Cut (v): make (a movie) into a coherent whole by removing parts or placing them in a different order.
The Hype’s Not Wrong. You’re Wrong: A Horror Fan’s Guide to Staying Positive
I’m not delivering breaking news when I say that civility and nuance are the first things to go once people plop their butts in front of their computers. But that doesn’t mean it’s not true.
And look, I get it, I’ve been guilty of logging in after a long day and treading down the warpath, looking to get the venom out. And sometimes I end up standing by that venom (especially if it was a good zinger on Twitter, no regrets there), but most times I wish I hadn’t.
But as a reader, movie guy, and—most importantly—a horror fan who values the opinions of those I’m friendly with, there’s a certain brand (flavor? variety?) of venom that I feel like I see way too often. What is this scourge on the horror community?
Well, I’ll get to that. But first, here’s a screenshot of a Goodreads review that author Jeff Strand posted a week or so ago:
Okay. We’re not going to resort to name calling (we’re not going to do that, no matter how much my insides are screaming), but I feel like we can all spot the gaps in this “reviewer’s” logic. Never mind the gaps in his/her grammar and arithmetic (“I don’t think this book should have five starts, but 2.5 sounds cool.”).
But here’s where I blow your mind: as outlandish as it seems, I think this kind of review—or something close to it—gets articulated all the time, especially in horror circles. And I think you might have posted/voiced a permutation of this review yourself. And the people who post stuff like this are working from the assumption that all opinions are unassailable since everyone’s entitled to one.
The “I didn’t think it was fair for this book to have five stars” strain of review has a comelier cousin. One that pops up in a lot of fan discourse.
Yes, I’m talking about the ever-popular, always read in a kind of too-cool-for-school voice: “Overrated!” and it’s partner, the “I don’t get what all the hype is about!” lines of reasoning.
Not sure what I mean? Take for example, this Amazon review of The Babadook:
Oh man. And, look, before you all start commenting that I’m picking low hanging fruit: yes, I am. But the screenshots I’m providing are extreme examples to prove a point, and to keep me from composing a straw man argument where I talk about hypothetical people’s hypothetical reviews.
The execution in the above review may be singular, but the sentiments expressed echo throughout Amazon pages, message boards, convention halls, and wherever else our proud, sweaty family gathers.
But let’s unpack this. First of all, there’s that word: “overrated.” It’s right in the title, actually.
Then we move on and the first sentence says that critics and fellow fans who somehow liked this movie have either been paid off or are posturing to look cool.
And it’s that first sentence where we get the rub. What most people who toss around the terms “hype” or “overrated” are really criticizing when they talk about stuff they don’t like, I think, is that they’re not reviewing the movie or book, they’re reviewing other people’s enjoyment. And by reviewing that enjoyment they are attempting to harsh said enjoyment.
And that’s not cool, man.
Well, that’s really it, I guess we don’t need to unpack the rest of that one, just kind of scratch our heads at why a movie being australian [sic] is automatically a demerit.
But while we’re on the page for The Babadook, let’s look at one more screengrab I took:
Now, when you look at that original review, it’s easy to discount the guy (no nudity? Heaven forbid! and “i am a horror guru and believe me i know good horror” feels like it should be coming from a guy wearing a trucker hat promising to Make Horror Great Again). But what I find so interesting in this screenshot is the commenter who felt the need, nay, the compulsion to respond to this review.
You know what? Mr. “The Babadook is for film fans, as opposed to horror fans” may have a better handle on standard written English than the reviewer, but I think his comment is legitimately more obnoxious. Ignoring the fact that he opens with a dismissal (or at least distancing) of the movie’s genre, he does exactly what I accused that first reviewer of doing: he’s critiquing someone’s opinion. And he’s doing it in the most condescending way possible.
So, what do these reviews for The Babadook tell us? I seem to be being pretty negative in this article, how do they connect with the “positivity” that I was promising in the headline? Especially since I’m poking a little fun at other people’s opinions (oh, yeah, I totally understand the hypocrisy paradox going on here and I apologize…kinda).
Well, what we have in these two reviews is a microcosm of the “slobs vs. snobs” culture war that has seemed to engulf our little genre over the last couple of years. I mean, it’s probably always been there, but it’s gotten way worse.*
I chose The Babadook for two reasons: first, it was literally the first page I visited to do research for this article, because I had a feeling it was going to provide me with rhetorical ammunition.
But secondly, The Babadook’s a movie where I myself have complicated feelings. Walking out of the theater, I really really loved it, but the more I thought about the film the more I had very little desire to revisit it. The first two thirds are awesome, a strong central performance that’s perfectly paired with the film’s themes (post-partum depression being literalized as a storybook monster? Dope. Sign me up), but the climax fails to thrill, on a personal level. Excepting how smart the last few scenes/images may be. So The Babadook is a film I’ve got strong like for, but not love, and it seemed like the perfect movie to try and “get the temperature of the room” with.
Did I feel that the film was “too hyped” or “overrated”? No, I wouldn’t use those words, but if I were going to choose a better alternative, I’d say that I was “[slightly] let down” by parts. If I used that language, I doubt that Captain “The Babadook is for film fans” would feel compelled to argue with me about my own opinion. And that criticism would be couched it in the context of discussing the parts I liked, not weighing my opinion against someone else’s, as if I were going to “win” an argument through dent of character (psst… it’s the Internet, we’re all anonymous jagoffs leaving drive-by comments for each other, most people aren’t going to enter into a discussion with you with any knowledge of you outside of whatever ethos you establish in that one post they’re commenting on).
And that’s where positivity comes in:
Champion the stuff you like. And, if you want to discuss the stuff you didn’t, then do it in a way that purely concerns the text, not what you think other people’s thoughts on the text are. It not only leads to better conversations, it leads to more quality appreciation of the genre we claim to be fans of.
There are so many books and movies in existence, more being produced every day, if you read/watched something you didn’t like, but choose to be more vocal about the stuff you did, then guess what: the bad stuff goes away and the good stuff gets spread around. Or the “bad stuff” becomes someone else’s responsibility to champion.
Horror fans are treated like the bastards of fandom because sometimes we deserve to be. Many of us shout people down, mistake “hardcore attitude” for hardcore knowledge, and get overly precious about our ::scare quotes:: classics. If we all tweak our online discourse a little bit, elevate things, think before we type, then maybe we win over some of the people we would have otherwise been fruitlessly arguing with. And that makes more horror fans.
So, in conclusion, because it’s easier to organize and because these articles always do better if they’re listicle-ized, here’s three guidelines to staying positive (and to avoid being screencapped and ridiculed by a middling horror writer**):
1) Haven’t seen/read the topic of discussion? Then STFU!
Don’t review or comment negatively about art you haven’t consumed. I mean, this seems like a no brainer. But I’d even extend this to say that, if you haven’t seen/read all of something or if you skipped around or skimmed because it was like, omgz, soooo boring, then you should think REALLY HARD about posting your thoughts.
Because everyone’s entitled to an opinion, but it’s only informed opinions that anyone cares about.
2) It’s cool to not like things, and it’s also cool not to be a d*ck about it.
I have a Facebook friend (and friend in real life, although I’ve only hung out with him a couple of times IRL) who has absolutely BAFFLING taste. He’s a contrarian to the nth degree, and there are times when the stuff he strongly dislikes (and the stuff he loves) actually offends me, might offend you too.
But when I read his posts, his thoughtful deconstructions of why he didn’t like that book or that movie, I see that he’s not being a jerk about it. He’s not crapping on anyone else’s opinion, and you know what? I’m wrong to be offended, because Bad Taste Guy is totally within his right to be Bad Taste Guy. And I love/appreciate him for it.
3) Don’t like things just because other people like them.
Ohhhhhhh snap! Just when you thought I was getting all didactic and holier-than-thou, I end on an up-note.
But let me explain: I’m not endorsing contrarianism for the sake of not being a “drone” or a square.
If you legitimately don’t like something, it’s way more interesting when you talk about the why you don’t like something rather than the enormity of the dislike. Critical consensus can be a pretty surefire way to find books/movies to check out, but even then something may not jive with you and that’s totally cool.
We’re living in a climate where entertainment is becoming more and more niche. Not everyone is supposed to like everything, and that’s wonderful. Ever hear your grandpa talk about how there used to only be 3 TV channels? Well, most of that programming was hot garbage that existed to fill air-time and get you to smoke Winstons (Tastes Good, Like A Cigarette Should), and it was garbage because it had to appeal to the broadest possible audience.
Media is now abundant and diverse, horror media even more so. So get out there and consume some, then tell us what you’ve been digging recently in the comments.
*If you don’t believe me, check out all the think pieces on “art house horror.” Which is a genre distinction that I’m not a huge fan of, because I don’t think “artfully made” should qualify something as a sub-genre. But that’s probably a rant best kept for another day.
**This is where I should probably defend against the accusation that, as someone who has a vested interest in receiving positive Amazon and Goodreads reviews of their work, I’m writing this tirade because I’ve received bad reviews of my own. Well, you’re half-right. I have received a handful of bad/weird reviews, but I’m of sober enough mind to realize that them’s the breaks and you can’t please everyone. But, by and large, the people who review my books (even when they have issues with them) are cool, articulate, and fair. But that’s because I tend to have a higher class of rad reader and you should be one if you want to sit at the cool kids table okay I’ll stop now…
Adam Cesare is a New Yorker who lives in Philadelphia. He studied English and film at Boston University. His books include Mercy House, Video Night, The Summer Job, and Tribesmen. He has an oft-neglected website and tweets as @Adam_Cesare.