Authors Note: The following are my opinions, and do not reflect those of Comic Booked or of other staff members.
Two long, depressing weeks since the shooting in Aurora, Colorado, and it sure seems like we’ve seen absolutely every sort of coverage we can related to it: the breaking news that shocks everyone, the profiles of the shooter, the gun control debate (with the pros thinking stricter gun laws would’ve prevented this, the antis thinking if one Dirty Harry had been there amongst the panicked crowds, tear gas, and gunfire, lives could’ve been saved. Both are idiots), the “Did violent media cause this?” discussion, the shockingly insulting criticisms of parents bringing children to watch a movie, and even punditry devoted to how this incident will affect the upcoming Man of Steel (yes, that happened). All manner of chest-puffing, pontificating, and self-righteous swagger has been thrown at this tragedy, so it seems like there’s nothing left to discuss right? Well, there is one question that’s been on my mind of late: what do all those fans who spewed death threats on Rotten Tomatoes make of this?
Before the film’s release, one of the bigger stories related to The Dark Knight Rises was the disproportionate response against critics who dared give it a negative review. Of course, anyone who has been following comic book superhero movies has realized this pattern has been going all year: the same thing happened with The Amazing Spider-Man and The Avengers (especiallyAvengers). Okay, it wasn’t all death threats; a lot of it was misogyny, racism, and the obligatory butchering of the English language, too (bonus points to the guy who wrote “self-masturbatory” in response to Amy Nicholson’s Avengers review, showing full well he didn’t understand concepts like “masturbation” or “self-” as a prefix). I hadn’t seen any signs of homophobia, but only because I gave up after the first thousand commentators to eat ice cream and sob quietly for humanity. Up until July 20, I had been laughing at this ridiculousness, if only to cover up the quiet horror I felt of how awful geek culture can be. Afterwards, I still found it silly, but a realization slowly crept up on me as the conversation sank deeper into the elements of the shooting that were circumstantial–guns, movie violence, superheroes–and less about the man still sitting in front of us. James Egan Holmes isn’t equivalent to the RT commentators, but he comes from the same worldview of co-opting pop culture for his identity, and shares the same ugly effects it brings.
The Rotten Tomatoes stuff has gotten some lip service. Entertainment Weekly’s Owen Gleiberman mentioned in a column devoted to the shooting:
These noxious commenters were at once the ultimate fanboys and the ultimate trolls, spewing their rebel fascism — all hail The Dark Knight Rises! Death to anyone who disagrees! — from behind the standard lame curtain of Internet anonymity.
However, most commentators have treated this as either an afterthought or fodder for the tangential subjects. Thus, the question remains: what do these people have to say about this? How do those who, up until the movie’s release, gleefully rained such vile threats onto other human beings reconcile themselves with Holmes’ actions?
Our subculture is stuffed to the gills with devotees who value product over people, content over context, and advertisement over art to an unhinged degree (critic Eric Snider quoted a commenter responding to a gag review four years ago: “I almost punched my monitor when I saw this. Then I read the review, realized the joke, and LOL’D. Well played.”). This group-think prevents honest reflection, and in the wake of a tragedy like Aurora, Columbine, or even 9/11, reflection is one of the two most important things a society can do (the other one’s obviously supporting the victims, and those of us who haven’t forgotten that part have been really good at it, thankfully).
Unfortunately, as Aurora has shown, we’re not good at reflection, and it isn’t just a geek thing. In the scramble to cope with a heinous, practically unfathomable act, instead of re-examining what we can do to be better people, many Americans lashed out at external sources instead. This leads me to think that many of those same Tomatometer trolls will probably never give a second’s thought to their own behavior when the next blockbuster film rolls around, precisely because no one from outside will do the same with themselves. But, really, shouldn’t we, as a culture, ask ourselves why and how we got to the point where we’re just a loaded gun shy of being the latest media monster? Maybe I’m asking too much, but it would be nice if we could have an honest discussion about our values, how we think about the pop culture we consume, and why we enjoy it, so as to, if not prevent future tragedies, at least not remain a dark place for such ugliness to fester and grow.