Internet, we need to have a discussion. No, not about TK’s search history—I already know we don’t want to go there. This is a about something, if possible, even worse: The increasing number of #HotTakes written about pop culture by writers who have not actually bothered to watch the thing they are writing about.
This particular form of web-based WTFery first appeared on my radar around the time of American Sniper (though it happened before then), when the Internet was trying their damndest to figure out whether Clint Eastwood’s latest was an uber-patriotic endorsement of America and all she stands for, Amurrica, FUCK YEAH, or two hours of jingoistic filth sucked by Eastwood out of the ass of Satan himself. (There’s no middle ground. There never is.) As the think pieces started to pile up, I started to wonder… how many of the people in the “American Sniper is 100% war propaganda” camp had actually bothered to watch it before deciding it was Fox News walking around in movie form?
One notable publication, The New Republic, ran a piece called The Real ‘American Sniper’ Had No Remorse About the Iraqis He Killed where the author, Dennis Jett, admitted he hadn’t actually seen the film, even though it had already come out and he easily could have if, you know, he was being paid to write about it. Earlier this year, Jason Bailey on Flavorwire wrote an excellent piece on this very subject, including other examples of high-profile outlets going after those good ol’ clicks and advertising dollars by publishing pieces critical of movies by professional writers who unapologetically admit they hadn’t done the basic due diligence of seeing the movies in question.
I’d just direct you to Bailey’s piece and fill up the rest of this post with dog gifs if this shit didn’t keep happening. Last month, The Huffington Post ran a piece by Joni Edelman (originally published on Ravishly) criticizing Pixar’s Inside Out for the way it associates a larger body type with sadness. Instead of discussing body positivity, or lack thereof, in animation, the bulk of conversation around the piece was directed at how Edelman hadn’t seen Inside Out—and she “had no plans on seeing it, really, but now that I’ve read about it and had a friend confirm my suspicions, I will for sure not ever be seeing it.”
Earlier this week, a piece on Blizzard Watch questioned whether Duncan Jones’ Warcraft—a movie that doesn’t come out for another year—has “a problem with women.” The bulk of writer Elizabeth Harper’s speculation is based on an interview with Jones where he expresses a view of the treatment of females in World of Warcraft-the-game—both female characters and female gamers—that’s much more rosy-looking than what Harper herself has experienced.
I’m not going to tell Harper her experiences as a female gamer are incorrect, because A) that would be shitty, and B) I don’t actually play World of Warcraft or any other video games, so I’m going to stay in my damn lane. What I do object to is taking a few statements by Jones and a(n admitted) gender disparity in casting and deciding that a movie that hasn’t had so much of a trailer released outside of a few conventions is sexist.
Harper’s conclusion, where she notes “We’ve seen little of the film to suggest what the finished product will be like, and that’s part of the problem. Jones’ words might be easier to brush off if we had anything else to go on, but as it stands they represent the bulk of what we know about the movie’s female characters” really grinds my gears. You know why we haven’t seen much about Warcraft’s female characters? Because it doesn’t come out for a year. It’s natural to make assumptions about a movie based on trailers, casting, marketing material and the like—that’s what they’re for, and Warcraft’s dude-skewed casting is absolutely indicative of a wider problem about the lack of gender equality in media—but this is getting ridiculous.
Being a card-carrying Social Justice Warrior, I’m not usually on this side of the “waaah, outrage culture” line, but deciding Warcraft has a “woman problem” a year before it comes out—and the piece’s title, “Does the Warcraft movie have a problem with women?,” is as undecided on that front as Fox News trumpeting “Barack Hussein Obama: Socialist Muslim Illuminati Lizard King?!?!?” is fair and balanced—is irresponsible at best. You can write a considered, thorough assessment of WoW’s problems with sexism and what the movie adaptation could do to combat them without going for the clickbait hook that asserts a movie no one’s even had a chance to see yet—a movie that’s not even finished—is The Worst Ever. The piece came so close to being good. So close.
And then there’s the still-roiling debate over Amy Schumer and racism. Within the context of this post, it’s worth pointing out that Stacey Patton, the co-author of “Don’t believe her defenders. Amy Schumer’s jokes are racist.” for The Washington Post, never actually watched Schumer’s show or any of her stand-up in preparation for writing the piece.
This issue isn’t about Schumer. Or American Sniper, or Inside Out, or Warcraft. It’s about writers not doing their jobs (if “doing their jobs”=contributing to pop culture discourse by engaging in solid, thoughtful journalism instead of hopping on the sensationalism bandwagon for clicks, about which YMMV). Part of writing a piece is doing your damn research before you write it, and that includes watching what you’re writing about. (Props to Harper on this front—her piece was thoroughly researched, if just written a year too early.) To do otherwise is irresponsible and lazy. You are professionals. You are getting paid.
And even if you’re not getting paid, you are presenting yourself as an authority on a subject. You are saying, “Here I am. I am worth listening to. I know what I am talking about.” Admitting you haven’t bothered to watch what it is you’re writing about torpedos your credibility from the get-go. Even if your point is valid, you’ve instantly rendered yourself dismissable.
It’s the same rule for writing as it is for Internet commenting. Haven’t read the piece/seen the movie? Then kindly step away from your keyboard. No one cares.
Follow Rebecca on Twitter @RebeccaPahle. Or don’t. Your call.