When The Shit Hits The Fan

The Black Dog Podcast’s Lee Medcalf has one major bugbear when it comes to fandom; all of it. From his chair on GeekPlanetOnline’s front porch he likes to shake his walking stick and yell at the kids to get off his damned lawn; we’ve tried asking him to stop, but he has a nasty bite when riled…

Okay let's start this week's article as I mean to go on, with apologies to you sensitive souls out there uncomfortable with swearing or off-colour remarks. Opinions, as the saying goes, are like arseholes, everyone has one and most of the time they're full of shit. 

However, that doesn't mean an opinion is invalid or wrong, it's just different. And if that opinion puts you outside of the popular gang, so what? After all, if years of self help books have taught us anything, you have to be true to yourself, right? 

So why is it, that we as fans, feel the need to berate someone when their opinion deviates from the accepted one? 

Regular listeners to my podcast, The Black Dog Podcast, will already guess where I'm heading with this discussion but for those of you in the cheap seats here's a brief recap: 

Before the end of last year, I finally got to watch Edgar Wright's Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, a film which, since its release back in August, had geeks, comic fans, hipsters and retro gamers of a certain age *cough* WatchedStarWarsBackIn77 *cough* frothing at the mouth with joy. Something that was given added spice when the mainstream audiences rejected it outright and the film flopped spectacularly and plunged firmly into cult territory. 

Full disclosure here: I'll be honest, the trailers and pre-release hype for Scott Pilgrim had done little for me, and since Wright's Hot Fuzz and brief spoof trailer DON'T! that featured in Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez's self-indulgent, overlong, one joke wonder Grindhouse I had marked Wright down as a directorial one trick pony who thanks to Spaced and Shaun of the Dead got lucky but has done little interesting since. 

So after listening to, and reading, a shed load of hype in geek circles for Scott Pilgrim I got hold of a review copy and watched it... 

...And didn't make it more than 20 minutes through before switching it off. 

Without diving into the whys and wherefores of my dislike - check the podcast from November onwards if you're interested - the thing that shocked me was the reaction from friends and fellow geeks to the news that I had *gasp* not liked Scott Pilgrim

From Twitter to the podcast inbox and facebook group, the excuses, disparaging remarks, the dismissal of my opinion and declarations that any further opinions were by association invalid was both fascinating and shocking in equal measure. For nearly three months solid, emails, tweets and even face to face discussions were dominated by this film. "You hadn't given it a chance", "You haven't read the comics!", "You never saw it at the cinema", "You're too old to appreciate the geek culture references", "You're a narrow minded c**t" were some of the many, many, responses to my apparently incomprehensible dislike for this "masterpiece". Now my personal feeling on the overuse and subsequent diminishing power of the word masterpiece aside; the thing I really didn't understand was why my hatred of this film mattered that much to everyone? I'm not blowing my own trumpet here or passive-aggressively suggesting everyone hangs on my every word, because nothing could be further from the truth. But, why did my not liking this film such a problem? 

I had, in an instant, become some kind of geek pariah. Excluded from the group and cast out into the cursed earth for daring to voice an opinion that was diametrically opposite to that of the geek collective. 

What was more interesting however, was as the weeks went on, the geek friends began to act less like a spurned child and more like a genuine cult. Becoming more measured in their responses, more encouraging for me to watch the film again, to reappraise it with any number of prearranged criteria which would work in the films favour. Back stories were explained, character bios pointed out, wiki links were mailed to me at all to make my Pilgrim rewatch experience as smooth as possible. If my life was a film at that point I would have been played by Donald Sutherland being pursued by Leonard Nimoy and a host of pod people. 

But in the interests of fairness and to stop the bloody mention of the film every five minutes I was online in any form, I watched the film in its entirety... 

...and still fucking hated every mortal second of it. 

Once again the campaign of righteous indignation resumed until finally I told everyone to take a running, over-cranked, whip pan, multi-camera, motion graphic overlaid jump in the nearest 8-bit coloured lake on the podcast. 

But to this day what I still cannot quite work out is what would my liking of Scott Pilgrim achieve? Would Atlantis rise again? Would we finally be able to communicate with dolphins? Work out the winning number of the lottery? Develop faster than light travel? Discover an edible McDonalds breakfast menu? What!? 

Looking back on it, I often wonder if it my dislike of the film was like a Microsoft engineer breaking ranks and declaring to the world that Windows Vista is shit on the eve of the launch? Someone on the inside coming out and giving voice to the niggling doubts everyone has but no one wants to admit. After all, its fine if a non-geek turns around and doesn't like it, as we fans sit behind our shield of quiet superiority, but if a geek suddenly gives voice to the same opinion that must be squashed or they must change their opinion to match the consensus lest doubt creeps in and bursts the bubble. 

As ridiculous as you might think that is as a theory, it does have a certain weight behind it. Spend five minutes on a Star Wars forum and see someone mention their love for The Phantom Menace or Jar Jar Binks, those guys are going way off message, and often find themselves slammed and flamed until their monitors melt within seconds. Yet while TPM and Binks are rightly reviled for their place in genre history, why can't geeks like them and not have to worry about reprisals? We as fans often disagree and discuss the merits or otherwise of our favourite director, film, franchise, etc. which is a natural healthy discussion about a subject that has multiple view points. But when it comes to things like TPM or in my case Scott Pilgrim, something for which there is apparently only one correct response, why do we, as fans, have to ensure that the sanctity of the approved singular opinion is maintained in a genre that, ironically, at its heart revels in celebrating the different and unique?



This week Lee still thinks Scott Pilgrim is dog shit and has been hiding behind closed doors secretly enjoying his Revenge of the Sith and Star Trek: Enterprise DVDs that he keeps behind his far less embarrassing porn stash.