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Letter sent on May 12, 2017

Wonder Woman vs. Clickbait

Let’s talk about Wonder Woman, clickbait, and being better fans.

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Originally today’s column was going to lead with my thoughts on Alien Covenant. But given the way the week has worked out, we’re going to put that on hold until Monday so that I can wax poetic about fandom and deliver some thoughts that will be dangerously inside baseball.

On our first day back to publication — Wednesday — we began publishing all of the articles that had been sitting around in the 10 days we spent offline. That 10 day period was far longer than expected, so we had a few things that were well out of date by the time the site was back up and running. This included Max Covill’s editorial about the marketing of Wonder Woman. Almost immediately upon publishing the piece, we were overwhelmed with feedback. This feedback fell into two categories:

1. Readers telling us that the information in the article was outdated.
They’re right, too. And in retrospect, I should’ve killed the article. That’s on me as the editor of the site. I put Max in a bad spot publishing that article so late in the game. At the time he wrote it, there were concerns about whether or not Warner Bros. was doing enough to build awareness for its first female-led superhero film. This concern was a driving force behind the piece. Because you know what, we all have sisters, daughters, and women in our lives who for too long haven’t seen enough of themselves in our on-screen heroes. That matters. It’s not a DC thing or a Marvel thing. The compulsion to root for such a film comes from a very human place. It’s a well-written piece that we’re proud of, but the timing wasn’t great.

2. There are reflexive, angry groups of fans out there.
This is the more important point that I’d like to address. It’s one thing to call us out for publishing an article that probably should’ve been published earlier, but another thing entirely to react as if an entire class of film fans is under siege. If you’d like to see some evidence of this, read the replies to this tweet.

There’s something I’ve long wished to say to the throngs of DCEU fanatics who come out guns blazing in response to every perceived slight. Something I’d love to say in person, as the barrier of the internet often strips away the humanity of conversation. I’d like to tell them that what we do — and I say “we” in this context to mean myself and the team at Film School Rejects, not film media writ large — is not some performative battle against your deeply-held fandom. This isn’t a team sport. There’s no ideology or “side” that will ever win or lose. For those of us who write about film for a living, there is even less skin in a game. We are simply observing, analyzing, and contextualizing the properties we cover. In short, I don’t care about Marvel or DC. I care about good movies and TV, quality shared experiences, and the discussions that we can have based on these experiences.

These problems exist on both sides of this completely fabricated conflict. Yesterday, we featured a Shot on One Perfect Shot from Batman v Superman. I picked it out myself. It’s a Shot I like from a movie that I didn’t particularly care for. But you know what? Plenty of people like that movie. And even if you didn’t, it’s okay to appreciate the work of Larry Fong, whose work is often very good. The responses were almost as bloody but in the other direction. How could we possibly see anything good in this garbage Zack Snyder movie?

The answer is that I don’t care about any of that. I’m not taking a side. There are Marvel things I like and Marvel things I dislike. There are DC things I like and DC things I don’t like. Whether or not I like them has little to do with the title card at their onset and everything to do with the quality of my experience. I loved the experience of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 and loathed the hot mess that was Suicide Squad. Does this mean I’m a shill? A critic paid by Marvel to put my thumb on the mighty scales of Rotten Tomatoes? Nope. You don’t like it when someone says bad things about your favorite cinematic universe? Try having your integrity as a person questioned because of your opinion of one movie.

There’s another level to this — and I’ll be brief — that has to do with the accusations of Clickbait. A superfluous claim that pre-dates everyone’s new favorite media criticism, Fake News. And I get it, there’s a lot of garbage content out there. “You won’t believe” claims that you will, in fact, believe; Spoilers in headlines; Headlines that say one thing with articles that say another. My recommendation to you if you frequent sites that partake in these nasty practices: stop reading them.

Clickbait isn’t what we do here.

Clickbait implies that what we’re selling you isn’t what we’re delivering when you give us your click. Sure, we write fun headlines that may charge up emotions, cause you concern or curiosity, or present you with an offer that you can’t refuse. Those are just good headlines. Their purpose is to make you want to read the 1,500 words we’ve written about Don Bluth movies or the honest opinion of someone who liked The Circle. Even in our most sensational moments — like the time I really lit into Suicide Squad — we believe wholeheartedly that our article backs up the headline. We need to stop treating everything like it’s some bait-and-switch ruse to (a) turn your precious reading time into piles of cash and (b) indoctrinate you into some secret Marvel cabal.

In the end, perhaps it’s the weeks of hard work to get this new version of our site up and running that has me expecting more. I expect more of myself, and of our writers, and of fandom at large. We should hold ourselves to a higher standard of consumption and discussion. Put away your pre-conceived notions about “the other side” and seek to connect on a human level. Seek to understand and have a discussion with another human. If you don’t agree, so be it. I’m simply a believer that in the end, there’s more that brings us together than tears us apart. We all love pop culture. That’s why we’re here in the first place. And we want the best out of the things we consume.

Rule number one: don’t be a dick. Also, remember that you don’t need my permission to like or dislike a movie.

Alien Covenant thoughts coming Monday. Another opportunity to have a great discussion. The usual Opening Credits odds-and-ends are below.

Today in Pop Culture History

Michelangelo Antonini won the Grand Prix du Festival International du Film at Cannes for Blowup on this day in 1967.

Homer Simpson was born 61 years ago today in Springfield, USA. Have a donut, big guy.

What You Need to Know Today

American Gods has been renewed for a second season by Starz. There’s plenty Mr. Wednesday to go around.

Wonder Woman is currently tracking… Well, the tracking is all over the place for how Diana Prince will do at the box office. Dependent upon who you read, it could be $65 million or $115 million or somewhere in between. As someone who hopes that (a) it’s good and (b) it spawns many badass lady warrior flicks, I’m rooting for the higher number. The only thing I know for sure is that it’s going to beat Green Lantern.

Ridley Scott said this week that there may only be two more Alien sequels. Or prequels. Or whatever the hell these are. Here’s the money quote from Sir Ridley: “I don’t know. [I’ll make] maybe two more [films], or maybe one more, I don’t know.” Sounds solid to me.

ICYMI

Meg Shields wrote a fantastic brief history of black and white cuts of modern films in honor of Logan Noir.

In his ranking of the must see movies of May, our Rob Hunter picked a few very interesting titles that had slipped by me, including Berlin Syndrome, a film I missed at Sundance.

Meg Shields added her own longread to our list this week with this delightful read about cinematic spinsters. If you substitute cats for a dog and swap genders, you basically have a biopic about me.

Shot of the Day

In the event that you’re looking to watch a good King Arthur movie this weekend.