Sit back, kids, and let me tell you about a not-so-distant era.
An era when Blade Runner, John Carpenter’s remake of The Thing, and Repo Man were all critically panned.
An era when the original Night of the Living Dead was tagged with a one-star review in weekly TV schedules and capsule review books.
An era when the New York Dolls and the Runaways were considered unlistenable trash, when the first Clash album couldn’t get a North American release because it sounded “too sloppy.”
An era when the 1966 Batman TV show was considered to be an unmentionably embarrassing albatross around funnybook fandom’s collective neck, and you couldn’t give Jack Kirby’s post-1970 output away.
An era when Bill Sienkiewicz’s New Mutants was “too weird” and Howard Chaykin’s American Flagg was “too dirty” for a significant segment of the comics-buying public.
I remember this era, because it overlapped with a substantial portion of my childhood years. I witnessed all the above in casual conversations, periodicals, TV clips, and books. While contrarian outliers certainly existed, these assessments effectively represented a consensus which propagated itself as received wisdom.
That’s obviously no longer the case, which is a point I’d like to stress in the current epidemic undercarriage-bunching about disparities between critical assessment and audience approval.
It’s not about favoring one camp over the other. It’s about recognizing that making authoritative pronouncements during the peak of a hype cycle is almost always a fool’s errand.
I haven’t seen Suicide Squad. I have no intention of ever seeing it. I couldn’t give a plague rat’s ass whether it’s the BEST THING EVAR or WORSE THAN HERPES. Quite frankly, I doubt anyone else will within a week’s time, either.
This tendency to evoke tribalism as a means of critic-proofing is what really makes geek shit so attractive to the corporate media combines. It’s not about pitching product, but pandering to delusions of stake-holding among the marks. Fandom’s collective persecution complex is common knowledge, so why not monetize it as an astro-turfed opposition culture?
That door swings both ways, with controversy and confirmation bias employed as tactical tools to boost profile and pagehits in an overcrowded and fairly homogeneous realm of content mills. It’s a steaming load of sound and fury that doesn’t change anyone’s opinion but does provide promotional opportunities with a lashing of anonymous death threats (which can then be translated into another wave of content in and of themselves, and rarely to the person receiving them).
It doesn’t matter what shape the “final” consensus assumes, because there inevitably will be a contrarian reassessment — sincere, ironic, or stone cold cynical — to set the gears to grinding again within a few years.