Recently, while browsing about the Internet reading various movie reviews as I am wont to do, I decided to check out viewers’ perspectives on The Dark Knight Rises, the much-anticipated sequel to the blockbuster 2008 Batman flick. What I found, upon performing a simple Google search for the title, was both hilarious and disturbing: the critical review aggregator Web site Rotten Tomatoes had temporarily banned comments on the film because a plethora of vicious commenters (we’re talking hundreds) had posted profane and threatening responses to critics who gave the film a negative review. Whoops, sorry for the lack of emphasis. I mean profane and threatening!
I’ll spare you, dear reader, from a diatribe of pedantic musings regarding what this says about the state of critical thinking in America. In brief, let me just say that it makes me very sad. But I’d also like to pose two simple questions for further discussion: How should we define the word “argument”? Why do people feel so threatened about differing viewpoints?
Of course, to understand how a troll might answer these questions, one must examine what a troll actually says. So without further ado, let’s take a look at an example, shall we?
One Dark Knight worshipper, hight “Chorps,” writes this gem to the critic Rex Reed for his negative appraisal of the film:
Rex, what you’ve written is an insult to criticism. It’s sensationalistic, narrow-minded writing like yours that has led to an internet culture that makes extreme judgements in an instant instead of actually engaging in a debate about creative work. You bash a movie with inaccurate metaphors that only you find clever as a form of public masturbation. I don’t expect this movie to be perfect, but I know for sure it isn’t going to be the incomprehensible mess you described. If you’re going to have an opportunity to shape public discussion, have the decency to put some thought into it instead of making a lazy attack designed to boost traffic on your site and incense online communities. If you don’t have enough of an opinion to share about film, stop writing and give somebody else a chance to do something of merit.
You may need to pause for a moment. If you’re wired like me, you sometimes need to allow time to let the unbelievable hypocrisy and stupidity of the things people say make their way from your ocular nerve to your brain. OK, done! Now for some good, old-fashioned, snarky remarks.
As a start to my heckling, I should point out that this crazed caped-crusader groupie, in medias res, tacitly admits that he hasn’t even seen the movie yet! Or, as he puts it, “I don’t expect this movie to be perfect, but I know for sure it isn’t going to be the incomprehensible mess you described.” Well gee, I guess that ends the discussion. Why does the all-knowing “Chorps” even need to see it, I wonder? He can vent his rage right now by pointing his clicks to Amazon and writing a review in which he gives the film an A+, fabricates the film’s content, and spouts laudatory superlatives to his heart’s content. He may even want to throw in a few eloquently worded remarks about Reed, calling him a “sour poopy-face” and a “hurtful meanie.”
This preconception makes the rest of what he says all the more amusing. Really, it’s hard to know where to even begin with this: “It’s sensationalistic, narrow-minded writing like yours that has led to an internet culture that makes extreme judgements in an instant instead of actually engaging in a debate about creative work. You bash a movie with inaccurate metaphors that only you find clever as a form of public masturbation.” Besides the obvious—making an assertion without a whit of counterargument (ah right, because he hasn’t see the movie; how silly of me!)—this bare-faced fool castigates Reed for “extreme judgments” and for failing to enter into a discussion. Talk about the pot calling the kettle black. This fanboy could have practiced what he preached right there. Verily, he could have had readers marveling at the complexity and depth of his perceptions. Hell no, he says to himself. It’s easier to spew invective and then see what other like-minded numbskulls agree with him. Or, in his choice of words, engage in “public masturbation.”. The proof is in the sludge, er, I mean pudding, as the old saying goes. You need but scroll down a little further to see blind support for “Chorps’s” idiocy: “Chorps, way to put him in his place,” comes the acquiescence from “thatguy.”
One could, of course, gently chide “Chorps” despite his unbridled dumbassdom. One could point out that his remarks constitute a commission of several of the best-known logical fallacies—among them ad hominem, ad verecundiam, bandwagon, and limited-depth. But you, I, and, heck, the American people should realize by now that it wouldn’t do any good. That’s because, as the movie critic Eric D. Snider writes in the “Angry Letters” portion of his Web site, “[T]o actually sit down and write an angry, volatile, hate-filled letter — that’s beyond ordinary. It takes a special, unique kind of individual to go to that kind of trouble over something as simple difference of opinion.” Well said.
At the risk of stating the obvious, I would add that there is, indeed, a name for “that kind of individual”: a narcissist.
In short, this is a person who has no real opinions of his own, who needs to hide behind the opinions of the mob to feel omnipotent, and who uses every shadowy, sophistic form of reasoning in the book to try to attack those who disagree with him.
As it turns out, narcissism is the answer to both of the questions I posed earlier. How does the narcissist define argument? He defines it, ipso facto, as any utterance that comes out of his mouth, for anything he says must, by definition, be more correct than another person’s, not because it’s actually more correct based on reasoning, but just simply because he’s a wondrous deity. And why does he feel so threatened? Simply put, he lacks a superego, a guiding voice to tell him that his opinions are external to his ego, that he’s not a bad person just because someone else had a different take on a film than he did. Yet he chooses, of his own volition, to become a bad person by joining the ignorant throng of loser commenters who don’t even know what criticism means. It’s a paradox, that’s for sure.
The one thing I agree with “Chorps” on is the Internet. It’s true: look on almost any site that allows comments, and you’re almost sure to find “extreme,” hateful perspectives expressed by ignoramuses, spoiling it for the few genuinely thoughtful individuals who want to use a difference of opinion to help shape their own. Thanks, “Chorps,” for making the World Wide Web a more intolerant place.