Jun 16, 2012

Dealing With Nerd Rage: This Time It's War

From my Guardian column:—
'... Last week saw the US release of Prometheus, Ridley Scott’s long-awaited follow-up to his 1979 sci-fi-horror hybrid Alien. The film had already opened in the UK, where it had met with a mixed reception with both critics and fans. Many American fans, on the other hand, had yet to have the film open in their city, thus setting the stage for what soon turned into an all-out firefight, waged on fansite message boards and comment threads, as disillusioned Brits engaged in a vigorous sperlunking of the film’s plot-holes —  why does Michael Fassbender’s android keep switching sides?    Why doesn't Idris Elba seem to care about his crew? Why is Guy Pearce in old man make-up when they could have just hired an older actor? — while infuriated Americans, still in a state of peachy expectancy for the latest installment of this beloved franchise, hurled accusations of deliberate transatlantic spoilers. Insinuations of British miserablism quickly followed, to be countered by sly characterisations of the gullibility of the American national character. Then someone decided to bring up the revolutionary war of 1775.        
“I liken the engineers to the English, I mean British empire,” taunted M3Princess, referring to the Godlike Engineers who lord it over the human race in Scott’s film, over at at Prometheus-movie.com. By the end of the weekend, it boasted some 7060 discussions, containing 92,936 posts written by some 9,167 fans, in various states of defiance and distress. “You guys are acting like Ridley personally butt-raped anyone who ever liked Alien,” raged one of the film’s defenders at the sci-fi mecca Ain’t It Cool, where founder Harry Knowles ended his largely positive review by advising his commentators not to "just circle up into bitching circles.” So naturally his readers all linked hands, said a prayer and shared, in a spirit of love and service, the exact level of mental retardation required in the gene pool of the previous commentator and his immediate family in order for him to espouse the views he has just spelt out in ANGRY CAPITAL LETTERS in the comments section above.    
 “I feel terrible that your ten year old has a retard for a father,” snarled one. “I hope he gets the care he needs after they lock you away for being an idiot.” Elsewhere, the fight   divided up  along generational lines. My parents hated Prometheus so much, mom went on a rant about it for 30 straight minutes. It was a proper nerd-rage. It’s kind of adorable,” tweeted one movie’s fans on Tumblr. “OH MY GOD WHILE I WAS WRITING THIS POST SHE STARTED UP AGAIN.” 
Only a prequel can inspire this much passion. Sequels can fall short or fail to honor the memory of the original — there are some Alien fans, this writer included, who fail to acknowledge the existence of the fourth film, by Jean-Pierre Jeunet, let alone the Alien vs Predator spin-offs — but a prequel, particularly one made by the father of the franchise, returning after a 30-year absence, remixing the “DNA” of the original film, threatens a particularly intimate form of violation. It’s like someone messing with your movie memories. When George Lucas released The Phantom Menace in 1999, the effect on the fans was spectacular and divisive, this once-strong fanbase cloven neatly in two, the ‘Bashers’ and the ‘Gusher’s’ arguing tooth and nail as to whether Lucas could really be trusted with his own saga. It became known as the ‘Gusher-Basher’ wars.    
The fighting was as long, hard and bloody as only internecine warfare can be. “I fear there can be no true reconciliation,” intoned one of the group’s elders finally, with a weariness worthy of Obi Wan himself. The wiser among them broke away from the group and attempted to broker a peace within themselves, recognizing that there was a bit of Basher in every Gusher, and vica-versa. They wrote long-form essays with titles like ‘Learning to Cope With The Phantom Menace,’  in which they mined their mixed feeling for hard-won wisdom. “People like me, who enjoyed The Phantom Menace more on repeated viewings, did so because we began to tune out Jar Jar,” wrote one girl, hitting a peculiarly modern note: the plaintive sound of a disappointed fan, returning to see the film, again and again, in the hopes that she may one day grow to love it. 
The air of Oedipal heartbreak hanging over Prometheus — the sense of the Great and Mighty Oz exposed — was twofold given that this was partly what the movie was about: meeting your maker, only to find that he is a genocidal creep. “A king has his reign, then he dies,” says Charlize Theron’s Vickers, intent on the same patricide that has animated Scott’s protagonists from Blade Runner to Gladiator. Did Scott know when he was devising his film that he was drawing up a blueprint for the fan’s reaction to it? Did the fans know that when they drew together in the chat rooms and on message boards, to compare notes, they bore a distinct resemblance to Noomi Rapace, scanning cave hieroglyphics for signs of meaning in a meaningless universe? 
 “I came here to find some answers, discussion, camaraderie and way to make sense of it all” said one of the commentators at Prometheus-movie.com, towards the end of a long week, by the end of which the film was finally in wide release. Fan reactions had caught up with their British counterparts; there was a note, if not of forgiveness, then of weary reconciliation in the air. “Tensions are VERY high and people are acting out of character,” said one. “It's just a movie isn't it ?” suggested another. Someone else posted helpful quotes from Psychology Today Magazine by one Mary C. Lamia, Ph.D:— 
 "Disappointment is a profound way in which sadness is experienced... In an obstinate way, anger will allow you to continue idealizing what could have been while consciously denigrating it, and you will hang onto it only because it's what you needed at the time. Disappointment accepts reality." 
 There had been war. There had been bloodshed. We had lost some good men and women along the way. Now there was a tentative peace. All that was left was for someone to put Jones the cat in his cryo-tube and we could all slip into deep, dreamless hyper-sleep.'

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