The Battle Cry: Judgmental Times


It’s been some time since I’ve written any sort of Battle Cry, having retired the Weekend Warrior four months back to concentrate on (hopefully) more positive and less time-consuming ventures. When you get to a certain age, you start looking at the world in a different and far more analytical way, and when something doesn’t seem right to you, it’s hard not to say something, and as someone constantly looking at the world of movies and trying to evaluate what is happening in the zeitgeist, checking out reader’s comments and feedback is crucial to get some idea what people are thinking – what they like and what they don’t like. Doing this has led me to notice a disturbing trend, which I’m going to address in this Battle Cry and hopefully not sound too preachy.

Recently, I started noting that everything these days is considered either good or bad. It’s all black or white, with no grey area or anything in between. Maybe it’s always been like this but with the advent of ADD-driven social media like Twitter, it’s so important to get your opinion out there as soon as humanly possible. There’s a need to make your opinion known almost instantly whether you like something or not. I’ve seen this more and more in the last three or four years and it’s not just happening among movie writers who regularly debate in public forums (again, like Twitter) but it’s the status quo for anyone who enjoys any aspect of movies. (And music and anything else, really, but we’re a movie site so we’ll just deal with that.)

It’s kind of shame because this means that every bit of casting news, every trailer, every commercial, every performance and ultimately every movie is looked at through the bifocals of being either “good” or “bad” and it’s almost always a knee-jerk reaction and an opinion that’s not easily changed. As someone who writes for a site that allows anonymous comments, I’m dealing with it constantly, because those who watch or read anything I post here can immediately voice their immediate opinion, often without thinking, knowing full well that their anonymity means that the only repercussion might be that they’re banned from commenting further. (The thousands of nameless and faceless IPs that can no longer post comments on this site can attest to this.)

Granted, as a film critic, having an immediate knee-jerk opinion almost comes with the territory, but when it’s happening among normal non-critic moviegoers, it makes for an incredibly cynical world where anything that doesn’t pass muster on first viewing is immediately cast aside and never given any sort of chance to flourish and grow.

One can certainly pull out the old adage about “teaching an old dog new tricks” and how hard it is to convince people over a certain age to accept any sort of change, but what I’m talking about is happening at a younger and younger age, as the older of us essentially teach the younger kids this is the way the world is to be viewed.

One of my favorite moments in Josh Radnor’s Liberal Arts, a terrifically clever comedy I saw at this year’s Sundance, involves a discussion between his 35-year-old character and the much younger co-ed played by Lizzy Olsen. They’re talking about a vampire romance novel, clearly meant to be “Twilight,” and his character is trying to convince her to admit how bad the books are. She refuses to appease his wish because the books bring her enjoyment (just like Stephenie Meyer’s books bring lots of young girls and women happiness) and she has decided to live her life focusing on the positive.

What a revelation that is… FOCUS ON THE POSITIVE!

There were times and there may still be places in our country where this is the norm but for whatever reason, those people aren’t anywhere to be found on the internet. Or the ones who do try to be positive are immediately knocked down by the internet bullies who can’t deal with anything that doesn’t involve naysaying or negativity. Oddly, less than 10% of the people who come to this site even bother to comment either negatively or positively, which is a fairly low ratio when one’s given an open forum to voice their opinion.

Even so, the negative mindset has become an incredibly more taxing problem for studio marketing departments who know what they’re facing and have to put their best foot forward even when they know the actual movie they’re trying to sell is a complete dud. (Believe me… they know.) They fully realize that if the first picture or teaser trailer or poster or commercial doesn’t immediately win over their target audience, they’re facing almost certain doom. Sometimes it can be turned around, but very often, that first universal opinion sticks and it’s hard to get past it.

Bearing this in mind, if you’ve read this far, you’ve probably already decided whether you agree or disagree with me. Maybe you like the fact I’ve addressed a tiny elephant, so small no one has even realized it’s entered the room, let alone that it might potentially grow to a size where it doesn’t allow anything else to coexist.

With that in mind, I hope those who do read this that agree our world could be a more pleasant place will take my thoughts to heart the next time they watch a trailer or commercial or movie. Take a deep breath, count to ten, really allow what you’ve just watched to soak in. Try to find some good things to say about even the worst piece of crap and try to find some criticisms with something you absolutely loved, and THEN decide whether you liked it or not. And only then, open your mouth or put your fingers to your keyboard or iPad screen and say what you think. And then be ready for others to disagree with you, but also ready to stand your ground for your opinion in a polite way.

This is what’s called “intelligent discourse,” and it’s something that’s been going on for literally thousands of years before the internet existed, just as it’s something that’s been discarded and forgotten much like the art of having a conversation. For those who don’t know what that word is, you might want to close your laptops, turn off your PDAs and sit across from another person and see how enjoyable it is to live an electronic-free living.

And this is all coming from the guy who has literally sat in front of one screen or another for 15 to 16 hours a day for almost nine years spouting my own opinions about movies!