It looks like yesterday while I was writing about "John Carter" and "perpetual sneak preview culture" -- my term the increasingly popular practice of analyzing the endless stream of movie clips, posters, stills, and trailers in such minute detail that you've already formed a firm opinion about a film weeks or months before it opens -- Noel Murray at The A.V. Club was getting at the same topic from a slightly different angle. His piece is called "Are Trailers Spoilers? (And Should Movie-Lovers Avoid Them?)" but he spends a good chunk of the essay talking about something else: perpetual sneak preview culture.
"The glut of coverage of trailers, casting notices, and the like has helped foster a sense that the movies don’t matter as much as the idea of the movies. Entertainment-media coverage runs the risk of becoming like sports reporting (where “What’s going to happen in tonight’s game?” is starting to outpace highlights and analysis) and political reporting (where “What do the pundits think about the candidate’s speech?” gets more attention than whether the claims in that speech are true). Already, some movie-lovers regularly lash out against bad reviews -- and sometimes even good reviews -- of movies they haven’t yet seen. They make up their minds when they see the posters and the commercials. Everything else is mere formality."
If you've ever looked at the comments pages at Rotten Tomatoes or frequented movie message boards, you've seen the phenomenon: people who haven't seen a movie attacking critics who have simply for disagreeing with them. In these commenters' warped minds, their opinion -- based solely on marketing -- is just as valid as the critic's. This view is crazy yet pervasive. Judging a movie based on its marketing and then bitching about people who've seen it and disagree with you is like declaring the winner of a baseball game during batting practice and then standing outside of the stadium so you can hurl insults at the fans who actually watched all nine innings.
Elsewhere in his piece, Murray talks about how he used to love spending a few extra minutes at the theater with his buddies examining and discussing the posters of coming attractions. I can relate; just about any movie-lover who grew up in the 70s and 80s shares some version of that memory. The difference between what we used to do as kids and perpetual sneak preview culture is the tenor of the discourse. Instead of a friendly conversation about whether a movie looks good or bad, everything becomes a war of the words. If you don't think the "The Master" trailer looks amazing, you're a troll. If you think the "John Carter" trailer actually looks kind of interesting, you're a moron. Debates go from 0 to you're-an-asshole in record time. No one is really interested in the conversation, just in asserting and celebrating their own correctness. When did being right become more important than being entertained?
Like Murray, I grew up loving trailers. There's nothing wrong with being excited about a movie -- they're movies for crying out loud, they should be exciting! But perpetual sneak preview culture tends to turn that excitement into something more manic and sinister, like a party where everyone's had a bit too much to drink and the guests start getting loud and cranky and overly sensitive. I still enjoy trailers. But I'm starting to wonder: is our country's love affair with them becoming a fatal attraction? They might be spoiling more than plot points; they might be spoiling the fun.
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