So all of a sudden everyone is talking about you, the Internet reader — or, more specifically, the Internet commenter. On Thursday, Slate‘s Katie Roiphe took a close and thoughtful look at something that most of us who write online have long presumed as par for the course: the angry commenter. “It’s easy to see how one might disagree with or dislike an article,” Roiphe writes, “but what is more bewildering and bears examination is the response of hating the writer’s guts. One would think, reading some of these comments, that the writer has done something to the commenter, that there has been some deep personal transgression.” (Roiphe’s piece has, predictably, prompted nearly a thousand comments — most of them angry.) Over at the Atlantic, Rebecca J. Rosen notes that comments “continue to be terrible, and it’s not only because of trolls and morons. Internet comments are hard to read and harder to engage with. Even in places with smart, thoughtful readers, the comment sections tend to be more like lists of unconnected ideas than genuine conversations.”
Everyone who has written for the Internet has their own horror stories, and this author is no exception; I’ve been called “pretentious,” “painfully philistine,” and “a 13-year with ADD” (and that was all within one article’s comments), and last month’s anti-Eddie Murphy piece drove one reader to bypass comments altogether and track me down on Twitter, so’s to better inform me that the piece was not only “shitty,” but “biased.” (Imagine that! Bias in an opinion piece!) Ultimately, though, it comes with the territory, and if you’re going to make a (meager!) living voicing an opinion, you’ve got to be prepared to hear some dissent. Sometimes, a lot of dissent.
In the interest of fairness, it must be noted that commenters are frequently enlightened, well-informed, and thoughtful, and the discussions that have occurred in our comments section have often prompted reconsideration, if not re-evaluation, of the ideas we’ve bandied about. However, in the year I’ve spent writing about film for Flavorwire I’ve also noticed certain trends within the commenting community — both in our film posts, and in those of the other film sites we follow for news and inspiration. There are certain types of commenters you see, over and over, amongst the more feverish/engaged film-reading community.
1. The Reminder: When you do as many “listicles” (the hybrid of list and article) as we do around here, often based in the trope of “the best” or “most memorable” or “our favorite,” then the opinions therein will, often, omit a favorite of the reader. We always like it when commenters throw in their own faves; hell, we encourage it. But there’s a specific tone that The Reminder takes on, most easily spotted by opening with some version of the phrase “How could you possibly have left off…” and ending with a variation on “…which redefined cinema and American culture forever” — i.e., “How could you have even considered omitting Freddy Got Fingered from your list of the best father-son movies? The scene where Tom Green sprays Rip Torn with elephant semen is not only a penetrating analysis of the Oedpical complex, but a moment of neo-surrealism that changed contemporary cinematic comedy forevermore.” The specific object of The Reminder’s ire often makes them a cousin to another favorite…
2. The Obscurist: As much as I would like to, I have not seen every movie ever made. Occasionally an omission can be explained away by that simple failing; the canon is large and overwhelming, but rest assured, I’m doing my level best to catch up. There are those — scores of them, I’m sure — who have seen many more films than I have, and I doff my cap to them. What you encounter, on occasion, in the comments sections on film sites, are those who have not only seen everything, but would like to take the opportunity to dazzle you with the breadth of their viewership by title-dropping some utterly unknown obscurity. Example: “Any list of disturbed children films is incomplete without Shuji Terayama’s incredible 1970 experimental film Emperor Tomato Ketchup, in which the children revolt and take over the world. Though it’s only available in Japanese, it’s a must-see.”
3. The Contrarian: As far as The Contrarian is concerned, anything that was well-reviewed, well-liked, or well-awarded was absolute garbage, and anything that was universally reviled was a secret masterpiece. Thus: “How utterly predictable, that you would embrace the asinine art-house gimmickry and shallow familial discomfort of Martha Marcy May Marlene while ignoring the true chef d’oeuvre of domestic dissolution that is Sandler’s Jack and Jill.” Also known as “The Armond.” Not altogether removed from…
4. The Misanthrope: Everything, ever, is terrible: the post, the films discussed, the directors who made them, film as a form, the Internet, America, life. “The Godfather is a long, dull, worthless piece of middlebrow bullshit, and any writer who sings its praises is a hack, a lowlife, and a pedophile. I’m unsubscribing from your mailing list and petitioning the FCC for your removal from the Internet on charges of bad taste and worse grammar, and for making me click through every page of this braindead list.”
5. The Kubrickian: Look, different filmmakers speak to different viewers in different ways, but the world of Internet film writing is a lonely place indeed if you’re not a fan of Mr. Stanley Kubrick. And your humble author does not dislike him; I’m fully aware of the importance of his work and the power of his influence. But he does not have the same hold over my movie-going life as he does for the legions (and I do mean legions) of his acolytes on the Internets, so I don’t put him on every single listicle — though there is always one hardcore Kubrick apostle to point out the oversight, i.e., “The only true holiday movie is Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut, which weaves through upper-crust Christmas parties and a haphazardly-decorated London-for-Manhattan, its was-it-or-wasn’t-it-a-murder plot representing nothing less than the transient presence of Christ himself in the over-commercialized holiday,” etc. etc.