Joe Morganstern’s Wall Street Journal review of the new Batman movie was published in Friday’s paper and was obviously written in advance of the Aurora shootings. Morganstern appended the following “note about the perils of being a movie critic in the age of polarized fandom” to his review:
I may have saved my life without realizing it by liking “The Dark Knight Rises” sufficiently—or disliking it with sufficient restraint—to have my review categorized as “ripe” rather than “rotten” on Rotten Tomatoes, a popular website that aggregates movie and DVD reviews. For those of us who write about movies to provoke discussion, these reductive categories are awfully silly, but they’re also symptoms of the love/hate, either/or ethos of contemporary discourse. In the realm of the Internet, as well as talk-radio and politics, that discourse has been growing ever more poisonous, and now the poison has contaminated Rotten Tomatoes. Earlier this week the website was forced to shut down its user comments on “The Dark Knight Rises” when negative reviews—officially adjudged “rotten”—by two of my colleagues, Christy Lemire and Marshall Fine, provoked floods of vile responses that included death threats.
Batman movies may be a bit of a special case, what with fanatical fanboys trolling the Internet to root out negative opinions of their supersolemn hero. But the Dark Knight’s acolytes don’t have a monopoly on intolerance of dissent. They’re part of a rising tide that threatens to drown Internet discussion in shrill opinion. The editors of Rotten Tomatoes have the right to excise such clearly intolerable comments, and the responsibility to improve procedures for screening out new ones. Once that’s done, however, the comments function should be fully restored. Free speech for the many shouldn’t fall victim to abuse by the few.
Morganstern was obviously speaking hyperbolically, but in retrospect his note is striking. There are a lot of sickos out there.