And Here. We. Go! When BATMANIA Becomes An Actual Condition.
We knew it was coming. Someone out there, maybe a handful of someones, were bound to make the mistake of not absolutrly loving Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises. And for that they faced the wrath of the internet. If you don’t want to click through, basically a bunch of people are flaming the comments boards of a few critics who gave DKR negative reviews. And by “flaming” I mean “telling critics to die in a fire” or “threatening to beat them into a coma with a thick rubber hose.” And attacking the websites of critics. Let me give context here. These are people who are committing acts of cyberterrorism and threatening bodily violence because someone didn’t like a movie. Moreover, they were willing to fight total strangers over a film they hadn’t seen yet. Now, this is not the first time that something as ridiculous as a tomatometer score has incited the internet to riot. Hell, it’s not even the first time this summer. But there’s something special about this time, because Batman is the breaking point at which people go from “internet angry” to, pardon the pun, “BATSHIT INSANE.” An explanation follows after a sad Adam West.
First, let’s take a look at the mindset that causes someone to react this badly to another person’s professional opinion. One of the largest contributing factors to the “Us vs. Them” mentality that much of the internet holds towards critics is the notion that personal entertainment preferences are used as personal identifiers. This is the simplest result of being in a consumer-driven society. When we were hunter-gatherers, we lived in tribes, and each tribe had distinct features and ideals which differentiated them from one another. This concept has stayed with us, but since we live in a society where people are defined more by what they buy than what they do, we’ve found different groups to associate with. Political affiliations, favorite sports teams, and simple hobbies have become our defining traits. Consider that it is now commonplace to use the fact that one plays video games as a characteristic they use to present themselves to the world.
Now, incorporate this idea with the probably-made-up “Special Snowflake Syndrome” which plagues the children of the “Me Generation.” We are told, practically from birth, that we are unique and no one in the world is quite like us. This is true as children, when we know very little outside of our family. Unfortunately, as we grow older, it becomes clearer that this isn’t the truth, and so in order to combat this, we add a sense of elitism to our already-flimsy identifiers. As an example, any trip through the internet will provide dozens of denizens who pride themselves in the fact that they are not only gamers, they are hardcore gamers who play incredibly tough shooting games, or they’re retro gamers who don’t play any games made in the past five years. For clarification, these are people who are genuinely feeling superior because they play different video games than other people do. We have created the unique paradox of wanting to fit in with a group, while wanting to feel as unique and individualistic as possible. We have our club, it’s a very specific club, and you can’t join because those are the rules.
So now consider this. If we believe (incorrectly) that our tastes in entertainment define us as people, then a negative review of a movie becomes more than just an opinion of a film. It becomes a personal attack. That’s what these people are going through. They have put so much of themselves into their media that critiquing a work in their brain is the equivalent of deliberately accosting them and all they hold dear. As someone who writes about film all the time, I can easily see where this can occur. This is, after all, the internet, which is a place where thoughtful discussion can happen, but seldom does. Instead, we’re hesitant to listen to others’ points, and happier with a never-ending backlog of “NO YOU’RE WRONG.” This is fine and all, but it still doesn’t explain why superhero films, and Batman in particular seem to make the worst of the worst come out of the woodwork.
For decades, critics and cynics have theorized the effects of having an entire generation raised completely with media presence. I posit that the effect is twofold: We’ve grown more emotionally attached to our media, and we’ve grown more insular, more content to allow fictional constructs take the place of actual people in our lives due to reduced face-to-face social interaction. Does everybody remember that U.S. soldier who had his name legally changed to Optimus Prime a few years ago? According to his now-defunct Wikipedia page, he did this because he didn’t have a father, and Optimus Prime was like a father figure to him. Now, I’m not going to criticize a man for looking up to a fictional character. It would be hypocritical. I am going to say that when you’ve reached a point where you genuinely believe that a robotic truck is a suitable substitute for an actual father, there’s some priorities that need to be evaluated. However, this man is lauded as a natural hero on the internet. This is the level of devotion some people have to fandom. When a movie comes out featuring a pre-existing character or story, they are completely unable to disconnect that particular piece of art from their slavish, almost religiously obsessive devotion to the source material. Now, to be fair, this is not a phenomenon that’s exclusive to comic book adaptations. However, it seems that it’s only comic book adaptations that make people think “This movie can’t possibly be bad! It’s BATMAN. On a movie screen!” Then, of course, the only time these movies are deemed “bad” by their devoted fanbase is when the artist’s interpretation of the material doesn’t match up entirely with the one they’ve created in their heads. This is what happened to Joel Schumacher.
But then, of course, there’s the question of Why Batman? Let me ask: Have you ever heard two people arguing over whether Superman or Batman is the better hero? The first point that the Batman camp always brings out is this: “Batman’s better because he’s a regular person, he doesn’t have superpowers.” This is, of course, completely untrue, and you can prove this with the next question, which is always “Which one would win in a fight?” Again, the Batman camp usually argues “Batman would, Batman can beat anyone with enough time to plan.” Well, there you go. Batman has a superpower. It’s called being Batman. The words “I’m Batman” or “I’m the Goddamn Batman” have allowed years of laziness on the part of writers. I’m reminded of the Arkham Asylum video game, written by Batman comic writers, in which it is revealed that Batman has a series of tunnels leading under the Asylum. When Barbara Gordon asks him how he pulled that off, he merely responds “I’m me.” Well, that’s that. Batman can do basically anything, by virtue of the fact that he is Batman. And if you don’t believe that “having astounding amounts of money” counts as a superpower, then you don’t watch the news. But I’m digressing now. The point is, these commenters don’t care about any of that. They care that Batman is a non-powered person, which means that theoretically, they could be Batman. This leap in logic is as insane as it sounds, and it ironically completely misses the point of that whole “I’M NOT WEARING HOCKEY PADS” scene in the last film, but bear with me.
The best part about this is that Batman, as a character, is a miserable, broken human being that no one should ever actually want to be like. Batman is, essentially, a spoiled brat who claims that he grew up too quickly, but in fact, never grew up at all. It doesn’t take much to determine that Bruce Wayne has spent his entire life trapped in that moment outside of a theater when he was eight years old. Internet trolls feel a bizarre connection with Batman, for he too, spends inordinate amounts of time in front of a computer screen in the dark, unable to have any real social relationships due to his own refusal to grow up. He too, is essentially selfish and deluded with false notions of nobility. They want to be Batman, because Batman provides justification for their behavior, and he makes it look really, really cool. There’s also a shred of sociopathic, violence-worshipping, revenge fantasy involved here, and the fact that someone told Portland film critic Eric Snider, “I am going to cut your dick into a million pieces, you American-Muslim little dog fucker” for posting a negative review to Rotten Tomatoes as a joke seems to prove it. (Though, come to think of it, that may have just been Frank Miller. Also, Snider isn’t Muslim.) What we are dealing with in this particular case are people for whom the more psychotic and unstable traits of Batman are as worshipped, if not more, than the heroic traits. I’m not saying this is true of all Batman fans, I’m saying it’s certainly true of the ones who send threats to critics.
Between the insane dedication to the source, the personal response to criticism, and the idea that the character himself attracts a more unstable group of fans, we are left with a perfect storm of misplaced anger and aggression. Remember that an essential part of being Batman is that some wrong has to be committed for you to spend your life avenging. Since not everyone gets to watch their parents gunned down in the street, someone not liking a movie will have to do. If that doesn’t make any sense to you, then congratulations, you are a sane and rational person. It’s the hardest part of wanting to be Batman: Becoming a black belt in every single martial art is a lot of work, and typing in all caps is not. This is why until, God forbid, someone actually acts upon their words, these occasional flare-ups should be mocked, not feared. The Bat-Jihad is exactly as ridiculous as it sounds. The delusions and sheer ineptitude of the would-be terrorists make them no more threatening than a server crash. To top it all off, there’s always their simple laziness, which I can prove by pointing out that if they really wanted to be the hero they admire, there’s much easier way. Like going to a soup kitchen, or a Habitat for Humanity, or an animal shelter and actually, you know, helping someone. But it’s easier to shout at the internet.
Leave your death threats in the comments below.
Posted on July 19, 2012, in Batmania, Discussion, Events, People Are Strange and tagged Batman, Batmania, Commentary, Critical Response, Death Threats, Discussion, Wag The Movie. Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.