and conflicted instead of stalwart and optimistic.
I’m not deep enough into movies to get why this keeps happening. Wrong directors? Wrong screenwriters? Lack of a plan? Too much executive meddling? I have no idea. Marvel has made it look easy. DC fans are hoping to see an optimistic, colorful, and vibrant take on Superman that lives up to the kind of crowd-pleasing adventure that Marvel gave us with Captain America. And this Batman v. Superman is a step away from that. Batman is a reliable draw, so rather than addressing the problems with the previous Superman movie they’re adding Batman. The backlash isn’t, “Boo hoo, I don’t like the title of this movie I haven’t seen yet.” The backlash is, “It looks like nothing is going to change and we’re going to get more ugly grim big-budget movies that don’t satisfy our desire to see our heroes on the big screen.”
Rather than blame the rampaging mob, maybe we should put some blame of the studios. There’s no law saying they have to dribble out an endless series of hints, leaks, and trailers. In fact, the only reason to do that is to provoke a reaction. They either want feedback as a kind of informal focus testing, or they want to build hype. In either case, the studios are getting what they want. Getting mad at internet backlash is like getting mad at the audience for cheering when the stand-up comic says how much they love [current_town].
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