US film critic Marshall Fine recently got death threats after publishing a well-reasoned critical review of ‘The Dark Night Rises’, an enjoyable if somewhat pretentious and overlong film based on an old comic-book character. The backlash was so severe that Rotten Tomatoes had to shut down its comments section, and has repercussions for all websites with comments sections.
The problem is that Fine’s review broke the perfect ten of the Rotten Tomatoes score that the fans wanted it to have, even though they had yet to see the film. Now, this is all very strange. Somehow, Batman and co replaced real heroes. We no longer venerate government figures, explorers, doctors or scientists, but worship cartoon characters created to amuse children.
Fine’s not worried. He says; ‘It crosses a line if someone shows up on my front step. Otherwise everyone’s entitled to their opinion. People have strong feelings about this stuff. Is it unfortunate that this is the way people express themselves? Well, yeah, I think it’s a measure of how powerless people feel in this society in general.’
What’s odd is that comic book sales are in serious decline. In 1997 US sales (the primary market) were 100.32 million copies. In 2011 they’ve fallen to 72.13 million copies – down by more than a quarter.
So it’s just the films that count. Ultimately, the studios themselves can massage fan overreaction into something useful, because as Fine implies, leaving an anonymous complaint is hardly an empowering protest action.
But it made me wonder; once, when pressure-cooker feelings of dissent built up in the West, they used to be liberated in marches and protests – it feels as if I spent the whole of my twenties marching for human rights of one sort or another. But as comic book fans take their rights for granted, what do they have to complain about? A weakly reviewed comic-book film? That’s a bit lame, isn’t it?
But people take them seriously. Coverage of the San Diego Comic-Con, once an enjoyably ramshackle geek event that went unreported outside of local head-shops, now makes the international news. The fans are, for the most part, intelligent people, but they choose to exist in fantasy worlds.
If they showed the same strength of opinion about the potentially disastrous global effect of Syria’s unrest on Chechen Muslims, say, wouldn’t their time be better spent than being able to identify the specific Bane issue-arc of the new Batman film?
If they wanted to understand the nature of real heroism, they could study the men and women who helped to bring about the start of the Arab Spring instead of burying their heads in comics.