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Shock-O-Rama: Enjoying the Movies (can we please?)
Why the frak do movie nerds have agendas?
By Chuck Francisco
July 31, 2013
"So bad that it's good"
Humans love labeling things, boiling down the details until only a bleached Skeleton remains. Labeling allows us to convey complex ideas in a fraction of the time we should actually spend discussing a subject. This is true of politics, religion, and sports rivalries. Sadly, cinema doesn't get away unscathed. Drowning on the puss soaked vitriol, and tripping over the absurd hyperbole offered up by the unwashed masses populating the intent has eroded away our cultural tolerance. But we're geeks; we're nerds; we're maniacs. Certainly Mania's level of decorum is of a higher standard than other bile infested locales around the web, but we're all riding on the S.S. Cynic, and she's sinking into a cesspool of raging discontent.
How did this come to pass? The same cult cinema obsessed fans who opine about the good old days of sleazy Crown International Pictures biker flicks now tear into the newest SyFy Saturday night special. This gnashing of teeth comes despite equivocal production values and a near identical target market. Has the Internet become our population's own Palpatine, churning hate stew into a never ending maelstrom of furious force lightning?
From the John Q. Reality-show-viewer I could accept this (some folks are just dumber than a bag of hammers), but how is it that geeks have been tainted by this toxic nastiness? Has the ease of access to previously legendary cult cinema morphed us into a collective who takes too much for granted? Instant access to box office reports, meta-critical averages, and hurl-able fruit-o-meters have turned every plugged in plebeian into an irrefutable expert. We all became Otaku, as Patton Oswalt discussed in his brilliant 2010 piece for Wired entitled Wake up, Geek Culture. Time to die. I was initially angered by this piece, laying upon it an accusatory tone which I brought to the party myself. He's right though. We're all self proclaimed experts on everything and we never earned that right; we simply read the Cliff's Notes.
Shifting our focus back to cinema, not every movie is an Academy Award Winning triumph of the human condition, nor should it all be. For every Argo I'm riveted by, there's a Sucker Punch which stimulates my audio-visual cortex without offering deeper meaning. No, I will not apologize for enjoying Sucker Punch; my point is precisely that we should never have to qualify our adoration of a film with an apology, especially when the movie in question falls under the pillow fort of nerdy cult pursuits. Nerds move to judge a film as binarily "good" or "bad" so quickly that it would snap Zod's neck (too soon?). Zack Carlson, programmer at the Alamo Drafthhouse (that hot bed of resurrected cult cinema gems), has posited that any film which succeeds in entertaining an audience is good regardless of the back handed complimentary label of "so bad that it's good". It has become nearly impossible to enjoy a film without qualification.
A quick glance at the IMDB message board of any film the week following its release (which I don't recommend to those possessing a weak constitution) showcases a roiling cauldron of hatred. Arguments explode like volcanic shafts, while weak trolls clutch the short and curlies of whichever argument serves their agenda. We're geeky movie fans- by Grabthar's Hammer, why the frak do we have agendas? My movie going agenda typically includes popcorn, a seat as close to the center as possible, and a willingness to be entertained. The ten year old in me was enraptured by Pacific Rim. Does the joy of that theater experience diminish proportionally in step with its box office results? What does the math formula for my loss of enjoyment look like? Is there an app to help me track the dip in enjoyment caused by how many other humans share my ticket purchasing decisions?
Despite making light of it, the root of this entire warped dynamic is valuation. As humans, our ego is tied up into a mishmash of pursuits. Since our limited lifespans don't allow us the time to engage in every geeky activity, we naturally seek what is perceived to be the "best". Our fragile sense of self is bound to these decisions, turning any attack on that film we enjoy into an attack on us. Conversely, cutting down a movie which is being dog piled by anonymous Internet cowards adds perceived value to our favored motion pictures; by diminishing others, we assume a higher position among the nerd-archy ("You like Spice World, that piece of schtako? What a loser" - meanwhile dude watches My Little Pony).
Horror host Mr. Lobo of Cinema Insomnia would like you to consider that "they're not bad movies, just misunderstood". It's with the seed of this idea which I'd prefer to end today. Nearly no movie is one hundred percent terrible; and no, this is not a call to list ones you think are in the comments. When you don't enjoy a movie, articulate why, then recognize why someone else might like it. We're all nerds, Maniacs, and it's ok to like whatever you enjoy. Otherwise, what's the point? Chuck Francisco is a columnist and critic for Mania, writing Wednesday's Shock-O-Rama, the weekly look into classic cult, horror and sci-fi. He is a co-curator of several repertoire film series at the world famous Colonial Theatre in Phoenixville, PA. You can hear him drop nerd knowledge on weekly podcast You've Got Geek or think him a fool of a Took on Twitter.