The trailer for "Iron Man 3" debuted yesterday, and the grim stowaway that threatens to deflate all the joy I get from comic book films came with it. This evil goes by the name…Other People's Opinions. Or maybe you know the evil by a more specific moniker: Haters.
Literally as soon as I finished being blown away by the trailer, I got on Twitter (my mistake, I take full blame) and immediately saw gripes that the trailer was "too dark" and potshots at "Iron Man 2." The excitement I felt was immediately supplanted by the desire to correct people on the internet about the trailer's tone, and the urge to rally around "Iron Man 2" to protect it like a papa bear. The focus of this piece, though, isn't for me to explain my position on those two issues; the focus is to figure out why I even care in the first place.
I get absolutely insane about comic book films. The fervor that actual adults reserve for politics I have inside of me for big screen adaptations of people wearing spandex. Yes, I am a child, but I think it's preeeeetty adult of me to at least admit that my priorities are bonkers. When someone hates a comic book film that I love, I take it incredibly personal. Stupid personal. Insult-your-mom personal. I take any disagreement as a comment on my own intelligence, thinking that if this person thinks a movie I love is crap, then they surely think I'm a moron. I then argue with the person as if their opinion is the Chitauri to my Avengers, actively trying to destroy my opinion with their arm-gun-disintegrator-laser-things. My brain has considered too many of my friendships in legitimate peril just because the other person didn't enjoy "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World" as much as I did.
I know I should ignore those feelings because, again, not true. But actually doing that? That's hard! Haters are everywhere! People love hating things! People get a crazy rush out of hating on things, as if they could have made the perfect follow-up to "The Dark Knight." People also seem to take pride in being the one to dissent, like the smug tone the few people who trashed "Marvel Studios' The Avengers" had. Hating a thing does not make you smarter than the people who love it; just as loving a thing doesn't make you dumber than people who hate it.
All too often fans treat their opinion as immovable fact. I'm guilty of this, as are you. Yes, you. Every person who has a Twitter account has done this. Every person who has left a comment on an article or posted in a forum has done this. I think the biggest, most important key to advancing comic book culture is realizing that your opinion is just that. You, comic book reader, have no idea of the thought, reasoning and financial necessity behind things like "Before Watchmen" and "Avengers vs. X-Men." Fans have to realize that different human beings take away different experiences from these shared media products.
If haters gotta hate and lovers gotta love, what I want are amendments to every quick dismissal and praise that give insight into the opinions. "Iron Man 2 SUCKED" adds nothing to anything. It's dismissive, trolling, and gives the barest information. I get that Twitter is a 140-character platform, but come on. At least de-vague that statement by saying, "In my opinion, Iron Man 2 SUCKED." I feel a bit like Danny Tanner giving DJ and Stephanie a life lesson at the end of a "Full House" episode, but I see a difference between those two faux-tweets. One is void of all but hate, the other is hate phrased as a non-confrontational, personal opinion.
I have had people respond to my love for "Iron Man 2" with the response, "Naw, man, I hate to say this, but that movie sucks." No, man, that response is disrespectful of my opinion about a movie. In your opinion, that movie sucked. Let me tell you why I love it, and you can then tell me why you hate it. Neither of us is right, and it's incredibly wrong to label someone's opinion on a subjective art form as such. Even someone who thinks "From Justin To Kelly" was the cinematic masterpiece of 2003 has reasons why they think that. Are they a film scholar? Probably not. Are they a huge "American Idol" fan? Maybe. But if they have actual reasons why they love "FJ2K" (as the super fans call it), why should anyone try to dissuade them of that? The only time it's okay to negate someone's opinion are when actual human lives and rights are at stake. Don't pull that fire alarm unless there's actually a fire.
To use my own hate as an example, I really did not like "Amazing Spider-Man" that much. Other people liked it. I've listened to a lot of people explain why they liked it, and I saw valid points in all of their reasoning. I didn't think they were wrong or Neanderthals. Just because I didn't give it three snaps in a Z-formation (DATED REFERENCE ALERT), I didn't take to Twitter to eviscerate it. On the other hand, to use my own love as an example, I may or may not have said repeatedly that anyone who disliked "The Avengers" was just objectively wrong. So, I mean, I got some learning to do.
I've learned a lot about dealing with negativity through my improv career at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre. The very first thing they teach you in 101 is to diffuse what is, bewilderingly, everyone's first instinct: no fighting. For some reason, people in improv scenes feel that comedy comes from disagreement. When starting to perform long form improv, it's natural to distance yourself from your scene partner through critique and bickering. After all, if your scene partner is doing something stupid, better to not look like a dum-dum in front of the audience. But that's not how improv works, it’s not how teamwork works, and it shouldn't be how communities work. Improv instead teaches you to agree (or "yes-and" to all of you who listen to comedy podcasts) with your scene partner, to present a unified front. Your scene partner's idea is valid and, even if you or your character doesn't agree with it, you still engage with them fully to help them build upon it. That's how scenes work.
I think comic fandom could learn a thing or two from this. If all the arguments over a Superman redesign ceased devolving into immature name-calling and instead ended with all parties acknowledging everyone's right to an opinion, the internet would be a better place. I know haters are going to continue to hate because I haven't yet figured out how to place subliminal messages in my articles, but I have to stop letting them get to me. They're just movies and, more importantly, they're just other people's opinions. Aggressive defensiveness isn't going to change anyone's mind and, in the grand scheme of things, it doesn't matter. A comic book film being AWESOME or SUCKING affects people's basic human rights exactly negative-zero-zilch-nada percent. My energy is best spent elsewhere.
Brett White is a comedian living in New York City. He co-hosts the podcast Matt & Brett Love Comics and is a writer for the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre show Left Handed Radio: The Sequel Machine. His opinions can be consumed in bite-sized morsels on Twitter (@brettwhite).