“Have you seen it yet?”
It’s a question I find myself thinking a lot (and occasionally writing with the Caps Lock off) whenever I read through comment sections on this and other sites. It obviously crops up most with early movie reviews and comments that are a a pleasant blend of Especially Vitriolic and Devoid of Details, and until now it was a vague annoyance that seemed slightly beyond definition.
Then last night while recording the forthcoming episode of Broken Projector, Geoff mentioned that he recently watched a movie he knew he he wouldn’t like in order to “hate it properly.” Lightning struck. The Childlike Empress was named.
Hating movies properly is a great concept — one that sadly has been challenged by people who want to react to something they can’t react to yet.
The key to hating properly is seeing the thing you’re hating in order to legitimately hate it. A kind of self-evident reality that has escaped the keen eye of a handful of fans online. The problem with the question I opened with is that too often it’s met with a tell-tale silence or an admission that the person, in fact, hasn’t seen the thing they’re trashing yet. Which is baffling.
Let’s be clear: everyone’s opinion is equally valid. That’s how opinions work. They can’t be “wrong,” because they aren’t facts. Sure, you can argue the individual strength of how educated or contextualized a particular opinion is, but the way someone thinks about something is the way they think about it. Subjectivity/Objectivity is a binary system, and opinions always, always, always fall in the debatable murky gray of the former.
But talking about something you haven’t seen doesn’t constitute an opinion. It’s an inkling. Or a prejudice. Or an assumption. The correct response is, “I don’t have an opinion on that.”
Haven’t seen 12 Years a Slave yet? Then you don’t have an opinion on it. Haven’t seen Frozen but think it promotes a gay agenda? No you don’t, because you don’t have an opinion on it. Haven’t seen Nymphomaniac but think it’s pornographic? Nope. No opinion.
This seems to work on the flipside of quality, too. In fact, it might even be stronger there. Like when The Dark Knight Rises ran into its Rotten Tomatoes trouble a while back. Potential fans lost their minds over a negative review for a movie that the vast majority of them hadn’t seen yet, dividing and succumbing to a pack mentality purely because someone had dared to dislike a thing they thought they might like. RT ended up having to close comments on the page.
And, yes, the fact that it extends beyond comment sections (in the Frozen case alluded to earlier) is truly scary.
Passion is an amazing thing, but when it gets twisted into zealous adherence to a pre-opinion (read: non-opinion), it becomes something ugly and perverse.
There’s a giant pile of social psychology at work when it comes to how and why we share our opinions online. Maybe the ubiquity of Twitter silently pressures us to constantly be part of a conversation; maybe it’s the natural and timeless urge to belong; maybe the search for more robust understandings and challenges to the way we think devolve; maybe the ease of anonymity allows a too-convenient outlet for adding to the noise; maybe the desire to be “in the know” drives us to lie about the purview of our experiences.
There’s also the shorthand element, that saying you hate something is easier than going into detail about the reason for anticipatory feelings. I’ve told my wife for years that I hate Brussels sprouts even though the last time I ate them, my favorite food was pasketti. It’s just easier. That ease of use also extends to a decision not to engage with something that might alter our pre-existing notions: yelling negativity about something that appears to poke at our beliefs or quality assessment is effortless, but “I don’t need to see it to know I don’t like it” isn’t a factual statement.
Having an opinion on something is easy, but the process of forming one takes effort. In order to attain the privilege of owning an opinion, and of sharing it, we have to have experienced the thing that we want to judge.
All of the group psychology is well beyond the areas of my expertise, but I (like all of you) witness the opinion-blasting phenomenon on a daily basis — replete with its triumphs and irritations — and for whatever reason it exists, it’s given birth to a tiresome reality for anyone attempting genuine discourse. Not a world-ending one. Not even really an overwhelming one. A nuisance that needs to be slapped down. And maybe we all need a reminder once in a while that until we’ve seen it, we can’t hate a movie properly. Otherwise we don’t have a leg to stand on when we climb that soap box.
Now, I’m gonna go eat some Brussels sprouts.