Sunday, November 8, 2020

On the state of online discourse as it relates to film

It's been a while since I've really posted something here. In a sense, I sort of feel like my Best of the Decade in Film post was more or less a retirement from me blogging about movies. But a part of the reason I fell out of talking about movies, was because I had become discouraged with the state of online discourse. And this is in a much broader sense as well, which should become quite apparent as the post goes along, but for the purposes of this essay, I'll just discuss my thoughts on the state of online discourse specifically as it relates to film.

To go back some years, around the time when social media was still in its infancy, I recall how sites like myspace and livejournal existed mostly just to congregate with friends you knew in real life online, and as facebook opened up beyond being exclusive to college students, and eventually twitter came around, soon the pool of friends and feeds also expanded to people you had met online. And in those earlier days, I remember how these sites mostly existed just as a means to share humor and post about our hobbies or our day to day activities. And I also remember how politics was still generally regarded as a taboo subject, and people would actually get called out for getting political, no matter which affiliation their arguments may be swaying.

Cut to today, and you'll find much the exact opposite to be the case. It's almost entirely politics, and divisive politics at that. And if you choose not to participate, well then now you're the one who's shunned. And again, I've found that political affiliation doesn't matter in this regard either. I know both right leaners and lefties who choose to stay out of the discourse, people who used to get quite a bit of traction once upon a time, but who now, as a result of choosing to stay out of politics, get completely ignored by just about everyone.

Now, how this relates to film, is that even in the confines of discussing film, the same has become the case. Nowadays, I've found that films are largely no longer discussed based on the content therewithin, but rather, based on our political interpretations of them. In fact, I'd argue that the state of film criticism in the past couple of years has been some of the most dishonest discussion on film that I've ever seen transpire, where oftentimes people would straight up lie about a film in order to gain political ground.

There's a number of films I'd like to discuss in this regard to make my case, the first being Bohemian Rhapsody. Now, I understand if people didn't want to support this film because they took issue with its director. However, rather than just dismissing the film and moving on, they chose to instead torch it, and to do so by lying about it. Almost all of the criticisms I've seen about the film are just factually false, and are claims that anyone who's actually seen the movie could attest to. The big ones that still stand out to me are how people claim that the movie completely disregards Freddie Mercury's heritage and sexual orientation, which I'm sorry, but not only is that not the case, but these factors are indeed major aspects of this film, and to say otherwise is just completely dishonest.

As bad as Bohemian Rhapsody got it though, it was nothing compared to what we'd see with the reaction towards Joker. People had already determined that they knew what the film was about months prior to release, and were already deriding it for being "problematic". But then, sure enough, the movie comes out, and it's quite literally not the "racist, incel rallying cry" that so many had proclaimed it to be. And in fact, it's actually a fascinating film with a lot that's actually worth dissecting and having an actual discussion about, but I found this to be an impossible task due to all of the political activists online who had completely hijacked all conversation on the movie with their BS agendas that, in fact, had nothing to do with the film in question. Hell, I'd even argue that had this film released in a different political climate, say even just five years ago, almost everyone who so unfairly attacked it would be singing a radically different tune about it. But here we are.

And there's other examples, such as how some corners of the internet had a complete 180 on La La Land after it had swept at that year's Golden Globes, and thus they now viewed this movie as being "overrated", and some even took it a step further and attached unfair labels to it as well, such as being supposedly racist. And then I could write an entire post on just how dishonest the criticism for Frozen II has been, almost as if everyone in the "Frozen is overrated" camp wasn't even willing to give this film a fair shake, but even so, they felt the need to straight up lie about it and make things up in order to justify their disdain for the franchise and its popularity. And speaking on films or franchises we deem "overrated", I mean, if a film isn't for you, why isn't that enough? Why feel the need to constantly rag on it? Hell, there's plenty of hugely popular franchises that I'm not that big a fan of, and that I personally consider to be "overrated", such as Stranger Things or It. But you know what I don't do? I don't raise a big stink about these films when a new entry comes out. They're not for me, and I'm not here to rain on anyone's parade who does like these things. So I just ignore them, and go about my day.

But that's the thing, is that I've noticed the internet becoming more and more of a place to just take a massive dump on everything. Discourse has become a competition on who can have the hottest take, or who can make the snarkiest remark. And I get it. I used to partake in this. Especially when I was younger, it can be kinda fun going on a rant about a really bad movie. And at one point, I even used to put together "Worst of the Year" lists at the end of the year to go along with my "Best of the Year" counterparts. But even back then, I always felt a little weird putting together those lists, and I only kept doing so for so long because, for some reason, they consistently generated the most conversation. And I've even recently discovered a similar case in real life, where at work one day, we were talking about movies, and I had gone on a brief rant about Jurassic World, which had come up in the conversation. And my coworkers were so entertained by it that they asked me what else I didn't like, but I just shook my head in response, and said no, I don't actually really like talking about the things that I don't like, and that I'd much prefer to speak on what I do like. And I'd like to think that I've come to carry this same mentality in recent times online as well.

That's not to say that I feel all film criticism should go away. Not at all. It certainly still has its place. And that's even in regards to the films I just discussed. For instance, one of the more fair reviews I saw for Frozen II actually did come from someone who wasn't so high on it, but at least he was honest in his overall assessments and didn't resort to making stuff up in order to plead his case. And that's the thing, I just wish that we could be more honest about it all, and also perhaps not place so much emphasis on what we don't like, and maybe focus a little more on what we do. Because there's just so much negativity out there, and after a while, it just gets old, and it becomes exhausting. Like, I follow accounts who still only ever criticize things, and at some point, I just shake my head and wonder, do you even like anything? And if so, why do you never talk about that instead? Because honestly, some of my favorite reactions to films in recent years come from people just being so passionately moved by a film, even if it's one that didn't necessarily have so strong an effect on myself. For instance, I recall a video where a man was driven to tears recalling the "Martha" twist from Batman v Superman. And while I do quite enjoy that movie, I have to admit that even I found that twist to be a bit silly in its execution. Yet even so, seeing just how strongly it affected this person really warmed my own heart.

Or one of my favorite reactions I've seen for a film came from a poster on a film forum I used to frequent, in regards to Kubo and the Two Strings. He shared his immediate reaction to the film, in which he turned to his friend in the theater with tears still streaming down his face, and he audibly expressed, "holy shit, dude," at the sheer euphoria he had just experienced on screen. Now, I personally wasn't as thrilled by this movie, but even so, that reaction thrills me to this day, and it's one that especially comes to mind whenever I revisit Frozen II, as I feel my own reaction to this film mirrors his reaction to that one (the poster in question of course wasn't so thrilled with Frozen II himself, however).

Hell, one of my friends who mostly stays out of the politics and discourse uses her social media solely as a means to express her passion for Doctor Who and One Piece and such. And these aren't even franchises that I follow at all, so I have no opinion on them one way or another, and often have no idea what she's even talking about when she goes on about them. But just seeing somebody actually being positive for a change, and just really moved by their passions is enough for me to consider it some of my favorite content on the internet these days all the same, and it often leaves me reflecting on franchises I do personally hold dear in a similar regard, such as Babymetal or Naruto or Frozen.

Sadly though, this sort of content I've found to become fewer and farther between in recent years. Because everyone's a critic, and as I've already discussed, much of online criticism isn't even honest anymore, so everyone's a dishonest critic at that. But the internet has become so inundated with negativity, I actually considered putting together a show of some sort, like a podcast where we would bring on guests and just talk about our favorite movies, just dive deep into what about them really affects us so. I was inspired for this idea after hearing a number of people expressing their personal all time favorite movies, and hearing a number of really interesting responses, such as an online journalist I follow claiming his favorite film to be Doctor Strange, or a gaffer from a short film I worked on in New York saying his all time favorite movie was Blade Runner 2049. And hell, seeing how my own all time favorite, Frozen, is one I'd consider to be an interesting pick as well, and one that I can definitely dive deep on, I'd similarly like to just talk about some of these movies with some people and really get their thoughts on them, even in cases where it's a film that I wasn't personally a big fan of (Doctor Strange).

Of course, I never did get around to doing that, and I'm not positive that I ever will. Though I do have a friend who's doing something similar recently, where he's got a vlog series where he just sits in front of a camera and talks about movies that he likes. The show's even called "Movies I Like", so maybe check it out for yourself if you want some good positive content in your lives in these dreary times.

Though as I've said, this sort of content is becoming harder and harder to find, and actual film discussion feels as if it's become near impossible without becoming some sort of heated debate. And this just grows tiring after a while, and often reminds me of online political discourse, where in the end, nobody really "wins", and everyone just comes away feeling more bitter towards the other side. However, you'll oftentimes not find quite such heated reactions when discussing these topics in person, but then, that's sort of the sad thing about the state of film discussion, because I don't recall debating the merits of a film ever feeling similar to having to defend a political position. But in this day and age, it very often feels that way, and it's certainly not helped when the reasons you're defending a film are in order to thwart unfair political associations being attached to the movie, so that you can get past that nonsense and actually discuss the film itself. But nowadays, with how overly politicized everything has become, as with politics itself, the over-politicization of film I've found has honestly just made even attempting to discuss certain films just uncomfortable from the outset, which really just sucks.

I just really wish we could all stop talking about politics all the time. I miss the days when not every single thing was politicized. I miss the days when not every single person felt it necessary to share their political takes on every single issue. I miss being able to follow a filmmaker, or a musician, or an author, or another artist on social media and just getting content related to their art, not their politics. I miss following friends and family online, and just seeing them post about their daily lives and hobbies, and not just their politics all of the damn time. I miss when we all sorta understood that this platform was just about the least ideal place to share and express our political views, as we oftentimes do so from behind the safety of our screen where we can allow our emotions to run out of control, much like experiencing road rage while driving behind the wheel, and that such topics are best left to in person where we can more calmly and rationally come to an understanding on the matter.

But that's where we are now. And all of the above is a nice concise way of explaining why I don't enjoy talking about films as often these days, and why I've in a sense "retired" from blogging. I am kind of depressed with the state of film itself, which is another topic entirely, but more than that, I'm depressed by the state of film criticism and discussion, and how dishonest and overly agenda driven it's all become, where half the time we're not even discussing the film in question itself, but rather, how it relates to the state of modern politics, relevancy be damned. Which, as if it hasn't become apparent by this point, I am absolutely sick to my soul of.

Thinking on heated online discussions though, while the one person I managed to find who would actually discuss Frozen II with me online got pretty out of hand and quite heated and ugly, it does make me recall another time in which I was discussing the first movie with a friend who took a lot of issues with it some years back. I was just hanging out at his house while we were going over ideas for one of our shorts we were about to film, and we started talking about movies, until the topic got to Frozen somehow. And while I let this friend vent about some other movies that I liked that he wasn't as big on, I found myself actively speaking up in defense of Frozen, but doing so in a manner that really came from the heart. And my friend could clearly see just how passionately I spoke on it, and he actually chuckled and asked, "you're not gonna let up, are you?" Our conversation wound up ending on a positive note after that, with him saying that perhaps he'll give the movie another chance, and that maybe he had missed a few things when he watched it. However, had our conversation taken place online, I can almost guarantee that the end result wouldn't have been nearly so nice and satisfying for either party.

So yeah, I guess I've kind of been holding on to these thoughts for some time now. But this is largely why I'm not so active in a lot of arenas online anymore, such as blogging and social media, because quite frankly, a lot of it is just discouraging at this point. But in the meantime, as you've perhaps been able to see, I've still been keeping busy producing my own art, and finding other ways to bide my time. But will I be back online full time? Maybe, but most likely not in the active capacity that I have in times past. But who knows for sure, we'll just have to see how things pan out, and hopefully someday things can take a turn back towards the positive.


  1. Reading this, you know my thoughts, but as I see you saying not to be so critical and discuss what you like, I can't help but think that you've been unfair to Attack on Titan largely because you've only read the manga. There's 50+ episodes for you to watch with the anime, which Praise Odin, is the sole realm of entertainment that is not political or produced by politically motivated people, as the anime takes the confusing aspects of the manga and answers them in the next two episodes instead of 5 chapters later.

    1. I don’t think I’ve even talked about AoT for about going on 2 years now. :P

    2. Well you should have cuz season 3 was really good.

      And you missed it. You've abdicated your critics duties. Shame... SHAME!

  2. You completely missed why BR and Joker are universally hated. BR lead to a pedophile becoming richer, while Joker is a derivative movie stealing from so many that portrays an unhappy, single white guy when women and minorities are still rarely leading films. This is what the studio spent their money on. Catering to the most well represented group of people in the world and somehow justifying their irrational anger. This post was a disappointment to read. I won't be coming back to this blog.

    1. The same could be said for the X-Men films, yet nobody derided those like they did BR. Besides, I already literally pointed out that I understood if you took issue with the director, but the point I was making was the fact that people were lying about the film in question itself, which is a point that completely still stands despite your own concerns regarding the director, and is what I took issue with, which I feel I was very clear about.

      As to the Joker, no, I feel as if you’re the one who don’t understand why what the issue is. This is a movie about a very famous and very popular comic book super villain. He just happens to be a white male in the source material, and it honestly doesn’t get much deeper than that, as it concerns that aspect of the film. If we’re going to light a flame to this movie based solely on that premise, than what is stopping us from lighting a flame to all movies starring white men? Logan perhaps? What’s the difference?

      Sorry to see you’ll be going away, but I honestly don’t feel that I said anything here that’s in any form out of line. Asking for honesty in our criticism, and perhaps a little bit of positivity, doesn’t in any way feel like something worth being disappointed by.

    2. I can tell you're probably the type that thought Ghostbusters 2016 was an achievement in film because it was a reboot featuring an all female cast of major characters. It's odd how the original in 1984 was universally praised at the time by audiences with various identities, but when people didn't like the reboot in 2016 they were called woman haters.

      Hollywood and movies studios don't exist to cater to identity politics, they're to be an art form, a form of entertainment, and douchebags like you over analyze and cast judgement on a film for not having enough token minorities in the leads.

      One need look no further than the reaction that Last Jedi received with it's shoehorning of feminist values into the most successful and beloved science fiction franchise in film. If your only goal is to build a movie around featuring a diverse cast and marginalize every Male character, the audience will see thru the bullshit and call it for the shit it is.

  3. I think it depends on who you are following, because while the movies you listed were big talking points, I don't find that the majority of my Twitter timeline and blog feed are hot takes about these films anymore. They only were at the time they were relevant, during Oscar season

    I find it interesting that Joker is seemingly the "straw that broke the camel's back" in regards to a lot of men getting fed up with film criticism. Why is that? I'm speaking generally here and not to you directly because I honestly don't remember you taking a passionate stance on it, but I think it's curious that it's always specifically *this* movie. I feel like I know the answer, but I'm sick of asking men to reflect on why it bothers them so much when people criticize this movie. I'm also just perplexed the Oscars chose to blow their load on this, and not Logan. If they were dying for a dramatic super hero movie that makes them feel better about themselves because they're not watching an action tentpole. Logan was RIGHT THERE.

    For the other movies you discussed, I think Bohemian Rhapsody went beyond Bryan Singer.. I love Queen, I wanted to love a Queen movie, but I just thought most of it was mediocre aside from the Live Aid reenactment..and that worked because I love Queen. Frozen II is superior to Frozen so that's a hill I'll also die on, but I was on the "Frozen is overrated" train because I had a two year old that wanted to watch that film every day for 5 months straight. I don't think it's the worst film ever made and I was never not going to give Frozen II a chance, but I was burnt out on it. I think a lot of parents with small kids did.

    La La Land I think is a fascinating film to discuss. I think it's a great example of festival hype going through the roof and expectations getting to high. I was so pumped to see it because everyone who saw it at TIFF raved, but when it *finally* came out in December, it was like "'s good, but that's it?" La La Land, IMO is still one of the best films of that year, and it got better on a second viewing months after the fact because I was able to enjoy it without all the added hype. "Ryan Gosling saves Jazz!" was a funny meme, but I don't think that was the majority of the discourse. I think it was festival hype.

    Regarding politics, I think you have to be in a very privileged position not to have to worry about it. I spent the entire trump presidency worrying that some of my rights were going to be taken away and I still had it easier compared to others. I don't mind when films/filmmakers are held accountable. I agree that it's nice to not be constantly reminded of it, but I think accountability is important and change won't happen if we continue to ignore problematic behavior.

    I'm sorry you're feeling burnt out, I'm glad you have other outlets to fulfill you creatively, but time off can be a good thing, and I hope that works for you.

    1. Thanks Brittani, really appreciate the response. :)

      A lot of the movies I mentioned aren't necessarily hot talking points in the immediate present, I was more just collecting a sample of the type of behavior I had been noticing in recent years that just happened to continue to stay with me all this time, and which does still spring up from time to time all the same, which has made much of film discussion rather discouraging to partake in oftentimes, at least from what I've experienced.

      As to Joker, no, I'm not especially passionate about this movie myself, and though it did make my best of the year list last year, it was also in a weaker year for film IMO, and in a stronger year it likely wouldn't have made the cut. But for me at least, it's that the reaction towards it was so especially outrageous as compared to the other examples. It got so bad that theaters were literally posting signs warning people to be cautious about potential shootings, and news networks were even commenting people to be wary of possible shootings happening at screenings. As for me, there was still aspects to the movie that I felt were worth exploring, and on said film forum that I mentioned in the main post, a handful of us actually did want to do just that, and talk about things such as, how much of it took place in his head? What was real in the movie, and what wasn't? That sorta thing, right? But every single time we started to get going, someone else would come in and completely steamroll the conversation BACK into irrelevant politics and how offensive and problematic the movie is and how it's going to trigger people to go out and riot, etc. etc. And this behavior always just cut any possible conversation on the actual movie itself short every time.

    2. I agree that Logan is a much better film, and one that I feel would've been far more deserving to receive the accolades that Joker wound up getting. But by the same token, I wasn't opposed to any of Joker's said accolades, if I'm being honest. But no, to the point, my issue isn't with people being critical towards the film in a genuine sense. In fact, some of the people I tried talking to about the film and some of its more psychological aspects were those who didn't especially like the film, my issue was with the unfair political associations that were being attached to it, and which had begun months before it even released. I literally remember certain people commenting after the trailer dropped how they felt the movie looked like an "incel rallying cry", and people just ran with that idea, even well after the movie released and it was revealed to not be that at all.

      For BR, again, my issue isn't with people who don't like the movie. I know plenty of people who don't like it for legitimate reasons based on the actual content in the film, and I've been able to have civil discussions with some of these people where we would just come to an agreement to disagree. My issue was with the fake criticisms that took off in some circles where they accused the movie of doing certain things that weren't actually there, and leaving out other things that in fact were, stuff that anybody who's actually seen the movie would know for themselves. Yet these same people made these factually false claims while also having claimed to have seen the movie for themselves, meaning that either they're lying about seeing the movie, or they DID see the movie, and they're just lying about the content there within. This especially becomes frustrating when I watch a video review for Rocketman, and the person reviewing it hadn't seen BR, but still makes the comment that RM didn't shy away from exploring the gay aspect, which they had heard was completely left out of BR, which as anybody who's actually seen the movie would know is just completely untrue, but the reviewer in question was going just based on what was being said about that movie. And, well, much of the same sort of thing applies to much of what I saw from the response towards Frozen II in fact, even if in that example it was a lot less politically fueled. :P