The recent release of The Force Awakens has split my Star Wars friends down the middle. Those who were disappointed are understandably downtrodden, given their previous excitement, but many who loved the film are annoyed by the sudden break in fan solidarity. I don’t understand why. Over and over again in my news feed I see laments by Awakens enthusiasts that some people just want to be “negative.” I see questions like, “why can’t we all just appreciate different takes on entertainment?” While I enjoy the Star Wars franchise, it isn’t my fandom like superheroes are. The debate resonates with me, though, because I see these critique-silencing tactics used regarding my superhero films as well. They betray a bizarre insecurity, display basic logical fallacies, and can hide behind a self-righteous pseudo claim to positivity.
Anger at someone for not agreeing with you on a film’s value, especially when the studio is moving ahead with sequels, is really rather silly. After the ticket sales of The Force Awakens, not even the threat of a Death Star attack would stop Disney from continuing the story. So why can’t people who have genuine critiques of the film voice them? Is your own fandom so fragile that you can no longer enjoy a film if people say mean things about it? If anyone has a right to be upset at critics, it’s the fans of aborted franchises like Superman Returns or The Lone Ranger. But you don’t hear us crying out for more “positivity” in the comments of every poor review. Perhaps that’s it. Maybe you’re actually afraid that such voiced evaluations will cause your film’s sequels to be abandoned. That’s the case I suspect with the indignant fans of movies like Man of Steel and Ninja Turtles, though it would take a special kind of insecurity indeed to fear such a fate for Star Wars.
Fear and logic don’t mix, which explains why fear perpetuates logical fallacies in a debate, specifically the ad hominem and straw man fallacies. The ad hominem fallacy attacks the one making the argument instead of the argument itself. It betrays one’s inability to refute a statement or stance. They instead resort to personal attacks. Irate genre film fans LOVE using the ad hominem fallacy. They say things like, “You just can’t accept change. You can’t let go of George Lucas, Christopher Reeve, Tobey Maguire” or whoever. These attacks not only betray an inability to refute a criticism, but they also reveal a child-like exasperation with opposition in their emotional lashing out. Isn’t learning to coexist with different opinions an elementary milestone?
The straw man fallacy often goes hand in hand with these attacks, as it involves falsely representing the opposition to be easily knocked down, like a man made out of straw. This one takes the same type of comments to an even more schoolyard- like mentality with comments like, “Wah! Wah! Wah! The movie isn’t like the original!” Even more insidious, though, is the combination of the two fallacies that crops up in phrases like, “You just want to complain. I’m so tired of all of this negativity! Stop trying to see the bad in everything.” Now suddenly any honest criticism is “negativity.” This ploy should come off as absurd (do the ones leveling it, then, also shake their pom poms for the Star Wars prequels, Superman IV, or Spider-Man 3?), but the words negativity and positivity have such weight today that we often respect them even in their misuse.
The desire to remain positive is admirable. With the amount of malicious intent on the internet today, we should strive to be more positive toward one another. Here’s the key, though: Being positive doesn’t mean abandoning our opinions or refraining from the use of our analytic skills. It means expressing our opinions and arguments respectfully. Avoiding any and all critique of a film is easy. It’s also lazy. Discernment in art appreciation requires energy for analysis and some debate, but it pays off! Learning how a film operates, understanding the choices made in its creation, and knowing specifically why you support or dislike the effect it has on you, enhances the enjoyment film as an art form.
Another thing that requires energy is the ability to agree to disagree. It’s practically nonexistent in online forums today. Respecting someone’s viewpoint doesn’t mean you share it or admit less of a hold on your own. When you agree to disagree, you simply respect another’s right to decide on their own viewpoint. Lashing out and attacking is intellectually and emotionally adolescent. And responding in kind makes you appear just as inept at understanding and expressing an argument. The oft chosen solution of carefully avoiding statements or views that might trigger such conflicts isn’t remaining positive. It’s intellectually sterile. Embrace your right to voice your taste and opinion, but embrace other’s right to do the same. Critique, analyze and debate! And take hold of true positivity by respectfully expressing yourself in the process.