A War on Critics
Last year film director Alex Proyas famously threw his proverbial toys out of the pram, after his fantasy movie Gods of Egypt received universally poor reviews. He labelled critics “deranged idiots” and “diseased vultures” in a heated post on his Facebook page. He went on to accuse critics as slaves to the prevailing consensus. Proyas is not the only film maker to clash with critics. Uwe Boll famously had a similar antagonistic relationship with the press after being accused of being the world’s worst film maker. His solution to the problem was to challenge his detractors to meet him in the boxing ring. Some did so, not realising that Boll has a background in boxing. It did not go well for them.
These are just two examples of how contemporary individuals have chosen to deal with criticism. As the film industry is synonymous with egos and self-indulgence, at first glance these responses do not seem so unusual or odd. However, upon mature reflection I believe it is indicative of a broader corrosive mind-set that is growing in modern society. Consider the way that modern politics has become far more adversarial of late. In the UK, those who are opposed to Brexit or at the very least concerned about it implementation are branded “enemies of the people” or traitors in the tabloid press. In the US, the President himself has question the legitimacy of his countries own legal infrastructure, referring to the judiciary as “so called Judges”, in a pejorative fashion. It would seem that there is no interest in tackling criticism in an intelligent and measure fashion. The best way to counter it is to simply try and shut it down.
You Tube is fast becoming the most important platform for criticism and reviews of consumer products. The shift away from traditional print media and even long-form criticism on websites, means that high profile You Tube personalities and streamers can have a major impact upon sales and more importantly pre-sales of a games. This has proven challenging for the publishers who now have to “wine and dine” a broad cross section of independent individuals, rather than mainstream publishing businesses, if they want to gain any traction. We’ve already seen what happens when a PR company foolishly tries to control the flow of information and impede critics and reviewers from doing their job, as the Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor debacle from 2014 demonstrated. Sadly, we now see what happens when negative reviews are published and do not meet with corporate approval. People simply sue or spuriously use the online tools designed for legitimate disputes, to try and control criticism.
Jim Sterling recently quashed the outstanding lawsuit that had blighted his You Tube channel for the last year. A judge dismissed the case with prejudice, effectively ending the bogus suit brought by video game developers Digital Homicide. Unfortunately, Mr Sterling appears to have become a magnet for such actions. He is currently involved in another dispute with small independent developer, Sti Cli Games, who have gone down the route of using a trademark dispute as a means to try and silence his criticism of his work. The company has even gone so far as including caveats in their products EULA, trying to prohibit any use of their content in videos without prior written consent. EULA cannot enforce such rules. They also seem to think that they can legally refuse refunds on a platform such as Steam, which they cannot.
If we look beyond gaming, you’ll find similar stories about hoteliers and small bed and breakfast owners trying to stop customers from leaving poor reviews on trip advisor and similar websites. One individual had the gall to make a further charge against a customer’s credit card for allegedly “defaming” their business. Furthermore, you’ll find stories in the newspapers about parents suing other parents because a child was not invited to another’s birthday party. The more you look the more absurd stories of this nature you’ll find. It would appear that the chronically thin skinned, the duplicitous and the downright dodgy are now happy to use any legal weapon in their arsenal to prevent criticism or more to the point exposure. This in itself raises a wealth of other issues about the state of our society. Are we as culture becoming less emotionally sophisticated, less confident in ourselves and generally too obsessed with others perceptions of ourselves? Or is this just a matter of Divas, crooks and scammers just acting in accord with their true nature?
While the social scientists ponder the reasons for such behaviour, I certainly think that those who do not approve of such behaviour need to do more than just condemn it. We need to actively challenge it. Therefore the artist who throws a hissy fit should be firmly countered and their rhetoric and hyperbole exposed for what is. The politicians more than ever, need to be robustly countered for any sort of misinformation, ab hominem argument or abuse of power that seeks to stifle debate. And those that choose to abuse the terms and conditions of social media platforms such as You Tube to prevent scrutiny of their own iniquities, needs to exposed and denounced for exactly what they are; namely calumniators and thieves. Furthermore the institutions that facilitate these abuses need to take greater responsibility. Apply leverage with both your wallet and your social media presence.
The internet is still a great medium with many positive aspects. It continues to give a voice to many who previously did not have one. It allows the public to express themselves which is their democratic right. However, freedom to speech is a two way street and if you wish to express an opinion in a public forum, you have to accept that fact that others have an equal right to dispute, criticise and refute your views. Attempting to by bypass this status quo is most overt repudiation of democracy I can think of. Furthermore, we need to ensure that those who embark upon such a route are shown that there are direct consequences for such a decision. We cannot allow this toxic mind set to become the “norm”. Because if we do this will go beyond being a war on critics, criticism and dissent. It will lead to a reality where the loudest and most obnoxious, who can afford the best legal counsel, simply win by default.