March 10, 2019

Far Right Trolls Come For Captain Marvel

By Melissa Ryan

Another episode of why the Internet can’t have nice things this week when Rotten Tomatoes finally got sick of being gamed by trolls and changed its policy so that users could no longer comment on a movie before its release date. In a post explaining the change to users, Rotten Tomatoes seems to downplay the problem saying “we have seen an uptick in non-constructive input, sometimes bordering on trolling, which we believe is a disservice to our general readership.” Which seems like a nicer way to say we have to stop the trolls before they ruin our site completely.

Trolls have been attacking movies via Rotten Tomatoes for a while now. The brigading of the upcoming Captain Marvel movie (which has the audacity to be a movie about a female superhero) is likely the catalyst for this change but it’s hardly the only movie whose reviews were gamed by trolls. Ghostbusters (which had the audacity to have 4 female leads!) and Star Wars: The Last Jedi faced similar campaigns around their releases. The tactic has a name, review-bombing, and you’ll be shocked to learn that it comes from the same community that gave us #Gamergate.

Trolls are also multi-platform operators which means Rotten Tomatoes’ actions alone can only do so much to stop the madness. Anti-Captain Marvel trolls have been hard at work this week posting creepy YouTube videos and editing star Brie Larson’s Wikipedia page. We saw the same thing with Ghostbusters and Star Wars most famously when Milo Yiannopoulos’ targeted harassment of Leslie Jones resulted in his finally getting banned from Twitter. Hollywood studios, who spend millions of dollars to market their movie franchises, are either unable to stop the bleed or they’ve determined that outrage marketing helps rather than harms a movie’s chances at the box office.

The far right, especially the men’s rights variety, attempt to make the argument that movies like Captain Marvel are political correctness run amok but that’s just not how business works. The reality is we’re seeing more entertainment starring people of color and women because that’s what the market demands. As The Brookings Institution noted in their report on the millennial generation, “the millennial generation, now [a] 44 percent minority, is the most diverse adult generation in American history. While its lasting legacy is yet to be determined, this generation is set to serve as a social, economic, and political bridge to chronologically successive (and increasingly) racially diverse generations.” In electoral politics, we often refer to a similar demographic as the Rising American Electorate.

As America becomes less white and American culture less dominated by white men, of course, the entertainment industry would adjust its strategy accordingly. Same goes for most businesses who want to continue to make a profit. The far right’s cultural and political fights always come down to attempting to stop the inevitable and ensuring that America remains a patriarchal white supremacist nation at all costs. A mission that will be more and more difficult as the demographics change, and they know it. You only resort to trolling tactics when you can’t win a fair fight. A helpful thing to remember whenever you’re forced to deal with them.

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