Ever since I forced myself into a mainstay position as a PopChomp staff writer, I’ve made it a point to character assassinate A-list Hollywood director Zack Snyder. This is because I hate Zack Snyder’s films. I hate everything about his juvenile, pretentious, and sexually aberrated aesthetic. I don’t merely think he’s a bad filmmaker who commands no understanding of narrative structure, subtext, or the human condition. I truly believe, for the most part, that Zack Snyder’s oeuvre subscribes to a worldview more disturbing and demented than that of Academy Award®-winner Mel Gibson. Even thinking back to the horrors of Watchmen, Sucker Punch, and that Superman film is enough to trigger a Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder attack so outrageous and inappropriate that the trigger should’ve arrived with a trigger warning in order to prevent any problematic microaggressions. Zack Snyder may well be a nice person with a loving family and a circle of friends who would do anything for him, but I still wouldn’t feel bad if he dropped dead minutes after I click “Publish” and share this on social media. But that’s only because I’ve never met him and it’s silly to cry for dead celebrities.
Personally, I don’t see anything troubling about my hate. But last week, I encountered an offended party who indicated that this is not a healthy, balanced view to have. In fact, ever since I started spewing venom and vitriol at someone who makes moving pictures for a living, I have actually been trolling all along. I am a troll. I am such a jötunn. An ugly idiot considered dangerous to human beings. I’ve also been alive for centuries and the only thing that can repel me is lightning, according to the Norse or the Scandinavians depending on whom you ask.
As I was previously unaware of my medical condition, I did some Wikipediing and found out why I had been diagnosed with trollery. It turns out that trolling is synonymous with “online harassment.” So I’d like to take this opportunity to clear the air once and for all: I don’t hate Zack Snyder. I wish he wasn’t allowed to make motion pictures but I do not hate him as a person. I only hate him as a concept.
Therefore, I’d like to apologize to Zack Snyder and assure him that my remarks were only intended as a comment on your dire filmmaking and were no way intended to cause any personal distress to you, your friends, or your family. I’m a nobody and you are a successful Hollywood filmmaker worth millions of dollars. You’re one up on me, sir. Well done, Zack, and I sincerely wish you the best of luck on your future endeavors. Who knows? Maybe one day, if you play your cards right, you won’t be the worst filmmaker in the word.
As soon as I made peace with my inner demons and decided to drop my baggage once and for all, I instantly felt better about myself and considered the matter closed. I hadn’t felt this good about myself since I apologized to my ex for libeling her on the internet multiple times. But then it was brought to my attention how wrong I was. It turned out the offended party didn’t think I was harassing Zack Snyder at all. According to the offended party, consisting of Zack Snyder fans — or at least fans of that Superman thing — I was harassing them. It mattered not that I never once insulted any of Snyder’s bottom-feeding acolytes with rancid mops for brains. My negative feelings about the man’s work (also known as criticism) was where the hate manifested, thereby making me a mean old “hater.”
To recap: Any and all negative opinions of your favorite singers, songwriters, film directors, actors, authors, athletes, books, audiobooks, podcasts, television programs, films, installations, paintings, plays, et cetera and in perpetuity is trolling no matter how reasonably, comprehensively, and/or passionately the opinions are presented. “Check your hate,” sayeth the fanboy.
This is a strangely Stalinistic state of affairs, isn’t it? Except it isn’t true.
Trolling is when an online disagreement becomes personal. You are no longer attacking the validity of the argument; you are attacking the character of your opponent. Some people find trolling offensive while others can take trolling on the chin, but that’s beside the point. There’s no reason why two people can’t get into an emotionally heated intellectual debate without resorting to insults. I often passionately disagree with my closest friends about art and politics but we still get along all the same. Therefore, it is not trolling to make vituperative remarks about an artist whose work you do not like as long as the focus of your wrath is on the work itself. It is only trolling when you personally attack the fans.
So why do we always assume the worst about internet comments? Is it because the lack of a verbal tone invites a negative interpretation? Perhaps, but unless I clearly state that all Zack Snyder fans are dim-witted festering carbuncles who wouldn’t recognize real art if it punched them in the face, split open their jaw, and curated a special exhibition of their CT scans in the second photography gallery of the third floor of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, why would you choose to assume I feel this way?
I rant. It’s in my nature to rant. Whenever I feel strongly about something, my tendency is to drone and hector until my mouth dries and my throat chaps. I’ll be the first to admit that my love for cinema often leads to absurd emotional excitement. But just because I eviscerate a film, doesn’t mean I would ever dream of any pain coming to the people involved. Would anyone? I suspect even the most vile anonymous hate mail you’ve received online was sent by some morbidly obese pap smear who wants nothing more than to get a cheap rise out of you. This kind of authentic trolling surely isn’t as literal-minded as we are when we’re on the receiving end of it. And even if these “trolls” are literal-minded in their hatred, so what? It’s the online equivalent of a crackpot homeless person using their own feces to write love letters to ISIS on Q train windows. Why give it an ounce of credence?
This is a problem for online discourse. We’re getting to the point at which we can no longer distinguish between debating and trolling even though their difference is simple: one involves logic while the other one doesn’t. So when I say that I switched off Zack Snyder’s Superman film two-thirds of the way through because it was making me contemplate the liberating possibilities of suicide, I should be able to leave it up to you, faithful reader, to determine how much of that statement is exaggeration and how much of it is a legitimate cry for help.
This wasn’t the first time that my histrionics have rankled more sensitive sensibilities. Throughout my moviegoing life, I’ve been variously called “pretentious” and a “snob.” I prefer “discerning” and “elitist” but “pretentious snob” will do. To this day, I’ve never understood why. The last thing I wrote for PopChomp was an essay defending the James Bond franchise. I’m an encyclopedia of useless Monty Python trivia. I can recite most of The Big Lebowski, This is Spinal Tap, and Withnail & I by heart. I’d hardly call those the positions of a pretentious snob (Debating.) Therefore, I am forced to objectively conclude that I’m right as per usual and the dozens of people who have complained about me over the years are wrong and have no right to express their opinions on anything ever again (Trolling.)
See? This isn’t so hard, right?
Incidentally, none of this has anything to do with taste. None of this is directed at the moderately-tempered film fan who enjoys blockbusters and more challenging fare alike. Cinephilia is neither a set of rules nor a competition based on how many non-English language films you’ve watched. A cinephile must only be open-minded and curious about the infinite possibilities of the global cinema of the past, present, and future. If this qualifies as snobbery then I wish there were more snobs in this world.
In my experience, those who have dismissed me as a pretentious snob are exponentially more defensive and closed-minded when it comes to their taste in movies. They always interpret all negative comments about their idols as personal attacks. “But some people might like it,” they whine with smug indignation as though the statement constitutes an argument. Opposing opinions make them upset and uncomfortable. You know that friend of yours who stands in the middle of a crowded sports bar on a Tuesday night and boisterously declares after drinking too many Sam Adams IPAs, “If you’re gonna go after one of my boys, you’ll have to go through me first!”? This is the fanboy in action.
Only fanboys accuse me of snobbery. In fairness, I think I understand where they’re coming from. See, these people have spent much of their lives at the mercy of myriad playground bullies. But recognizing bullies on the internet isn’t easy because they don’t wear leather vests or shove Slim Jims up their noses. To a fanboy, everyone is a possible bully. Thus, the deliberately hyperbolic opinion that giving Zack Snyder millions of dollars to make his terrible films instead of donating that money to cancer research is an insult to the victims all over the world who are patiently waiting for a cure, can only be processed as online harassment even though said statement never mentions the fans once.
The one cardinal rule I set for myself is that I will never tell anyone that he/she shouldn’t like something. No matter how much I hated that Superman film, I still recognize the right of others to enjoy it or even adore it. The same Zack Snyder insults I’ve written in the past have been made about every single one of my “highbrow” heroes. I may not like them but I’m not going to lose a wink of sleep over them.
But if there’s one thing I learned from The Outlaw Josey Wales, it’s that there will never be peace in this world as long as there are conflicting ideologies. There is no reason for us to assume real anger and hate in each other’s opinions. We film fans have all been divided into meaningless little clans for which we did not enlist, unified ultimately by our love and passion for cinema. Perhaps one day, when the fighting stops, we can be brothers. But as we have chosen to remain separated by these arbitrary zones, I should be able to say with diplomatic immunity that the only way you could make me watch Batman versus Superman: Dawn of Justice, Suicide Squad, Captain America: Civil War, or Deadpool is to subject me to the Ludovico Technique from A Clockwork Orange from inside the confines of a Guantanamo Bay cell. And you should be able to read that statement without assuming I want your mother killed.
I’m tired of having to explain this to every fanboy I encounter. I shouldn’t have to repeatedly point out that my frustration with the state of contemporary cinema is not a personal declaration of war against anyone, nor is it aimed at reasonable film enthusiasts who happen to be more populist in their taste. But thus is the state of our online culture. Everything needs to be spelled out lest the overly sensitive shed tears.
So that’s why, over the weekend, I sat down and wrote a preamble that I will preemptively distribute to anyone I ever speak to from now until the day I die. For years, I’ve wondered how to talk to the fanboys who never mastered critical reading in middle school, and by jove, I think I’ve got it. My hope is that this preamble will eliminate any further confusion over the way in which I use the English language to accentuate my moderate disapproval of the state of commercial cinema for comic effect.
It is a shame that I can no longer trust anyone to utilize the full capacity of their brainpower to help them decode the true meaning behind my bold statements and impassioned arguments. But I hope it will save me and you an enormous amount of time and emotional energy, bringing us closer and closer to a world where we assume not the worst but the best from every stranger we meet. After all, if I can break bread with the kind of people who like Zack Snyder movies, there is no reason why people of all colors, creeds, and cultures can’t get along and find love where there was previously a projected, knee-jerk anticipation of ad hominem anti-nerd hate.
And now, without further ado, my olive branch:
The person to whom you are speaking comes in peace. In a moment, you will likely encounter a series of subjective, debatable, flexible, and possibly uninformed opinions about a multiplicity of artistic endeavors. These statements may occasionally adopt various literary devices including hyperbole, dramatic irony, metaphor, simile, and personification as well as anthropomorphism on the Sabbath. None of these statements, no matter how outlandish or emotionally driven, are intended as personal or physical attacks on you or anyone you know and love. The person speaking to you prefers figurative interpretations of the English language over literal ones. He tends to assume more intelligence in strangers than is reasonable to expect. This is a quality not to be feared but to be pitied. Therefore, nothing he ever says, least of all his online prose, should be taken seriously in any way whatsoever. It is only a means to give his life a sense of value. Besides, he tolerates your views a lot more than you will ever tolerate his just because he doesn’t sleep on a He-Man: Masters of the Universe bedspread. He respects your right to an infantile opinion even though he knows more about cinema than you will ever know. He wants you to understand that although you will never be bound for Hollywood greatness the way he is; that although you have been cursed by an innate inability to comprehend the transcendent power of film; and that although he is a better lover than you will ever experience between your Skeletor bedsheets, you are still a human being with feelings and it’s okay to have a difference of opinion. So calm down and get over it. This isn’t the Troubles in Northern Ireland, these are movies, for Christ’s sake. And if any of this sounds in any way insulting, patronizing, or God forbid “snobbish,” then I hope you fucking die you nerd cunt.
Now, how can anyone argue with that?