The spectacle of comic-book fans attacking critics for saying bad things about comic-book movies is unfortunately a well-established one. A certain amount of abuse comes with the territory, especially for a critic unlucky enough to “spoil” a movie’s perfect fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. But when the critic in question is female, the abuse too often embodies a kind of sexist derangement, and after 24 hours of watching so-called fans heap misogynist scorn on critic Stephanie Zacharek for daring to not be bowled over by “Guardians of the Galaxy,” editor Alan Scherstuhl had had his fill.
At 9:30 Wednesday night, Scherstuhl fired back at commenters who called Zacharek a “harlot” (sick 18th-century burn, dude) and suggested she “should stick to reviewing chick flicks only.” (Those are actually some of the less vile attacks directed her way, but they’re the ones I can retype without wanting to vomit or punch someone.) “We’re happy to have you here,” Scherstuhl wrote, “just as we were when you made similar complaints about our pre-release reviews of ‘Man of Steel’ and that one movie where Batman cried in a hole for an hour. You were absolutely right about those, of course — both flicks are undisputed masterpieces.” Zacharek, he points out, can take it, and considering that she spent years writing for Salon, whose forums are a considerably wilder place than the Voice’s combox, I know for a fact she’s heard much worse.
But the dudes — and let’s go way out on a limb and assume it’s not a woman who wrote “Her opinion is 100% worthless, as is any woman’s for that matter” — who attack Zacharek know what they’re doing, in a troglodytic sort of way. They’re creating, or rather sustaining, an atmosphere that’s actively hostile to people, especially female people, who would inflict the smallest blemish on the mint-in-box surface of their shiny, perfectly preserved fandom. They’ve got time for female characters, as long as they show a little leg, but at heart they’re enthusiastic members of the He-Man Woman Haters’ Club.
Here’s the thing, though: As Scherstuhl points out, these particular dudes — this tiny but vocal subset of angry crybabies for whom near-total dominance over the direction of popular culture is not enough to make up for the time their mom threw out their complete, Mylar-bagged run of “Cloak and Dagger” — are the worst imaginable ambassadors for the fandom they purport to defend. They make every male fan who’s kept a place in his heart, and on his shelves, for comics while maturing into a fully functioning adult look bad, and they tell every woman that she’s only welcome at the comic-convention table so long as they keep she keeps her mouth shut. (Cosplaying that chick from “The Fifth Element” wouldn’t hurt either.) They validate every stereotype of maladjusted, basement-dwelling nerds at a time when lifelong fans like Joss Whedon and “Guardians'” James Gunn are trying, and largely succeeding, to bring an authentic comic-book sensibility to a global audience. Perhaps they sense, in some squalid corner of their sad, frightened little hearts, that the growth of comic-book culture means a diminishment of their importance, that comics creators like Brian Michael Bendis, the writer of “Guardians'” current comic-book run, would just as soon not have to deal with their whiny, woman-hating asses.
The best way to fight people like this, whose convictions are strong enough to verbally assault a woman for stating her own opinion but not so strong as to sign their real names to those attacks, is to strengthen the part of the world that has no place for them, the one inhabited by people — let’s call them “adults” — don’t lose their minds when someone else’s views diverge from their own. Let’s face it: If anyone listened to these dudes in real life, they wouldn’t be expressing their repugnant views in a newspaper’s comment box. But the fact that their actions don’t bother Zacharek doesn’t mean they shouldn’t bother the rest of us, or that we shouldn’t heap some well-earned scorn on them before turning our backs for good.