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And Here We... Go! (Again.): Why Rotten Tomatoes Closing Its Comments For The Dark Knight Rises Is A Net Good

By Rob Payne | Think Pieces | July 19, 2012 | Comments ()


pajibatdkrRTsmackdown.jpg

Once upon a time in May 2012, a highly anticipated movie was released to the satisfaction of most everyone who saw it. That movie went on to make all the money ever, despite a very small pool of critical reviews that deemed said movie somewhat less-than-stellar. In the first few days in the week leading up to its release, The Avengers had a near perfect score on movie review aggregate Rotten Tomatoes, with lone reviewer Amy Nicholson giving the film it's first dreaded score of "Rotten" instead of "Fresh." Naturally, that critic was maligned by the worst sorts of Internet commenters - those with more opinions than sense, and who's hatred and vitriol could make even Daniel Tosh blush - the ones who spend a good chunk of their free time trolling the RT boards. Sadly, these people seem to only have free time.

When I self-righteously compiled the worst of the worst of those comments, nearly all misogynistic in tone if not content, I noted that this wasn't an uncommon occurrence for either that site or the Internet in general. In fact, it seemed obvious that the same thing would also happen to the first critic who gave Christopher Nolan's final Batman chapter, The Dark Knight Rises, one of those messy green splats instead of a ripe red tomato. It turns out I was more right than I ever imagined. Thanks to the over abundance of hateful responses to two negative reviews published at around the same time this past Monday - a mere four days before the film's release, but a lifetime to fans who are desperate to see and weigh in on it - Rotten Tomatoes has decided their best course of action is to close down all comments for The Dark Knight Rises for the foreseeable future. For that site, which houses the greatest collection of anti-Armond White rants on the web, this is an unprecedented move, even if it doesn't prevent anyone from migrating over to a review's source to continue their 1980s high school villainy. But it's entirely welcome.

Not every comments section can be filled with as many smart and clever people as we have at Pajiba, regardless of whether you remain anonymous or not. Writing as a former lurker-turned-commenter-turned-contributor, I say that with the utmost authoritative pandering. We've had our fair share of jerks (hi, BigTodd!) but we've rarely, if ever, descended into the virtual barbarism that happens elsewhere. When Internet comments begin moving away from true criticism or simple expressions of disagreement and dismay, moving toward suggestive violence and death threats to those being commented upon, then those comments no longer serve a function worth maintaining. Cries of hindering freedom of speech, should there be any, don't hold any water. No website is obliged to offer a commenting system much less show support for the worst the Internet has to offer by staying silent. Doing nothing only allows the bullying to continue unabated. And that's what trollery is, when it comes down to it: bullies lashing out at a world they hate and do not understand, because its always easier to hit someone than consider they may have a point.

So, for those who stand by the old standby that "this is the Internet, what do you expect" and don't understand why horrible comments should be exposed under the harsh light of day or that it's a frequent topic of conversation, that's your answer. Bullying.

We give money to a school bus monitor so she can leave her job and not be forced to withstand the brutal insults of children. We make videos telling many of those same children that life gets better the older they get, when our differences supposedly bring us together rather than drive us apart. We prosecute grown ass men and women when they harass teenagers so harshly online that the harassed commit suicide. We support movies on this very topic, regardless whether we've actually seen them. Just because Christy Lemire and Marshall Fine write reviews for a living and ought to have thick enough skin to withstand a deluge of negative reactions, that's no excuse to simply allow death threats to continue, or to support it with the silence of inactivity. The real world may be full of assholes, but nobody is as big an asshole IRL as they are when commenting anonymously online, with the exception of Rush Limbaugh. There's a simple reason for that: We've decided that, as a society, we don't like bullying and have shamed people enough, and continue to shame people, for behaving that way. There's no cachet in calling for somebody's head on the evening news, so why should there be any for doing it on the Internet? There's a saying that goes something like, we are who we really are when we're alone. You may feel alone when you're on the Internet, but you're not, ever.

Cheers to Rotten Tomatoes for taking a stand, even if it was only due to the constraints of being unable to manage the comments on all the various reviews. They're now reconsidering the site's comments from square one, with an eye toward making anonymity that much harder to hide behind. The Internet is both the best and the worst thing mankind has ever done, and just because it is so often lazily described as the new "wild, wild west" doesn't mean we have to let violence overrun our tubes. Kurt Vonnegut said it better in A Man Without a Country, even if he wasn't writing about pop culture blogs: "What made being alive almost worthwhile for me, besides music, was all the saints I met, who could be anywhere. By saints I meant people who behaved decently in a strikingly indecent society."

Oh, and it should be noted that Amy Nicholson, the reviewer who mildly razzed The Avengers has given The Dark Knight Rises one of its most glowing reviews. Without looking, can you guess how many comments, hateful or otherwise, that post has as of this writing? I'll give you a hint, it's less than two.


Rob Payne also writes the indie comic The Unstoppable Force, tweets on the Twitter, tumbls on the Tumblr, and his wares can be purchased here. He can't wait to read and comment on Dan's review tomorrow.



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Comments Are Welcome, Jerks Will Be Banned


  • Mrs. Beasley

    Nobody is as big of an asshole IRL as they are when commenting anonymously online.- I think nobody is as big an asshole openly IRL as they are online. Most are probably every bit as much an asshole though. There's a huge difference in being snarky than saying a man's wife should be raped because of a review you hate. Those kinds of people who take it that far are shitty human heings. They may not say those kinds of things face to face, not because they aren't really assholes, but because societal rules say you can't. Or at least not without consequences. Consequences that the kind of person who spews that kind of trash is too scared to face. Most people are more brazen online, but to say someone's family should die because they made you mad? That takes a special kind of asshole. I wouldn't say that to someone, online or IRL. That's just me though, and most normal people are the same. I think the kind of person who crosses the line that far probably really is a terrible person. They just take advantage of the anonymity to let their asshole flag fly free.

  • Hiro_the_Eighth_Samurai

    I find it unfortunate that they reopened the comments for Dark Knight Rises reviews on the same day that this was posted.

  • Jesus Christ, internet nerds need more pussy. And I say that as an internet nerd.

  • Also, as is true for almost any topic in the world, a thousand writers writing on a thousand computers wouldn't be able to express a point as lucidly and beautifully as Mr. Vonnegut.
    (Your words were pretty great though, Rob.)

  • Uriah_Creep

    Not strictly relevant here, but I will go ahead and say it: If the many fine commenters and some writers of Pajiba could get the difference between "it's" and "its" sorted out, I could be a happy man (and perhaps work on the "whose" versus "who's" thing while you're at it.)

    This has been a message from your local neighborhood grammar nazi.

  • RJSuperfreaky

    Ah, "Bullying". Is there nothing we don't like that can't be somehow equated to you?

  • Clancys_Daddy

    I really have no interest in the new batman film, I won't be standing in line to see it. I also don't care if people care that I don't care. If a critic doesn't like a film that is that persons opinion. If you find that you tend to agree with that persons opinion of films then go ahead and use it as a guide. If you find that you don't then, don't read the fucking review. It a movie not some life changing religious experience. If you think it's more than that you need serious help.

  • I've spent far too much time reading comments online. I've become jaded. I'm not surprised to hear about death threats over media reviews. I'm only surprised when those threats are spelled correctly.

  • Jannymac

    First of all let me say that I agree that there is a lot of bullying going on, BUT sometimes I wonder if we tend to just remember the small amount of ugly stuff because that's the way we are hardwired. If it's threatening we remember it because our "safety" may demand it. On the other hand, the vast majority of comments are non-threatening and therefore forgettable.
    In other words our reactions may be disproportionate to reality. Sort of like watching too much "if it bleeds it leads" local news. Most cities are not murdering cesspools, but you wouldn't know it from the news.

  • True, most cities aren't murdering cesspools, but that doesn't mean we don't arrest the murderers. Most people don't interrupt the President during the SOTU, but we boo the ones who do.

  • SA ROE

    I just wonder why anyone bothers to review these films. Is there a large segment of the population unsure as to whether they will go see it? Nearly everyone knows if they'll see it. A review is kind of pointless with regard to helping people decide on a film like this. Word of mouth might kill Sunday attendance if it is truly horrible, but a review won't affect things much. Does anyone place that much value on any reviewer? Or are they, if they disagree with you, an "idiot"?

  • ,

    Do you mean "these films" like megahyped Batman movies, or "these films" to mean "all films"? Because there have been some gems I wouldn't have seen if not for the Pajiba review.

  • Slash

    Actually, a net good would be a whole
    lot more sites closing their comments. Or at least moderating them a whole lot
    better. The internet has become a wretched hive of scum and villainy, that
    can't spell or form a literate sentence, and whose debate skills consist of
    "LOL" and racist/sexist and/or homophobic comments. I'd put the
    average emotional and intellectual age of many commenters at about 11 or 12.
    That's why I read the comments of only a few of them and don’t read ones that
    aren’t moderated. It gets very tiresome, very quickly, to read comments full of
    weak-ass, schoolyard-level insults. It’s just boring as fuck. If you have a truly
    clever or entertaining way of telling someone they’re full of shit and then
    care enough to explain why, I’m happy to read it. But if all you’re gonna do is
    call someone a bitch or a fag or an asshole, then just don’t waste the
    keystrokes.

    Barry Ritholtz says it best on his
    comment intro:

    Please use the comments to
    demonstrate your own ignorance, unfamiliarity with empirical data, ability to
    repeat discredited memes, and lack of respect for scientific knowledge. Also,
    be sure to create straw men and argue against things I have neither said nor
    even implied. Any irrelevancies you can mention will also be appreciated.
    Lastly, kindly forgo all civility in your discourse . . . you are, after all,
    anonymous.

  • Judge Holdenmynuts

    "And that’s what trollery is, when it comes down to it: bullies lashing
    out at a world they hate and do not understand, because its always
    easier to hit someone than consider they may have a point."

    Nah.
    A bully is someone who beats the shit out of you (verbally or otherwise) because you're smaller/weaker.
    A troll is someone who posts comments for the sole purpose of pissing people off. They get off on it.
    The internet has been around for nearly two decades and we have yet to learn how to deal with it on an emotional level.

  • marya

    Internet comments really do disturb me, and I've tried to understand why, because I think Judge H. up there (hello Your Honor!) is correct. I recognize those comments are designed to get a rise out of me.

    I think what really eats at me is this question: If internet anonymity is what allows people to feel comfortable posting these things, then that means that all these horrible, horrible people are walking around, just vapid, ignorant, and vicious, and the only thing keeping them from vomiting their meanness all over me in person is a fear of public humiliation.

    It makes me feel like the world is a pretty dark place.

  • Yossarian

    But on an individual basis people are mostly good. Many good deeds are done under that same cloak of anonymity that go beyond what you would see in face-to-face life.

    And It's not necessarily "fear of public humiliation" that keeps people civil. I think it's just the opposite: the enticement of anonymity, the frenzy of the hive mind, and the hyperbolic context of the internet that brings out the worst in people who ordinarily are not vicious and evil.

    The worst stuff on the internet is mostly about immaturity, lack of accountability, the absence of normalizing social standards, and typing without thinking. People say a lot of horrible things. But then again, this is a web site where violent sexual imagery is frequently used to describe movies we really love as well as movies we really hate, crass humor and lurid innuendo is commonplace, and profanity is liberally employed by most. Pajibans are a smart set of people, though, and have good feelers for what is appropriate and what is not. A lot of other sites have audiences who are less savvy, and less mature. It's not too hard to see that people with underdeveloped capacity for tone, context, and self-reflection aren't going to be able to sense those boundaries very well.

    Which brings me to my conclusion: poorly written vitriol on the internet is usually just a signifier of the immaturity and low intelligence of the commenter. It's Heinlein's Razor: Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity. Their ignorance implies their irrelevance. Ignore them and wait for them to grow up.

    Although I am genuinely disturbed by the amount of misogyny that you see online, and what that implies about the people behind the keyboards. Stupid doesn't necessarily mean harmless.

  • celery

    I think some of it is real hate, but most of it is just people who are frustrated in real life pretending to be awful so they can pass on their bad day or just for the satisfaction of getting somebody riled up. That's what classic "trolling" is - inflammatory remarks or behavior, quite frequently insincere.

    But some people really are that screwed up, and for them it's probably showing the way they really are.

  • junierizzle

    In other news, Harry Knowles didn't like it. Which means it's going to be f*cking AWESOME! I can't wait.

  • junierizzle

    You see, you can criticize a critic without resorting to name calling and threats.

  • brian

    could be worse disgruntled restaurant owners have actually killed/harmed food critics and got away with it because both parties lacked fame

  • frank_247

    *citation needed

  • Maguita NYC

    The misgivings of power to the people in freely expressing themselves, got lost somewhere in taking revenge on those we disagree with.

    Seems that bigger access to express those pent-up feelings of rage and inadequacy, what with Twitter and Facebook, had completely destroyed any residual filters of basic human decency.

    Where do you draw the line on the right to express yourself freely? What is the difference between a badly told rape joke and wishing rape on someone's wife and children? When would be the right time to redefine notions of abuse and desecration on a society without boundaries, linked mostly by non-tangible webs: The internet.

    Always bothers me when people tout their right to expression and freedom of speech, as if it's a one-way inherited right. They still don't understand, the moment they opt to exercise their right to make their opinion public, by the same key stroke, they also gain the merit to having their own opinion criticized, dissected, and generally commented upon. And of course, sometimes feedback borders on delusion. It is all about perception.

    But when does it stop being exercising your rights, and encroaching over someone else's rights to live safely, and freely practice their livelihood, without the constant threat of undeniable harm.

    Who should take responsibility, and how do you filter everything. And when everything is filtered, how can you say that you live in a free world?

  • Yossarian

    You should have the right to say whatever you want.

    You are not entitled to be heard and you are not guaranteed a forum. Those must be earned (or, let's face it, bought).

    A well-functioning society is dependent on freedom of speech and the free flow of information. There is also an inherent need for mutual respect and civility, but it is basically impossible to enforce.

    You don't have the right to silence voices you don't agree with. The best way to counteract bad information or bad speech is with good information and good speech.

    You can't make people listen.

  • Matt Brown

    I'm more surprised the film is holding at 86% than internet trolls were barraging any sort of negative review. It seems to be falling in between best of the series and bloated.

  • NateMan

    In a perfect world every cock-knocker who posted the kinda crap discussed in this article online would find their home addresses posted online. Well, in a perfect world they wouldn't do it in the first place, so maybe it's a step over from perfection. I still stand behind my statement.

  • Yossarian

    But then it depends on how you define "that kind of crap" (or, who gets to define it).

    "Don't write anything you wouldn't sign your name to" is a good principle but a bad law. It has a chilling effect on speech. What is the purpose of posing their home address if not to encourage bullying the bully? What if the punishment is worse than the crime? What if the offense isn't bullying at all, but simply posting things you disagree with. You've just redistributed the problem you set out to solve, and enabled the same exact behavior you object to.

  • marya

    But Yossarian, isn't there a difference between "things you disagree with" and verbal abuse or death threats? If I walk in to someone's workplace and start screaming obscenities or threatening them with violence, I will certainly be ejected from the building, if not arrested. That is different from expressing an unpopular opinion.

    The challenge we are facing as a society is applying face-to-face rules of behavior to an anonymous, online setting. We are increasingly living our lives on the internet, and we are going to have to come to some sort of cultural consensus about how we behave in that space.

    There are free-speech purists who would argue that "your family should be raped" is protected speech - but I think generally we believe that is not acceptable to say to someone's face, on television, in a letter to the editor... why then is it considered allowable on the internet?

  • marya

    You know, I just realized it might seem like I immediately played the rape card, and that was not my intention. I was actually searching for an example of something that would be definitively unacceptable in normal public forums. Just wanted to clarify.

  • Yossarian

    I wasn't trying to equate the two. I know the difference when I hear it. My point was that it is very difficult to create rules and grant authority to limit "verbal abuse or death threats" that can't also be abused to limit "things you disagree with". Any power to restrict speech can be abused.

    And that's the problem. There is no good way to enforce limitations on speech. If I come into your place of business and threaten you with rape, yeah, kick me out. But that is trespass and harassment. What if we are in my place of business or a neutral site and I am saying those things? (The first example is Daniel Tosh, the second is basically the internet, the ultimate neutral site). If you own the forum (like Rotten Tomatoes) you can exercise control over it. Nothing wrong with that. But if you don't... there really isn't a whole lot you can do. And I'm really skeptical of any attempt to police content on the internet, even facetious junk-kicking proposals like @disqus_fGfiTonFm0:disqus's.

    Obviously there are lines between free speech and harassment. There are many examples of the internet going too far and crossing into activity that should have legal consequences. It just very difficult to draw those lines.

  • NateMan

    Yeaaaaah... I wasn't serious. Just pointing out that any tool who writes death threats and misogynistic bullshit because they disagree with a movie critique deserve a hard kick in the junk.

  • John G.

    I think trolling is bullying, but it's also desperation to be noticed, to get attention, to have some kind of voice or recognition. Through the internet people have become more and more aware of the 7 billion other minds in the world, minds with their own opinions and desires, making people increasingly more aware of how terribly insignificant they are. When you scream obscenities, racial slurs and threaten death, it's a quick way to get at least someone to pay attention to you, even if it's just to condemn you. It's a world of anonymous, insecure, immature, defeated children.

  • lowercase_ryan

    Jezzer is a bully, I'm calling it.

  • Maguita NYC

    Trolling cannot easily be defined, confined and restricted. Especially in light of web spaces such as Pajiba, where snark is outside of pop-culture norm.

    Many comments on here, if displaced onto other sites, could easily be misconstrued as trolling as well as bullying.

    The thing is, there is such a sphere as the right place. And not that I am comparing sites, but look at that shitty tw-t Ann Coulter.

    Have you ever been on her site? Have you ever read the comments there? And reading those, one comes to the realization, that what you may construe as utterly socially unacceptable, is quite obviously the norm on sites such as Coulter's.

    How do you define a generally-acceptable sphere of commenter rights?

  • John G.

    I don't know if it's that undefinable, and I don't think it equates to snark. I define trolling as expressing an opinion designed solely to provoke, whether you believe the opinion or not, whether it is related to the topic at hand or not.

  • Maguita NYC

    The greatest conversations start with a provocation. Even if off topic.

    We have very different definitions of trolling here. A provocation is a challenge to one's thought pattern and beliefs. And I consider this a VERY good thing.

    It is how it is done, and not why, that is of importance here. You cannot define the limitations of someone else's quest to acquire knowledge. It is how they translate that quest, whether responding with a "you should shut the fuck-up", or "I don't agree with your point of view". It is always a matter of communication; and decency and politeness are NOT innate to everyone.

    With some it could be a matter of education, or lack thereof, and not simply talking about the scholarly or theological kind. This correlates with how someone, no matter their age, think it acceptable to put it out there for everyone to read, that they lack of not only Basic Human Decency, but their tolerance for subjecting others to hurt, is much-much lower than what we have seen in the past.

    There is also that little known fact that encourages such behavior: Undeniable lack of retribution and repercussions.

  • John G.

    Perhaps 'provoke' is not the right word then. I don't think it's trolling if you're honestly trying to elicit debate or further discussion. What I mean by provoke is when someone shows up to a conversation, says something controversial or hateful, not because they want to stimulate debate, but because they want to disrupt, usually with the intent to provoke anger.

    It's this goal of trolling that derives from that childish instinct, whereby any attention is good attention, and where one feels so powerless, even the meekest power, that to yell fire in a crowded theater and cause disruption, gives them a feeling of power in their belly. That is how I view trolling. Does that fit with your view?

  • Maguita NYC

    No, sorry @John G. it still doesn't.

    I used to often comment on CeleBitchy, before Kaiser took over and started banning whomever did not agree with her take on Jen Aniston, but allowing regular commenters to be callously called LGBT twats. And on CB, the right-wing nuts would come out in droves whenever there was a remotely close comment on whatever they feel is mildly attacking their way of life and rights.

    I cannot tell you how often a comment, much harsher than Jane Pitt's "Obama is a socialist who likes to murder babies and allow the gays to marry" (and oh so much creatively meaner and vulgar), had unintentionally started a deep and meaningful conversation.

    Something as simple as Obama is an alien from Kenya to Palin could have been the savior of America (!!!?), add to this a few colorful words outrageously misspelled, and surprisingly, you got yourself the ball rolling in a very beautifully-worded debate, where some are quite intent on bringing forward hard facts, and have the patience and the saintly decency to presenting the facts to the hardened imbecilator in a clear, kind and concise manner.

    And you can see it: The surprised sputtering of the hardened inbecilator. i.e. troll. Trying to come back with more vicious and falsified comments, and only getting back more kindly worded facts.

    One, you find yourself learning even more about the technicalities of American politics, and two, f-ck-you as a reply looks this much weaker than hard facts, and when implying said troll is nothing but an ignorant child, whose actions are begging to be taught better.

    Patiently.

    Of course, I realize this would not work on say Ann Coulter's blog, for bringing forth hard facts would put you in a clear minority... And make out of you a troll.

  • Bert_McGurt

    Essentially, trolling is just the anonymous wedgie of the internet. A tool to bully with.

  • the other courtney

    People don't know how to disagree anymore. A difference of opinion has become the battle-cry of insecurity and repressed self-loathing. The amount of energy, human, emotional ENERGY it takes to sit in front of your monitor and spew virtiol is frightening. What for?

  • Jannymac

    Jung said that "the brighter the light, the deeper the shadow" and I sometimes wonder if the internet has become that deeper shadow.

  • Gine

    Exactly. I can only hope that having an online outlet for their pointless rage means that they don't vent it on the the poor people who have to deal with them in the real world.

  • psemophile

    You know who really deserves death threats?
    Michael Bay.

  • Wicked

    BAYSPLOSIONS!!!

  • Bert_McGurt

    "Just because Christy Lemire and Marshall Fine write reviews for a living and ought to have thick enough skin to withstand a deluge of negative reactions, that’s no excuse to simply allow death threats to continue, or to support it with the silence of inactivity."

    Well put Rob. Reminds me of the Simpsons softball episode:
    "Don't worry mom, they're professional athletes. This kind of thing just rolls off their back."
    /Strawberry wipes away tear

    And wasn't Vonnegut just, like, one of the best people? It's almost as if everything he said was awesome.

  • linny

    Truly. One of my favorites: “Hello babies. Welcome to Earth. It's hot in the summer and cold in the
    winter. It's round and wet and crowded. On the outside, babies, you've
    got a hundred years here. There's only one rule that I know of,
    babies-"God damn it, you've got to be kind.”

  • This is why we can't have nice things.

  • Eve

    That's the exact title Matt Atchity used for his article/letter.

  • Eve

    Actually, Amy Nicholson was criticized for pointing out some minor flaws. There are others disappointed by Roger Ebert because he didn't give TDKR 4 out of 4 stars.

    I'm glad you covered this because as much as the outrage against some critics of The Avengers was indeed ridiculous, it pales in comparison to this.

    The very same reviewers who were trashed on RT were also bashed on IMDb with posters asking things like "let's kill Matthew Fine" and that "his wife and children shoud be raped". Christy Lemire, according to some (on RT and IMDb), shouldn't write movie reviews because that was a "man's job" -- not to mention many other mysoginistic offenses and threats (like the one that said she "should be skinned alive").

    I understand perfectly the majority of these aren't real threats, but I also understand mob mentality can be extremely dangerous.

    I applaud Rottentomatoes for taking action (and rather quickly). I really do. Because there were bozos bragging about shutting down the man's (Fine) website and that he removed his review out of fear -- as if the review wouldn't count anymore.

  • space_oddity

    It saddens me when people whose job it is to provide criticism then get trolled for having a critical attitude and doing their job. Honestly, I looked briefly at both those negative reviews and while I haven't seen the movie yet (tomorrow!), their problems seemed totally fair (overly long, overly heavy).

  • sean

    Exactly what I thought too. And I am a comic book geek, The criticism that I have read seems to say exactly what I had feared. I don't know why anyone would get upset about that.

  • Mr_Grumpypants

    Exactly. Giving a movie a negative review just to be different is obviously shitty, but these are professionals. If the movie is too long and the plot is too messy, they're going to say so.

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