Pop Rocks

Pop Rocks: Why Shutting Down Comments on Rotten Tomatoes Isn't a Bad Thing

By the time you read this, I will be dead.

No wait, what I meant was: By the time you read this, I'll have seen The Dark Knight Rises. The screening is/was Wednesday night, and I can guarantee I will have had one of two reactions: Either I liked it or I didn't.

My review will be up tomorrow morning, as usual. Art Attack allows anyone who cares to do so to make a comment on our entries, so you'll have that option if you'd like to agree/disagree with my take on the latest Batman flick.

At some point on Friday, I'll also get around to linking the review on Rotten Tomatoes (yes, I am on the "Tomatometer," go figure). You won't have the option of commenting there, however, because the site has shut down commenting on TDKR following death and rape threats against both critics giving negative reviews and fellow commenters expressing dissenting opinions ("dissent" apparently meaning anything not congruent with "The Dark Knight Rises is going to be fucking awesome!!!!")

Is disabling comments on Rotten Tomatoes a good idea? A better question might be: Does it matter? Because with a few exceptions, I doubt many critics read the comments on RT in the first place.

I'm not trying to be snotty, honest. I mean, most of us here at the Press read and respond to comments on our blog entries. If it seems I'm less prone to do so on my reviews, it's because I usually only jump in when there's a factual issue or something needs clarification. But rarely do I get into a debate over someone whose opinion differs.

And why is that? Because it's an *opinion* (man). I've been doing this movie review thing -- here and elsewhere -- for almost ten years, and I'm constantly stupefied by the extreme umbrage some people will take when someone doesn't agree with them, magnified a hundredfold by the anonymity of the Internet.

"How can it be bullshit to state a preference?"

The only difference between my views on a movie and yours is that I have a slightly higher profile forum in which to express myself. That's really it, and as with most things, it's equal parts luck and hard work that got me to this spot. Just because a few hundred (or dozen, let's be realistic here) more people see what I have to say about frigging Magic Mike doesn't make it any more valid than what you have to say.

Though I will match my knowledge of Channing Tatum's filmography against anyone's.

[On a side note, how come Art Attack still has less than a thousand "likes" on Facebook? I've seen the shit you people give a thumbs-up to ('John Q. Blandington likes Chase Bank and Justin Bieber'), so don't tell me you're too discriminating.]

As for Rotten Tomatoes, here's the thing: Quite a few of the reviews linked on the site (including all the "Top Reviewers") are done automatically, without any action by the author. Roger Ebert and A.O. Scott don't laboriously cut and paste their URLs on the site, and are probably too busy to lurk afterwards. Thus, they're unlikely to be aware you bothered to chime in on their breakdown of the latest Tyler Perry movie.

And why should they? More and more these days, reviews hit the aggregators (Metacritic is another) days before a movie is released. So unless everybody commenting has also somehow gotten to see the movie in advance, it's an easy bet they're merely coming by to disagree with the critic in the most profane way possible, based solely on their expectation of the coming film.

Anyone who saw the comments on Christy Lemire's linked review before they were edited and then halted knows what I mean. Many bad-ass, pseudonymed souls not only lobbed homosexual slurs (I don't know if Ms. Lemire is straight or gay, not that it would matter either way) but made not-so-oblique references to committing violence against her person. Marshall Fine, who had the bad luck of posting the first negative TDKR review, actually had to pull it at one point because the crush of people logging in to call him a "fuckstick," among other things, was crashing RT's servers.

All because they didn't care for a movie. About a guy who dresses like a bat.

The upside is, it's highly unlikely Lemire or Fine or just about any other critic on there read those comments in the first place. Debate about movies *can* take place on Rotten Tomatoes (they have a message board and groups and what-not), but the comments section is merely an echo chamber in which the dwindling number of measured voices are eventually drowned out by anonymous morons with the social mores of a Farrelly Bros. character and broken Caps Lock keys.

As the Con Ed worker said in Die Hard, "Shut it down. Shut it all down."

KEEP THE HOUSTON PRESS FREE... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Peter Vonder Haar writes movie reviews for the Houston Press and the occasional book. The first three novels in the "Clarke & Clarke Mysteries" - Lucky Town, Point Blank, and Empty Sky - are out now.
Contact: Pete Vonder Haar