The problems with vicious cultists in fandom
I may have saved my life without realizing it by liking “The Dark Knight Rises” sufficiently—or disliking it with sufficient restraint—to have my review categorized as “ripe” rather than “rotten” on Rotten Tomatoes, a popular website that aggregates movie and DVD reviews. For those of us who write about movies to provoke discussion, these reductive categories are awfully silly, but they’re also symptoms of the love/hate, either/or ethos of contemporary discourse. In the realm of the Internet, as well as talk-radio and politics, that discourse has been growing ever more poisonous, and now the poison has contaminated Rotten Tomatoes. Earlier this week the website was forced to shut down its user comments on “The Dark Knight Rises” when negative reviews—officially adjudged “rotten”—by two of my colleagues, Christy Lemire and Marshall Fine, provoked floods of vile responses that included death threats.And comics fandom, both in the four color medium and in the movies based on them, shouldn't have to fall victim or be overtaken by these kind of diabolical reactions either. While not all fans are barbaric in their defenses of the medium, I'll admit, there is a certain segment, small as it may be, that's engaged in horrific reactions in defense of their favorite comics icons and pastimes, something that can and will harm the medium's reputation and make it harder than ever to repair much of the horrific abuse the people in charge for more than a decade now have heaped upon the famous creations they lord over.
Batman movies may be a bit of a special case, what with fanatical fanboys trolling the Internet to root out negative opinions of their supersolemn hero. But the Dark Knight’s acolytes don’t have a monopoly on intolerance of dissent. They’re part of a rising tide that threatens to drown Internet discussion in shrill opinion. The editors of Rotten Tomatoes have the right to excise such clearly intolerable comments, and the responsibility to improve procedures for screening out new ones. Once that’s done, however, the comments function should be fully restored. Free speech for the many shouldn’t fall victim to abuse by the few.
It's certainly not a new trouble. These death threats made by so-called fans date back as early as the 90s, with one example being when Ron Marz received threats from alleged Green Lantern fans, which he spoke about with CBR in 2003. And even Rob Liefeld may have been struck with the same obscene notes at the time he was working on 2 of Marvel's books that underwent Heroes Reborn treatment. Now I don't like the mainstream work of the former, and definitely can't stand the work of the latter of these two pseudo-auteurs, but that's no excuse or justification for making threats of violence against them. Nor would it be acceptable if any of that abusive language were used against the editors who hire them. Never mind that it only gives them a lot of needless attention, it is IMMORAL and goes against many of the beliefs that past writers, artists and editors were trying to promote, including that famous line from Amazing Fantasy #15: "With great power must come great responsibility". If the rabid pseudo-fans (that's exactly what I'm going to call them if they stoop that low) are going to ignore that and go overboard with abusive, threatening language against dissenters and writers, no matter how hack-ish they are, then they risk making themselves look as bad - and possibly even worse than - the cultists of Lyndon LaRouche and Ron Paul.
There were once 2 interesting arguments made in The Mighty Thor years ago that might make a good point of where the comicdom cultists are blowing it. In the Black Galaxy Saga from 1990 (issue #422), Thor told the High Evolutionary that pagan worship was something deities like himself didn't ask for ("'Tis true we have been objects of idolatry in times past, but 'twas a worship our races did not seek!"). And several years later, when his solo book was restarted in 1998 post-Heroes Reborn, he raided a crummy radio host's station to rescue him from a lunatic who'd broken in and threatened the host with a gun, all because the nutcase didn't like the radio host's negative opinions on Thor, whose response to the lunatic was very angry and made it clear that he could not stand to look at a man who threatened to commit murder in his name. Maybe that's something the overly defensive of any negative opinion voiced against the Dark Knight movies and plenty of comics products could learn from too.
If fans of the most poorly treated Marvel and DC products really want to make things better, what they have to do is simply boycott whatever books have fallen victim to editorial edicts like what Spider-Man, Green Lantern or the X-Men endured, and appeal to others both in and outside fandom to do the same. They could even reach out to family groups who find gratuitous violence offensive to inform them of what may go on in the comics medium under their very noses and try to persuade them to research some of the worst cases of excess in comics that they can write to the public about. They can and should even work hard for the possibility that one day, they can make the fortune needed to acquire ownership of the big two, among other comic properties, and set about making improvements, hiring contributors who actually care about the characters, etc. In other words, follow an inspiring example and try to become a real life Bruce Wayne and Tony Stark, and one day there might be the chance you can make a difference with the fortune you worked hard to gain.
I'd like to think that the vile commentors like those who littered Rotten Tomatoes with threats against Lemire and Fine had depleted and faded away years ago, but as the case surrounding Dark Knight Rises shows, they're still around, and they are going to cause both fandom and medium the bad reputation they're already causing us. Even some of the people running the industry may have to take some blame for not addressing the subject and condemning the cultists, one of the reasons why they're still dwelling. Of course the lunatics don't come in just the comics fandom - if you know where to look, even some movie and TV circles have them too - but whereever you do find them, it should be a concern as it's been for those movie critics who were attacked by them.