Remember after the reveal of Captain America: Steve Rogers #1 where the online community lost its minds? (You should, it wasn’t that long ago). Countless editorials desperate for your clicks came out saying writer Nick Spencer was spitting on the legacy of Joe Simon and Jack Kirby because he said “Hail Hydra” and it was hinted that he might have been an agent of Hydra all along. Or how about a bunch of dudes online who all “knew” that the Ghostbusters reboot is going to be the “worst film of all time” without ever seeing the product? Of course, that’s just two current examples (and the two I’ll focus on) but I’m starting to wonder if knee-jerk reactions are starting to get out of hand in the world of pop culture.
I led with the Captain America example because that is when I really started to notice this. I see this type of thinking all the time on Facebook and Twitter whenever something new comes out. I’m also bombarded with people saying that we are a generation of cry babies who are quick to be offended but I seem to usually see this with stuff that kinda matters socially; for example, with gay and transgender rights, insensitive and sometimes outright racist jokes, and pretty much everything about rape culture. When Captain America Steve Rogers’ new, post-Secret Wars book came out and it ended with that, in my opinion, incredible cliffhanger of the very symbol of America and standing up for the little guy say “Hail Hydra,” I was blown away. What did this all mean? Did this have something to do with Kobik and how that little Cosmic Cube girl gave him back his youth during the Assault on Pleasant Hill crossover event? Was this a clone or a mind-controlled Steve? I didn’t know. (Of course, we know now that the 2nd issue came out) The only thing I did know was I couldn’t wait to get the next issue.
But that was my reaction. Other people reacted quite differently.
There were the usual accusations of childhoods being ruined and raped (that phrase; “raped my childhood” really needs to go away, by the way), there was a guy who filmed himself burning a copy of it, accusations of Marvel just attempting to pull a stunt to sell books and an amazing amount of articles of people claiming that Spencer was pissing all over the history of the character. Granted, I will say there is validity to the claim about this being done to sell books but that is the business Marvel is in. They don’t exist to not make money but as for the rest of the reactions, they made no sense to me. I understand feeling passionately about a property (I’m a big fan of Cap., myself) but this was only the first issue. The issue that sets up the story arc—an arc that was only beginning and clearly had a lot more to tell. Do these people get up and leave a movie before the second act even starts and hit the internet to talk about how the story makes no sense and has no sense of closure?
And speaking of movies…
Unless you’ve been living under a rock or are new to this planet (be it a baby or an alien…or an alien baby), you’ve definitely heard of the Ghostbusters reboot and the backlash it has caused on the internet. The usual comments were made about how Hollywood has no ideas (never mind that remakes date back to the silent film era), people argued that their childhoods were sexually assaulted (seriously, we need to stop saying this because it only fuels the rape culture we live in and downplays how horrible rape is), and there’s been a fair share of comments made where one could easily question whether or not the person making them hates women. Heck, I know a guy who posts daily—that’s right, daily—that this remake is the “worst thing to ever happen.” He shares uncited claims that there’s been troubles on the set (without links, of course, or even being there) and has even gone as far as to say there is a conspiracy by Sony to make anyone providing “honest criticism” of the film look like a woman-hating misogynist. All of this because a cult film is being remade? Hell, all of this just because of a movie that he doesn’t want to see exists and exists against his wishes?
While I can understand someone being against the idea of a remake or even seeing a trailer and saying, “Yeah, that’s not for me, I won’t see it,” but what is a bigger mystery is the knee-jerk reaction to judge the film without seeing it. The guy I mentioned along with thousands of comments on any given article on the film has people declaring that this will be the “worst film ever made.” Another man I’ve had the unfortunate encounter with on social media has even gone as far to state how other people should feel about the film. Personally, I’m excited for it because I love the cast and I’m a huge fan of Paul Feig and this guy told me that “deep down, I knew it was going to suck.” To be honest, I don’t know. I hoped it is going to be good but I have to see it to really know. The strange thing was the minute this movie was announced, a slew of people immediately knew—not thought, but knew—the quality of the film—a film that haven’t watched yet. As a wannabe movie critic, that reaction makes no sense to me and it’s kinda hard to take those people seriously with their opinions.
I will admit that I’m guilty of my own knee-jerk reactions. When I heard the Spoilers for Captain America #1, I thought that it sounded cool and I was curious to see where that story arc would go. When I saw the announcement that one of my personal favorite directors/writers was going to do a female-centric Ghostbusters film, I was incredibly excited. While I didn’t go as far to say that either of these would be the “greatest” thing ever done, I had my own knee-jerk reaction but on the opposite end of the spectrum; a more positive and optimistic one.
Ultimately, though, you don’t really see these positive knee-jerks as often as you do with the out-right hateful ones. The internet is an overwhelming negative place where even a video on YouTube of a child dancing to their favorite song will get comments that attack the child’s appearance and will resort to say numerous other hurtful things. It seems like every time we get news of the latest comic book adaptation, the latest TV show being produced, cast members being added to a show, a fictional character’s sexuality being established or even deciding to gender-swap or change the ethnicity of a character for an adaptation seems to result in an overwhelming reaction from the fanboys that what is happening is the worst thing to ever occur. Think about when Michael B. Jordan was cast as the Human Torch in the reboot of Fantastic Four. Having a very talented black actor play a character that is normally white was apparently destroying the integrity of the comic book character. Mind you, Johnny Storm isn’t defined by his race in the slightest but to some their knee-jerk reaction was that this newly adapted version was going to be the grosses insult of all their lives. Then it turns out he was the best part of that film.
I’m not so naïve to think that this type of reaction is suddenly a new thing because parents stopped forcing their children to eat vegetables and we’ve suddenly evolved into people who won’t try stuff and just have a default setting of “Hate.” Growing up, I had friends saying, “That movie is stupid,” without seeing the film in question or fellow students in high school telling me that “comics are dumb and for kids,” even though they’ve never read a comic in their lives (most of whom are now texting me questions about these properties after they see the movies in theaters). However, the thing I’m wondering is if we are getting worse with this mentality. People already pride themselves for being jaded and cynical towards even the most mundane aspects of life but have we really come to a point where we just think everything is lame and that our first instinct is pure, uncut hatred? Is this what it now means to be a fan of something?
What is causing this? Why have we become so quit to judge everything and, most often, judge it negatively? In our new digital, social media, I-want-it-now age we have grown accustomed to having immediate satisfaction. We want our food fast, our messages instant and, it seems, our knees jerking. This type of reaction could just be our own way of adapting to a world that is constantly moving and a reality that is constantly bombarding us with information. During a time before the internet, we didn’t get leaked photos from the set and casting news was usually seen only in publications that circulated in the industry and rarely hit the news programs. Most of the time, we were forced to wait before we could make accusations about our childhood memories being obliterated until the product was released. However, I don’t believe this is the case because stories of knee-jerk “This can’t be happening” reactions were still around pre-internet. When Michael Keaton was announced to be the next Batman in the late 80s, the studio was overwhelmed by letters (actually ink and paper letters sent through the United States Postal Service) saying that there was “No way Mr. Mom could be Batman.” So, even with the amount of time it takes to write the letter, put it in an envelope, seal the envelope, slap a stamp on it and put it in the mailbox these people were still upset about casting news and never once calmed down and said, “Let’s see how this plays out.” That’s a long time to be upset. Maybe we’re not quick to hate and complain; maybe that’s just how we’re made.
Deep down I want to believe we’re all good people and we just sometimes get too passionate. Maybe this is a generational thing? Or maybe this is just something you do when you are young and dumb and you eventually grow out of it? But that can’t be either, think of all the adults on social media sites who react quickly to angry and annoyance. There’s the clichés of the aunt who emails you fake news stories about something Obama is supposedly doing and they tag with it how he’s “destroying the country” and add in something vaguely racist. Then there are the times when news sites desperate for content take an outdated and single instant of a kid doing something stupid and make claims that it is the “latest and deadliest trend among teens.” I see adults all the time share these stories and caption them with how “all kids are dumb” and “this generation is doomed.” Sure, this isn’t an adult whining about how a remake is destroying their childhood but there’s a knee-jerk reaction to misinformation. They take fake, satirical and flat-out made up stories and react to them like they are real and react wildly to it. That’s almost worst. Of course, there still is adults complaining about pop culture items. For example, when the last Indiana Jones film came out, I heard quite a few middle-aged people on Facebook talk about how Jones was “their generations’ film” and “kids nowadays don’t deserve their own Indy movie. Regardless of the quality of the film, this movie didn’t belong to anyone younger than them the moment it was made.
I desperately want to say that I have all the answers for this but I’m only human and I’m just as flawed as anyone can be. The reality is I don’t have the answer but only guesses and estimations. It would be easy to say that were are just a bunch of Debbie Downers, Negative Nancys, Cynical Clydes, Jaded Judys, Pessimistic Petes and a billion other adorable nicknames. I also won’t deny that, yes, some people are just negative about anything new or anything they perceive as trite or derivative. I also won’t deny that social media has given us an outlet for us to express these knee-jerk reactions and technology has given us the venue to express them immediately. However, what I think this stems from is our own basic instincts; our primitive selves expressing their own drives in a new and ever evolving world.
We are creatures of instinct—despite the claims by everyone on Facebook that Common Sense no longer exists. The drive and intuition that kept us developing as a species from the days we first started walking upright are still tingling in our brains like our very own Spidey-sense. New things can be dangerous, new things could get you killed when man was young and primitive. For the sake of protection, we looked at things skeptically because disaster could strike if we don’t. While a remake of Ghostbusters won’t threaten our survival, it is an alteration to the things we know. These people know Ghostbusters in one form (and for some, the one form will only be men) and having a new form is threatening to them and they react as anyone would when threatened; similar to the way a caveman would react to something new and something that could be a potential threat.
I’m not saying our knee-jerk reactions are 100% due to our primitive instincts taking over but I think they definitely play a part and play a part alongside our new social media and instant gratification society. Our world is always changing and we react to change badly because change means we have to leave our comfort zone. When we leave our comfort zone, we are naked and exposed to potential harm. Knee-jerk negative reactions seem to be our shield against any injury coming our way. If the Ghostbusters reboot isn’t funny then these guys were the ones who said how terrible it was all-along. If the Captain America Hydra story turns out to be lame, they can say they “called it.” If casting that black actor as a white comic character proves to be a mistake for any number of reasons, they can say, “This is why you don’t change things.” These reactions seem to be a way not for us to just be a bunch of whiney brats who hate everything but for us to simultaneously deny change and protect ourselves from it at the same time. Change is scary, change can be bad but change can be good for us, too. The problem is we don’t know the end result and getting our hopes up can be a bummer. To put it simply, we don’t know if that pan is hot and if it will burn our hand and some of us don’t want to risk that and would rather just assume that the pan is out to rape our childhoods.