This last week has gone much like any year’s Thanksgiving week. Grocery store lines have been longer than usual: both before the big day, due to last-minute preparations, and after the big day, due to thousands of people vying for relatively cheap TVs at Walmart as the cashiers watch on while being forced to wear to red Santa caps. Roads, too, have been crowded. As have Facebook feeds, stocked to the brim with statuses in which people reiterate how thankful they are for their families and perhaps any major positive life events from the last year.
If my tone seems a bit cynical, I only hope it does not seem too much so. Truth be told, I don’t mind Thanksgiving. I don’t mind Black Friday. I don’t even mind the crowds and traffic, at least not too much. I personally had a great Thanksgiving, spent relaxing with my boyfriend and some of his friends. I don’t mind the Facebook statuses too much, although I don’t really like them. My issue isn’t that they irritate me, I simply get a bit bored with them. And that’s fine; it’s not the everyone else’s job to entertain me with their content all the time. But, with that said, I don’t particularly want to write another “I am thankful for _____” piece.
Instead, I’ll be writing about something rather unlike thanks, almost opposite in the right context: complaints. Specifically, complaints within fandoms regarding change. Complaints about alterations to the status quo. Of course, in complaining about complaints, I’ll be contributing to negativity in some fashion. So, with irony acknowledged, here I go…
You know when a trailer for a remake of some much beloved franchise comes out and everyone complains about how bad it looks? The first movie to come to my mind as I wrote that sentence was Ghostbusters, although the specific case doesn’t matter so much as the concept. For months before it came out, people argued over whether it was going to be a fun, enjoyable film in the spirit of its predecessor, or if it was going to be a flaming garbage heap of poor writing and acting devoted to shitting all over people’s childhoods.
Full disclosure, I enjoyed the new Ghostbusters film, and I don’t really care if other people did. If someone else liked it, cool. I’m glad they didn’t waste an hour and a half of their lives by watching and hating it. I’m also cool with people disliking the film. Sure, I liked it, but my opinions are not facts. The idea of opinions masquerading as facts is part of my ironic complaints about complaints: I cannot stand when people make statements about the quality of media that they have not personally read or watched.
I’m totally cool with people disliking things, as I am with people liking things. I’m even cool with people voicing concerns in responses to previews, and stating that they don’t think the upcoming movie/book/whatever doesn’t look very good. I do that. You, reader, do that. Everyone does that. What I find annoying is when people who saw a preview denounce something, and then continue to describe the product itself as terrible, without ever actually reading/watching it. From the Ghostbusters example, these would be the people who say, “The new Ghostbusters is terrible; I’m not wasting my time watching it.”
My response: then how do you know it’s terrible? You don’t know, you suspect. And it’s totally fine to choose not to watch something that you don’t think you would enjoy. We’re all going to die eventually, and I don’t choose to spend my brief time fighting entropy by watching things I suspect I would hate. I make a decision not to spend my time watching Adam Sandler movies. Why? Because I think Adam Sandler is fucking terrible. I don’t think I like a single movie I’ve ever watched that he starred in. But here’s the thing: if I were to see a trailer for an upcoming Adam Sandler film, I would likely say, “I think that looks terrible.”
What I would not say is, “That movie is terrible.” Because I could be wrong. Because my opinion on the actual film could end up being different than I suspected it would. And it’s this acknowledgment of one’s ability to be wrong that I find annoyingly absent in some people. For example, one day while my boyfriend and I were looking through the comics section at a 2nd and Charles, a stranger began talking to us. Pretty much everything he said was an unsolicited complaint. When one of us picked up and was looking at a Mighty Thor graphic novel, he felt the need to voice his grievances over something he had never read. For those who don’t keep up with comics, Thor has traditionally been a male character, but the current Mighty Thor comic stars a woman. Specifically, it stars Jane Foster, a long-time supporting character for Thor comics who has currently taken on the mantle of Thor.
In other words, it’s a passing on of a superhero’s codename, which happens all the fucking time. There have been like seven major Green Lanterns. At least three main Flashes. There are currently two Spider-Men with their own ongoing series, two Iron Men, etc. The current Robin is the fifth one, unless I am forgetting or unaware of even more. All of this probably sounds like a lot to someone who doesn’t read comics. But those who do keep up with the medium know that change is a major factor of the genre. Sure, a lot of things seem to stay the same. Superman has been around for the better portion of a century, as has Batman. The Hulk and the X-Men have been around for over fifty years at this point. But comics include deaths, they include the passing on of mantles, they include major plot twists that affect series for decades, even if some things remain similar across time.
The current situation with the Mighty Thor is just a specific example of a current change. The old Thor is still around, he’s just not starring in the usual series. Jane Foster, meanwhile, like so many characters before her, has adopted a more well-known character’s codename. The stranger at 2nd and Charles, however, did not know this. As he complained to my boyfriend and I about the current Thor comics, he made it clear that he did not know Jane Foster was the new Thor, and had not read the new comics at all. He was stating, as though it was a fact, that the current Thor comics were bad.
I understand that people don’t like to see things they like change out of fear of no longer liking them, but come on. Stating that something is bad without actually reading it is just stupid. My boyfriend told me once about comments he overheard regarding the game No Man’s Sky after it came out earlier this year. He overheard a guy say, in response to reading a poor review of the game, “Yeah, it’s shit; I’m glad it’s shit; I knew it was gonna be shit.”
Why would someone be glad that something was bad? Why would one give thanks for a bad story, game, or show? This wasn’t a “it’s so bad it’s good” situation. It was basically someone, who had not played the game, going “It’s bad. Told you.” I do not understand the need for that sort of negativity. Once again, I’ll acknowledge the irony of me disliking negative things. I’m a fairly negative person, and my entire sense of humor resolves around pessimistic and cynical observations. I’m no stranger to negativity. What I don’t like is needless negativity coated in self-righteousness. I don’t understand why it’s considered worthwhile to declare something bad without ever experiencing it.
Perhaps I’m particularly prone to feel this way due to the fact that I’ve recently had my own expectations challenged. The current Robin, Damian Wayne, is the son of Batman. When I first learned about the character, I was skeptical. For whatever reason, I didn’t like the idea of Batman having a kid and that kid becoming a major character. I’m not going to say my reaction was logical, solely that it was my initial response. When I first read comics that included the character, however, I grew to like him a lot. First I encountered him in Nightwing, then again through appearances in Superman and Teen Titans. Each time, my opinion of the character goes up. I like the character.
But what if I had never read anything he was in? Would I be confusing my suspicions with facts, stating that “the new Robin is shitty?” I would like to think I wouldn’t, and I would like to think that people can be mindful of the fact that our first impressions are not always our last opinions. I would like to think that maybe, just maybe, some complaints could best be avoided, at least until actually giving the subject in question a chance.
I’ve spent this week’s column complaining about complaints in an attempt to do something a little different tone-wise in this Thanksgiving season. Still, I’ll go ahead and state something I’m thankful for: my ability to be wrong, and to have my opinions challenged. It’s always a nice surprise to go into something with low expectations and leave it having enjoyed oneself.
Eric Cline is a gay poet, 2016 Best of the Net nominee, and the founding editor-in-chief of Calamus Journal. His debut chapbook, “his strange boy eve”, was published by Yellow Chair Press in September 2016. He tweets @ericclinepoet.