86/366 – Batman and Superman vs. The Online Hivemind

batmanvsuperman-xlargeIn the age of the internet and more specifically in a time where social media’s instant, real-time reactions mean that opinions are formed very quickly online, movies have more risk than ever to survive. Whether it’s hype reaction leading to disappointment, or a universal panning leading to a death sentence before it’s even had a chance to grow, modern cinema not only has to win favor with traditional critics but also with the vast, unknown swamp of anonymous opinion-holders that are internet users. If a movie isn’t careful, it can get into trouble without playing in a single theater.

Such is the current fate of the much-advertised, much-anticipated, yet perhaps much-maligned Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice movie, whose current score sits at 29% reviewer favor on Rotten Tomatoes and from all accounts prior to release, doesn’t seem to meet the bar for superhero movies set most recently by Marvel. Despite a 73% favorable normal joe viewer average (which isn’t great to begin with), a lot of people have made up their minds about the success of the movie even before it comes out of its opening weekend.

It’s a curious thing how an apparent shared opinion can influence how people perceive something. It’s called the internet hivemind, and it’s a never-ending circlejerk of either popular or shared opinions by a collective, perceived majority that can either make something great and also make something be seen as a failure to neutral or on-the-fence observers. In community management, we call it the influence of perception, and it’s definitely not to be underestimated. The way it works is simple – if a piece of media online is generally viewed to be something, it can create an idea that that something is the truth of what it is, even among people who haven’t seen it yet. Impressions going into viewing or experiencing that piece of media in question are inadvertently biased towards the general opinion of how it’s perceived, meaning that the likelihood of neutral or fair/balanced evaluation is thrown out of whack.

Now I’m not saying Batman vs. Superman isn’t actually a terrible movie – I can’t judge that since I haven’t seen it yet. What I am saying is that a universally agreed upon opinion on it being terrible has a funny way of making itself a self-fulfilling prophecy among those who have yet to come to a notion of how good it is (or not). And it’s amplified by the trends of social media – if I’m reading 100 tweets that the movie is awful and 50 Facebook statuses or comment threads about how people are snarking it up about how the plot is flatter than a blown tire, then regardless of how I may say “I’m going to judge it for myself rather than trust the reviews or other people outright”, I’ve already got a pre-conceived notion it’s not going to be the best. And anything inevitably a mistake or what would normally be dismissed as a minor flaw in the movie might just make me feel like it’s terrible even before I finish it.

It’s hard to combat how influential the online hivemind can be, because not subscribing to the opinion means the risk is run that you’ll be outcast as someone stranger than the people who spend hours a day on Reddit or other platforms contributing to it. Batman vs. Superman may be doomed in this sense even if there are bright spots. The best way I’ve tried to deal with it myself is to seek opinion on both sides of the fence, trying not to worry about how popular that opinion might be. I’ll seek both good and bad reviews of a movie universally seen as shitty, or even good impressions if I can’t find good reviews. I’ll read the opinions of people not willing to subscribe to how awful it is, even if they’re just looking to swim against the current for its own sake, because they’ll at least have tried to form an opposition opinion. And most of all, I’ll try to have an open mind and actually give it a try for myself, as the biggest buster of the influence of perception is the actual reality of experience.

Time will tell if Ben Affleck is going to swear off of movies about superheroes forever after busting on this and on Daredevil, if Henry Cavill will desperately try not to be typecast in the hall of Supermen that were Superduds, or if Gal Gadot becomes the breakout star as Wonder Woman just by not being a part of the title of the movie. But regardless of what happens, the internet public opinion and what they think is going to be a huge part of it.

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