The dark stink rises
“Why so serious?” a worthy foe of The Dark Knight once enquired. At least the Joker had a sense of humour – more than can be said of the hordes of online hyper-fans who police the web for anyone who dares to puncture their comic-book bubbles. OMGWTF? asks DONALD CLARKE
BEFORE WE BEGIN, let us make one thing clear. There will be no revelations about the plot of The Dark Knight Rises in this illtempered, mean-spirited rant by an older film critic who – though he likes the series – doesn’t think Christopher Nolan’s Batman franchise can solve world hunger or reverse climate change. So, there will be no need to access Twitter and type the (horrible) word “spoiler” over and over again until your thumb bleeds.
The obsession with plot revelations in reviews is just the most conspicuous manifestation of contemporary hyper- fandom in action. The whingeing has become a modern parlour game. A million film fans devote all their spare time to scouring copy for elements of story. Critics have been discussing the plots of novels for aeons. Reviewers have been offering synopses of films for a century. In the past five years, however, the unavoidable practice has taken on the quality of well-poisoning or cattle molestation. Forget about revealing that Rosebud is a sled. Don’t dare even mention that Charles Foster Kane wears a hat.
The hyper-fans wander around in a state of permanent righteous indignation. They don’t just adore the latest superhero picture, juvenile wizard adaptation or science-fiction reboot. They feel they own the property. If any critic dares to defile the sacred entity, he or she will be made to feel they have burst into the commenter’s home and taken a dump in the baby’s cot. The internet throbs with fury.
When did it all begin?
The release of Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man in 2002 is probably a good place to start. Columnists would not begin babbling about Web 2.0 for another two years, but there were already enough outlets on which Spidey fans could get stratospherically upset about the great “organic web-shooter” controversy. As you may recall, Sam (unlike the makers of the recent The Amazing Spider-Man) had decided that, even in the Marvel Universe, it seemed implausible that Peter Parker could, over a busy afternoon, manufacture a substance that would revolutionise materials science. So, rather than emanating from machines, Spider-Man’s webbing emerged from glands in his wrist. Taking on the mantle of brave Rosa Parks, the angrier commenters demanded a boycott.
When I spoke to Raimi about this before release, he smiled and cast his eyes to heaven. The virtual furore seemed to have taken him entirely by surprise. Within five years, such spats had reached epidemic proportions.