A criticism of online film criticism

There was a ridiculous debate on Twitter (a phrase that should almost be programmed into copy and paste) about one film site’s propensity for lists yesterday – all shaped around the outrage of some American critics/bloggers that someone in the UK could put Andy Warhol’s Empire on a list of long films that needed cutting down.

I’m all for debate, and I happen to completely agree with the site – eight hours of the Empire State in monochrome doesn’t sound like cinema, but art, and that’s a whole different article – but the way in which one particularly high-profile, controversial online film “critic” responded was so pathetic, SO out of order it made me think: why is it that such hysterical reactions can come of such a situation?

Many people would blame Twitter, and it does – much like forums and comments (the dreaded internet comments) – give idiots and trolls a space to antagonise and infuriate (and threaten in the worst cases), but it fosters debate too – honest debate person-to-person in a limited space, requiring thought and consideration.

No, in this situation I’d go as far as to say that the way in which online film criticism has exponentially bloated to include even the most hardened, one-film-or-TV-show-obsessed writers to get a widespread platform has led it to this point. I’m not saying people shouldn’t share their views if they are overly focused on something or a big fan – a lot of the more heartfelt, interesting stuff comes from these people.

It’s when some of these people get to a point at which they feel they can challenge any and all dissenters in such a way that you could easily mark it bullying or intimidation that there’s clearly something wrong in online film criticism.

I guess that some people are not prepared for the level of internet interaction they’re exposed to when writing for big sites, or if their writing on a smaller site propels them to the big time. It’s like common courtesy and debate goes out of the window and petty arguing and plain insults jump in to take their place because of a sneering condescension.

The writer in question has ability and is a pretty great reviewer – I’ve followed his stuff from site to site in the past few years – but it’s once he leaves this area of the internet and engages with those brave enough (unlike myself) to engage with him one-on-one that he, and many of his ilk, descend into primary school bullies. Calling for a freelance writer to be fired because you don’t agree with his opinion on something is unbecoming of a man whose website and writers represent a strong and thoughtful look at geek cinema (in the main), and which is supported by a chain of cinemas in the US that put ours to shame in the UK in its focus on the consumer as opposed to the quick buck.

The awful phrase “check your privilege” – one that I wish I’d never heard – could actually be applied to this situation. The reviewer and writer would not be where he is without his strong views on film and his abilities with a keyboard, and I’m pleased he has a career. But there are those who will never reach the heights he’s attained, and he would do well to consider that A: most film writers are paid INCREDIBLY poorly, most journalists in fact, and freelancing is a hard but necessary path to take; and B: that most of the people he gets into ridiculous debates with are probably much like he was as a younger man: passionate to write about film and debate it.

In passing comment on this situation with a fellow Tweeter and nerd I mentioned the Twitter name of another writer that writes for the individual in question’s site – and we were replied to in a way that suggested civility but also a firm disagreement. It wasn’t a rude response, and it wasn’t happy/smiley, but it was how people should respond, and this particular guy always behaves as such.

This is what this area of criticism needs more of – conversation. Not threats and petty swearing. There’s enough of that online already!

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