“The Hateful five”: five expressions to really avoid when discussing media

Fandoms” are morphing into toxic cultures where people hate everything that is not exactly the way they expect it and want it dead, forgotten, erased from existence. Together with everybody else who disagrees with them.

This is crazy. It’s perfectly OK to discuss a movie and learn that somebody has a different opinion from ours. Aesthetics are about our perception of the world, and by definition what we see, feel and think will always be different from everybody else’s!

Another part of the problem is that trash-talking seems cooler – while it’s just louder. Hate-spilling YouTubers and “reviewers” get thousands of views and are encouraged to do even worse, getting louder and brasher. Things can get nasty. Directors and writers described as “idiots”, “lazy”, “incompetents”, and worse. That’s stupid (and unfair: showbusiness is a billion-dollar industry that doesn’t reward laziness or incompetence), is driving users away, and makes life harder for creatives who don’t deserve to deal with the constant criticism. We may appreciate or not a piece of work – that’s fine – but let’s try to keep a little bit of objectivity and civility!

It’s time we fix this. Let’s make the internet a fun place again with these 5 expressions to avoid at all costs when discussing media online!

1 – “Plot Holes”.

They don’t really matter (that much).

We can download series and films, analyze every frame and dialogue, write thousands of words about it. But that’s not how the medium works. These discussions are interesting for specialists (or trivia), but they are not central to how audio-visual storytelling works. Screenprism reports the answer by Hitchcock to one consultant, who observed his script was not “very logic”:

‘Oh, dear boy, don’t be dull. I’m not interested in logic, I’m interested in effect. If the audience ever thinks about logic, it’s on their way home after the show, and by that time, you see, they’ve paid for their tickets.’

Jonathan Demme (“The Silence of the Lambs”) talked about “refrigerator questions” – when viewers suddenly are back home, standing in front of the refrigerator, and think “how could that have happened?”. If it takes a viewer that long to realize, it doesn’t matter.

Or there is also “patching plot holes with pages and pages of fans discussing online”.

Of course, major inconsistencies can break a viewer’s experience. But for it to happen in a big production? A movie passes through an army of consultants, script doctors, test screenings and focus groups, before release. All combined, they couldn’t see that huge mistake you spotted? They probably have: they didn’t care.

A flawless plot gives intellectual pleasure to some hardcore viewers, but audiences look for emotions, thrills and entertainment. The question for showrunners is: “does it work?”. If the answer is YES, it’s storytelling magic, and don’t worry too much about the rest.

If not, it usually has to do with character development rather than “plot”. That’s very subjective. As humans we relate to characters, motivations, decisions, fatal mistakes, and emotional consequences. The rest is the background: fans may get really engaged in Westeros geopolitics or in hyperspace engine “science” (duh!), but these things really don’t matter that much.

“The Last Jedi” irritated me, and I blamed it on “plot holes” too. But that wasn’t the problem. To look for coherence in a Star Wars movie is silly. What bugged me (and still does) was the theme: characters taking decisions that – in my perception – didn’t fit the general picture. I noticed inconsistencies also in “The Rise of Skywalker”, but somehow they didn’t disturb me, I was engaged until the end. Why? Because I felt my contract with the narrator was solid, the story was in good hands, and I could relax. That’s all that matters in storytelling.

For similar reasons I enjoyed “Ad Astra” (laden as it is with major scientific inaccuracies), because I could strongly relate to the theme (Brad Pitt’s character wants to reconcile with his father and push the limits of space exploration) – but I didn’t connect with “Passengers”: what Chris Pratt’s character does is horrible, and I didn’t like that he still turned out to be the hero. The story theme, and its characters, matter much more than the plot.

2 – “Fanservice”.

Or, to discover that water is wet.

You know, when references are dropped in a story just to please the audience. Some haters people say it breaks the narrative tension and is manipulative.

About manipulation: all storytelling IS manipulation. We want a story to provoke emotions, heck, we are even willing to pay the ticket! Mastering storytelling is perfecting the art and craft of manipulating human emotions. So, you are welcome.

Yes, sometimes “fan service” can be distasteful or feel just wrong – like sex or nudity that doesn’t serve the story, and is only there as a cheap device to increase appeal. But then, call it with its name: sex or nudity.

When used in contexts like Star Wars, The Avengers or Harry Potterthis expression is redundant. These franchises have millions of fans worldwide, each movie a product specifically designed for them. They are supposed to be “fanservice”. In turn, fans gain ownership, become part of the story in a wider sense. Their feedback will influence its future.

The Star Wars community is the most virulent, but also the oldest. George Lucas basically invented the concept of merchandising. Huge blockbusters make more money from merchandising than from tickets (3 times over). Who uses “fanservice” as a negative wants a personal connection with their favorite story, sure, but don’t seem to have a realistic grasp of how showbusiness works. Movies are produced with the money made selling all those t-shirts, live-action figures, coffee mugs and so on.

So, stop waving your lightsaber replica in disapproval, dust off your LEGO Hogwarts, and move on. That’s how things are today. If you are a fan of something, you are part of this system. You are the service. Which leads us to the next point…

3 – “True Fans”.

Where did you get your badge, sheriff?

Oh, boy. Angry commenters claim this title for themselves and a few others. It’s a defense mechanism, people feel that a part of their identity is under attack and forbid access to it.

“If you liked the latest Star Wars movie”, “if you don’t remember all the Game of Thrones families”, “if you can’t pronounce vingardium leviosa” (etc, etc) you are not a “true fan”, you don’t belong here, your opinion doesn’t matter.

Please, stop. How does it make you look? Like that guy from The Simpsons. Like somebody who doesn’t have a life outside his (or his parents’) basement. The word “nerd” has lost its negative connotation today. Well, almost. And yet, people are actively working to bring it back!

Movies, games, fictional universes are there for people to enjoy, as many people, as they want. It’s a pleasure to go to a ComiCon these days, because of the number and diversity of people that show up with genuine interest. Who cares if they don’t get the cosplay details right?

Yes, it’s been your home for a long time. Let everybody be welcome! Young, old, hardcore and casual fans, they all have something to bring, learn, enjoy. What is the point of a passion-based community, if not to share it?

4 – “[name of big company] ruined it. THANK YOU [name of big company]!!1!”

You enjoy it, so stop complaining.

Possible variants: “Netflix ruined The Witcher“!!! “Disney destroyed Star Wars“!!! or “THANK YOU Electronic Arts, for ruining everything!!!”

How boring. Look, guys. I know late capitalism is affecting people’s lives, and it feels good to have a big corporation to blame if our favorite movie sucks. But in many cases, throwing accusations like that will just make you sound like a dog barking to the moon.

The opposite is true: the number of shows increased from 210 to 495 between 2009-2018, and that’s thanks to companies like HBO, Netflix and Amazon Video. This is the golden age of TV series, and if you are enjoying it, you shouldn’t shit where you eat complain so much.

Words like “garbage”, “rubbish”, “shit” are used as click baits, to confirm and amplify the anger fo rabid fans. That’s the equivalent of junk food for online reviews. Not a good service. Better to avoid them and not to increase their stats.

This is funny, though :D

If one show or episode is sub-standard, shit happens. There is a lot more out there to find quick consolation. Stop acting like the world owes you anything. Does the Consitution guarantee The Right to One Superb Game of Thrones Season every year for the rest of your life? Did you only get 5 years of sensational storytelling, instead of 8? Boo-hoo, poor you! Instead of complaining, be grateful for what you had (and go watch Vikings).

Well, yes. Time to move on.

And once and for all, stop blaming Disney if you don’t like Star Wars. Maybe you have been really traumatized by “Bambi”. Or maybe, the reality is probably that you became harder, a cynical bastard who approaches stories looking for something to rant about. Star Wars has always been like that, and you have to be a little bit willing to “fall” into its magic, to fully appreciate it. Otherwise it will always look tacky, incoherent, patched up.

It’s not Disney, it’s you. The franchise touched its lowest point with the prequels: boring politics, JAR JAR BINKS (!!!), the frigging midichlorians, and Anakin’s “NUOOOOO!!!”, meme material forever. All 100% George Lucas creations, way before The Big Mouse showed any affinity with the Force.

People use anything to support their arguments. Like the allegations of racism, sexism and nazi sympathy for Walt Disney himself. Some of that stuff happened. But by the same logic, nobody should read manga or eat pizza, since Japan and Italy had fascist governments. Today, it’s preposterous.

Haters gonna hate, and some people are just never happy.

So what’s the real problem? Aside from being a media megacorp – but if that’s a problem, stop watching movies forever. Disney doesn’t only produce “nice” content for kids. Through its subsidiaries (Fox, Pixar, Touchstone, Marvel Studios, Lucasfilm, previously Miramax) these are all “Disney movies”: Jojo Rabbit, Armageddon, The Sixth Sense, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Lincoln, Starship Troopers, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, Pretty Woman, Good Morning Vietnam, Kill Bill 1 & 2, even the bloody Pulp Fiction is a “Disney Movie”!

We could go on, but you got the point. But please, stop with this argument. It makes you look really bad.

5 – “Politically correct”.

Ok, let’s cut the wound open. This might hurt a little.

Lastly. This might upset some people, but anyway. Some very vocal fans complain that media nowadays are dominated by the “PC culture”: are careful about sensitive topics and represent different ethnic groups, sexual orientations and identities. Are these bad things? Some people seem to think so. And they are angry.

This explains some “review bombings” (coordinate attacks with negative reviews). “Captain Marvel” has the lowest audience score of all Marvel movies on Rotten Tomatoes (49%). Is it so bad? The fact that it has Brie Larson – an active feminist – made some “fans” angry. More recently, “Watchmen” (52% audience on RT). Sure, it’s a sequel to Alan Moore’s groundbreaking graphic novel, but the HBO series has superb production, acting and photography, and a stellar 96% with critics. Why the low audience rating? A black female protagonist and tackling white supremacy are part of the answer.

Videogames, series, films. Users boycotted Bioware’s “Mass Effect: Andromeda” because “its female characters were not hot“. Kelly Marie Tran was bullied out of Instagram because… people didn’t like her character in The Last Jedi?

Without mincing words: this is bigotry. The Dark Side of fandom. It can be explained: some fans are not happy about how the media landscape is changing, and push back. But it gets vicious, with stories like Anita Sarkeesian‘s, who runs an excellent youtube channel about women representation in videogames and in 2014-15 became the victim of an unprecedented level of harassment and hate, marking the beginning of the #gamergate gigastorm. Look it up, it’s disturbing.

What to do? A battle is raging, and shit has already hit the fan (sorry, pun intended). Maybe it’s time to limit the damage. Don’t just hide behind the blanket definition “Politically Correct”. It means everything and nothing.

Are you offended by “too much diversity” in media? Consider some facts. About 25% of the US population is non-white (globally whites are just 30%, a minority). Around 52% of people are women. And (hard to say) 5-10% of people are attracted by the same sex.

It makes sense for a modern media industry to follow these figures. Traditionally, Western productions targeted domestic markets, but now they are global actors, and they tell global stories. The world is a bigger and more interconnected place than it used to be.

Well, if it makes you happy, Clint. But also, get professional help.

Do you feel freedom of expression is in danger? Well, I might be wrong, but so far nobody has stopped you from expressing your ideas. Internet is a big place. But freedom requires tolerance, and if anything, diversity is still not tolerated. A quick same-sex kiss in Star Wars Episode IX caused so much controversy it was censored in Singapore. This sucks. Would the same happen with a male-female kiss?

Well no, but sometimes actually yes.

On the other hand, for those who promote diversity, keep up the good work, but don’t police words and thoughts (that yes, would be censorship): change is happening, and people who feel threatened by it – for whatever reason – need to accept it gradually. Respect that. Don’t wave your ideals like battle flags. Nobody opens their minds when they are called “bigots” and “fascists” by random strangers online. SJWs, remember that fighting always invites more fighting.

And happy holidays, everybody :)

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5 thoughts on ““The Hateful five”: five expressions to really avoid when discussing media

  1. Phew! A lot to take in here! I have to say, I generally don’t read longer posts on WordPress because they can usually be summed up in two paragraphs and the author simply rambles on, but your articles are awesome… I can tell you’re passionate about what you do.

    I agree with the vast majority of what you wrote here and the things I disagree with you on are simply personal taste or so minute they don’t really matter. I think that Anita Sarkeesian is a bit of an asshole. Not because she calls out gamers for being borderline pedophiles and having …interesting… ideas about women, but because she attempts to get her message out by being just as toxic as the people she’s speaking against, in the limited scope of what I’ve seen. I didn’t get embroiled in the whole #gamergate thing (anytime -gate is added after a word I generally avoid the conversation for my own mental stability) but just as an example, when a gentleman on a panel with her tried to relate to her by speaking of the death threats and personal attacks he’s received for being an online personality, she attacked him because as a man he couldn’t possibly know how she feels. True or not, that’s what an asshole does.

    Couldn’t agree more that fan-service and PC are both ridiculous things to say in the context of art. Everything is fan service. Why would you not want to serve your fans? The ONLY time I can somewhat see what obvious bigots are saying is when characters who are explicitly written to be white or male are recast. I say “somewhat” because I also know that films are the director’s vision and they can bloody do what they like with the characters and having an entire film be portrayed by straight white people makes it, on some level, unrelatable to most of the planet. Whitewashing is just as bad, if not worse because the director is basically saying “if the cast isn’t white, nobody will get it”. But then again you also want recognizable actors as the stars of your films and the majority of them are white. But there are plenty of minority stars to choose from. There I go ranting now.

    I’ll cut this short as it’s turning into my own blog post now, lol. Everything else in your post I agree with pretty much 100%. You have a great skill for expressing what a lot of us feel but can’t put into words.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you very much for the very structured comment!
      Well yes, I just can’t write short posts. It limits the number of readers but it’s quality over quantity, I guess.

      About your points: I don’t personally know Sarkeesian so I can’t comment. I know that her work is relevant, the videogame industry (and gamers’ culture) could do with a major clean up; and she was victim of a brutal and unprecedented aggression campaign, it doesn’t matter what kind of person she is, nobody deserves that.

      About the “PC threat” I think it’s a phantom menace. People feel threatened by anything that doesn’t match 100% their views and values, and we keep confusing opinions with facts.
      It’s ok to have different opinions and it’s ok to be challenged. Actually that should be one of the main purposes of all artistic expression.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Absolutely true, regardless of how you feel about someone’s beliefs or behavior nobody should be terrorized by thousands (probably tens?) of people.

        Confusing opinions with facts is a big part of it, so is the desire to be right. Or the phenomenon in which everybody wants to be smarter than their opponent while simultaneously despising anybody who appears to know what they’re talking about, haha.

        Liked by 1 person

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