Real Violence vs. My 'Death Threats'

Unlike negative reactions to my review ofthis week, actual news happened last night in the form of a tragedy, when someone walked into a suburban Denver multiplex and killed at least a dozen people.
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As the minor media frenzy about me being the first critic to post a negative review of The Dark Knight Rises reached its mini-crescendo on Wednesday (when I actually had six requests for interviews -- five of them from Canadian outlets -- about so-called "death threats" on Rotten Tomatoes aimed at me), I kept thinking to myself, "This must really be a slow news week if I'm the headline."

As if to prove the point, actual news happened last night in the form of a tragedy, when someone walked into a suburban Denver multiplex and killed at least a dozen people. And it happened at a midnight show of The Dark Knight Rises.

So let me say two things: First of all, while there is nothing yet in the news reports about the deranged individual who shot those people, I'd be willing to bet there was no relationship between his crime and the movie itself. He would have done this anyway; TDKR simply offered a location where he was guaranteed to have a crowd on which he could open fire.

Second, while I've been held up this week as the "victim" of death threats, at no point did I ever actually receive a personal threat. Anonymous and violent rants posted to Rotten Tomatoes (and even a couple to my website)? Come on -- I mean, I understand why Rotten Tomatoes closed down comments for the movie because some of the stuff posted about me and Christy Lemire of Associated Press was pretty vile.

And I understand why Indiewire used the words "death threats" in their headline. As we used to say, that's what sells newspapers (or, in this case, drives page-views).

But I did not feel threatened. As I said in a couple of interviews, there were no crowds with pitchforks and torches storming my house. These were just people were spouting off, venting anger; I happened to be the target. But it's not as if I was receiving phone calls or even emails directly; I was the subject of anonymous posting. It's easy to have courage when you're sitting alone at the keyboard in your home, behind the cloak of anonymity.

Indeed, when my little media adventure started this week, I wasn't even aware of it.

I was sitting at home Monday night, watching TV with my family when I happened to check my email on my Blackberry because it had been an eventful day and I was still fielding messages. But I didn't realize how eventful until I opened an email from comedian Richard Lewis, a friend of mine.

It contained a link to an Indiewire story with a headline about me receiving death threats for my review of The Dark Knight Rises and Richard's message: "Are you OK?"

As I said, the headline was a tad hyperbolic -- based on comments posted on Rotten Tomatoes about my review of TDKR. A few of them apparently rose to that level of violence -- about wanting to beat me into a coma or set me on fire. You know, the usual thoughtfully considered response to a negative review of a comic-book movie.

And I make that distinction: I doubt that critics who panned The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel or To Rome, With Love -- or even Savages -- got this kind of response. It's the peculiar avidity of the Comic-Con crowd, a passion I don't particularly share but won't knock here.

Since this blew up on Monday, I've given a handful of interviews. Hey, it's summer -- otherwise known as the silly season, when the lack of real news (until last night) except the back-and-forth of politics means that the furor over a movie review counts as news.

The fact was that my review -- the first negative one of Christopher Nolan's film that showed up on RT -- hadn't just closed down my website (more traffic than it could handle -- indeed, more traffic than my web-hosting service could handle) but led RT to halt all comments about the film on their site. And it may lead them to rethink the idea of anonymous comments, given the level of vitriol directed at me (and then at Lemire, whose Associated Press review was the second pan posted on RT).

I subsequently received touching messages of concern about my well-being from various friends and colleagues. But, as I said to them, to me it's mostly hot air, the venting of obsessed fanboys who can't quite imagine that anyone would dare diss this opus -- in spite of the fact that they hadn't even seen it yet.

More to the point, I've developed a thick skin in my decades as a critic. I've been vilified from church pulpits for reviews I've written, confronted by the angry parents of performers -- even fired from a job for a review that caused a comparable, pre-Internet era uproar. If you express strong opinions in print, you'd better be ready for strong reactions.

But as I said in a couple of interviews, I don't take it personally. While I'm a little amazed at the size of the response, the intensity of people's passion for the things they truly love -- whether it's a comic-book movie or a sports team -- should never be underestimated. They may not have any actual connection to the thing itself -- other than that passion for it -- but, to them, it's personal.

Some friends offered thoughts about what it says about the increasing intolerance people have for dissent. People believe what they believe -- and too many of them don't want to hear an opposing opinion. It's not just that they disagree -- it's that they won't brook being disagreed with. To them, everything is personal.

To me, it isn't. Being disagreed with -- or disagreeing with the consensus opinion -- is just part of the job. I write what I write because that's my passion -- being a critic, watching movies, contributing to the conversation. I love movies; there are even individual movies that I love. But, again, I don't obsess over them.

If people want to vent at me because I've said something unkind about something for which they have a passion, well, that's their right. I personally read and approve (or don't) the comments on this website (but not RT, or Huffington Post, where my reviews also appear). And I rarely answer those comments; my review was my chance to express my opinion, the comment is theirs.

But, as I told one interviewer, there will be another movie to review tomorrow. And the day after that. It's hard for me to dwell on one movie because there's another one coming up so quickly. If I recall correctly, Dark Knight Rises was the second movie I saw the day I saw it. I've reviewed others since then. To its fans, TDKR is THE movie of the year. To me, it's just one of the movies I reviewed this week, one of hundreds I'll review this year.

While it was interesting -- in an out-of-body way -- to be at the center of this particular teapot tempest, I knew, by the time the mainstream media caught up with me on Wednesday, that interest in this story would end as soon as the movie opened. The crowd would move on and this website would go back to its normal business of commenting upon the passing cinematic parade, instead of being the subject of comment.

Then this tragedy happened in Denver and suddenly a critic arousing vitriolic response on a website seems too trivial to bother with.

My 15 minutes are up. Tune in next week when normal life resumes. Except, of course, for the people in Denver.

Find more reviews, interviews and commentary on my website.

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