by Walter Chaw We've decided to get rid of our comments section here at FILM FREAK CENTRAL. We kept it for longer than we should have, I think. Our world isn't getting any better. It's getting a lot worse. I stopped engaging with our commenters a while ago. I've come back a couple of times in the last few years, but for the most part it's just been this thing that festers, this thing in the basement that gibbers to itself. I've asked friends to not tell me what's being written about me in there. I'm a lot happier not knowing.
There was a time when I tried my very best to answer every comment, to engage in conversation and debate. I would defend every word, point by point. I never changed any minds, though, and I'm sure I made a few enemies. It's funny, but looking back at every time I scored a point, I got cheers from the people on my side and sullen silence or escalation from my victims. I took some pleasure in that. I guess I understand the compulsion in leading the ugly parade.
I learned about trolls before there was a term for them. They're not there to debate, they're there to shit on the carpet and then defy you to notice. The more things fell our way, the more trolls showed up here to talk about my race, my family, the state of my mind. People impersonated friends and colleagues to leave awful remarks...anything to get a rise. The deciding moment for us was when NPR announced they were closing their comments section because after conducting a few surveys, they discovered that their commenters are predominantly white males. There's nothing wrong with white males. A lot of my friends are white males. Most of them, in fact. But they're not the genre that comments in comments sections. They don't even read them because of what's in there, or might be.
They don't attend Trump rallies, either. This isn't a non sequitur, it's precisely the point. Trump is the physical manifestation of the comments section. The reason it doesn't matter what he says or does is because he's just a flag, the inciting symbol behind which a mob of angry people can gather to express their frustration, rage, and fear most of all. Just as folks don't care what the Confederate Flag hid on its taxes, they don't care that any two sentences out of Trump's mouth contradict each other. It's not about the man, it's about the catalyzing agent. That's what makes him dangerous. That's what makes comments sections dangerous, as well. They allow the absolute worst representatives of our society to find one another and join hands. Without them, they don't have the wit to organize.
So that's the main reason comments are kaput.
Another one is that when it's not a breeding ground for hateful people to agree on something, it's a place for dull people to say the same things other dull people have said for centuries. There's nothing new in being critical of critics. It's as old as criticism itself, which is as old as art. Yet here they come, film upon film, piece upon piece, with the same clichéd rejoinders and witty one-liners meant to wither the critic. They range from stuff like "tell us what you really think" to other winners like how the critic is out of touch/hates movies, how 'movies are for entertainment and I was entertained,' or, Geez, you must lead a really sad life. Most of these statements are rank with their own embedded ironies. Back in the day, an angry e-mailer gave my Episode II review a take-that! star rating that was still better than the rating I gave the movie. That one's a keeper.
In other words, the comments section is going away because it's either full of ignorance and hate, or full of boring people saying the same boring things other boring people have been saying since they started talking. It gets to the point where you look at them and think to yourself, Yeah, buddy, give it a year or so and tell me again how this is the best movie that was ever made.
I do wonder now and again how many people who died on the hill defending stuff like Episode II or Forrest Gump are feeling about their Waterloos today. Good, I hope. Hell, it's nice to have things you like.
There's one aspect of the comments section I'll miss. There was a comment that turned into an e-mail exchage a few years ago after I wrote about my depression and how it hamstrung me and how I was trying to work my way through it with film as my agency. I had before; I was going to try to again. The guy who wrote me told me I'd helped him through my writing to not kill himself. That's sobering as shit. It's a weird thing to say, but save a few pieces like this one, I never really imagine anyone's reading my work. I have an audience of one: Bill, FILM FREAK CENTRAL's founder and editor. He's among the dearest friends I have and this writing thing of ours is how we keep in contact. We live 1000 miles apart and have not, to this day, met in the flesh. It's a miracle, right? The Internet, I mean. Bill and I met through the comments section on another site.
In other words, what I'll miss is the odd time a commenter becomes a friend. It's not about agreement, it's about respect and the honest desire to engage. That's been drowned out by the din of abhorrence and rampant trolling, although I know it's still out there somewhere, even if it's buried beneath the rubbish.
Anyway. I'm still on Twitter for the time being: @mangiotto. Bill is, too: @flmfreakcentral. And Bryant Frazer: @deep_focus. And Angelo Muredda: @amuredda. And former FFCers Jefferson Robbins (@Soulsmithy), Alex Jackson (@wokelstein), and Ian Pugh (@MetaEnthusiast). I like Twitter because it lets me mute and block and prune my echo chamber to my heart's content. You can @ me if you want. Oh, and please donate to our Patreon. Every penny goes to the site's upkeep. I've been here fifteen years and running. Here's to fifteen more.