It’s happened before—a critic doesn’t like the latest popular superhero movie and tanks its 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and fanboys flip out and say a bunch of totally over the top, inappropriate stuff in the comments section, embarrassing themselves and second-hand embarrassing nerds at large. To date, the most famous example of this phenomenon occurred when Marshall Fine posted the first negative review of The Dark Knight Rises, prompting frothing rage and death threats from fanboys.
This is a weird thing that happens in geek culture, and it seems to happen most frequently—and most vociferously—with comic book movies. And it’s happened again this week, as The Village Voice’s Stephanie Zacharek didn’t respond to Guardians of the Galaxy and had the gall to post a negative review. First, her review isn’t even that bad. She just seems indifferent to the movie, and she makes her case well—Zacharek is a good film critic, one of the few surviving who cut her teeth in print journalism, and then led the curve as reviews moved online over the last fifteen years. And second, Zacharek is a woman, which has revealed a gross misogynistic bent to the vitriol.
“…Her opinion is 100% worthless, as is any woman's for that matter...” writes one commenter. “…This harlot has the nerve to knock it because it's too fun?” says another. Things descend further into the muck with comments like: “She's just pissed because she lives in the Village full of gay men and no one wants any of her old, dried out pie,” and my personal favorite: “She should stick to reviewing chick flicks only.”
When you publish your opinion, whether it’s in a paper, magazine, or online, you open yourself up to disagreement. That’s fine, it’s just part of the job. I deal with it myself, and for the most part, disagreement comes in the form of (mostly) civil, fun debate. Occasionally you get a jackhole in your inbox or comments section, but even that’s usually good for a laugh, if nothing else. But there’s an ugliness to what happened (is happening) to Zacharek that goes beyond even that usual expectation. It boils down to one thing: How dare a woman disagree with me.
Compare the comments on Andrew O’Hehir’s review, also negative and harsher than Zacharek’s, and posted on Salon.com, a comparable outlet to The Village Voice (and Zacharek’s old stomping grounds). You can see the difference right away—plenty of people disagree with O’Hehir’s opinion, but there’s very little name-calling or personal attacks. Most of the discourse is between commenters about whether or not the word “fascism” was used correctly, and the harshest criticisms of O’Hehir himself are pretty much limited to picking on his general distaste for superhero movies.
This is a gross reminder that despite strides being made in the diversification of geek culture, women remain marginalized, even as our buying power is increasing. The upside is that this behavior is not going unremarked—Village Voice film editor Alan Scherstuhl took the unruly commenters to task, and geek sites have erupted over the last couple days, pointing out the crassness of the commenters’ response. So the people attempting to marginalize Zacharek for being a woman are themselves being marginalized for being assholes. But still. Sh*t on a superhero movie and you’re guaranteed to get some colorful comments, but do it as a woman and you’re going to get the bitterest nerd-bile puked in your general direction.