The rise and rapid expansion of video sharing sites like YouTube have given people all over the world a voice and a platform to talk about film and other forms of entertainment. It’s done plenty of good by promoting more independently created content and breaking down a lot of boundaries between creators and audiences. Movie making, discussion, and critique is easier than ever. YouTube however has become a breeding ground for alt-right groups of internet trolls posting hour long videos complaining about films featuring women and people of color in prominent roles. This groups often have their origins in “nerd culture” and their roots can be traced back to the mid 2000s when the internet was still relatively new, all things considered.
In 2004, amateur filmmaker James Rolfe inadvertently started a trend when he uploaded the first video in his Angry Video Game Nerd series. This series featured Rolfe portraying the titular character of the “Angry Video Game Nerd”, a foul mouthed, ill-tempered video game player who would review bad video games in a humorous manner. These reviews would usually feature skits, running gags, and slapstick interwoven with actual criticism of the games. When the series hit YouTube in 2006 it gained immense popularity and paved the way for the “angry reviewer archetype”.
Perhaps most famous of these was Doug Walker’s character the Nostalgia Critic. The shows format was very similar to Angry Video Game Nerd, only centered around films instead. The Critic would go through the movie, picking it apart, performing skits, all the while screaming and swearing. Countless imitations would pop up over the years, almost all of which would focus on bad movies or video games. The biggest allure to the series wasn’t the actual criticism though. People were drawn to these videos because of the over the top personalities and the humorous skits. Neither series really provided great critical insight, but they served their purposes as light bits of humor, often appealing to teenage audiences.
Both Angry Video Game Nerd and Nostalgia Critic (pictured above) are still running today with new episodes. Though the landscape of the internet and YouTube have changed drastically since both series were created. In the early 2010s both Screen Junkies and CinemaSins would get their start on YouTube. Screen Junkies biggest claim to fame is their Honest Trailers series. These videos are set up like a traditional movie trailer but poke fun at the movie by pointing out shortcomings and what not. CinemaSins features a narrator going through a movie scene by scene, pointing out every single little problem or inconsistency with the film and adding it to the “sin counter” with the total being shown at the end of the video. Like the angry reviewers before them, these videos became immensely popular and still rake in hundreds of thousands of views today with new videos. Unlike the earlier reviewers, these shows will focus on recently released popular movies rather than poor quality films of the past.
In recent years, people have begun flocking to these kinds of videos and putting them on a pedestal as the gold standard for film criticism. Despite these internet series starting off as being nothing more than comedy, people have begun to take their word as gospel and point to them in an attempt to discredit people who happen to like a film that has been covered. Many filmmakers have spoken about the prevalence of these kinds of channels. Jordan Vogt-Roberts, director of Kong: Skull Island stated, “These guys are just trolling the art form we love and profiting from it while dumbing down the conversation”. Many other directors and writers have agreed, stating that these types of videos are reductive and replace the nuance of film criticism with nitpicking and mean spirited complaining.
A lot of this rallying behind voices like CinemaSins stems from a disdain for mainstream movie critics. This has been especially prominent in so called “nerd culture” with one of the most notable examples being the response to the DC Comics superhero films. The films of the DCEU have done relatively poorly with critics and many hardcore fans of DC have claimed that it’s an elaborate conspiracy of critics paid off by Marvel and Disney to give their competitors lower scores. People like to flock to these internet personalities because they “tell it like it is”, which naturally ends up drawing in alt right circles. Despite many championing these internet personalities as voices of reason, any attempt at criticizing them results in a response of “it’s just satire, stop taking it so seriously”. If it fits their narrative, it’s gospel. If it doesn’t then it’s just a joke.
Even if reviewers like CinemaSins are just meant to be viewed satirically and not seriously, it doesn’t help that the creators don’t make this clear at all. Even more so, the type of people being drawn to these reviewers aren’t being satirical at all. With a sizable alt right presence, the conversation drifts towards people complaining about films that don’t conform to white, male, hegemonic expectations for films. Perhaps most infamously was the response to The Last Jedi, featuring an unprecedented amount of vitriol and debate among the Star Wars fan base. The film despite being praised by critics for its inventive story, fleshed out characters, and stunning visuals was met with an extreme amount of backlash by many fans claiming that it “ruined the franchise forever”. To this day it’s hard to mention the film in any capacity online without someone starting a debate about it.
Any attempt at nuanced criticism was buried by the hordes of people tearing the film down as disgrace to Star Wars. The most vitriolic hate was directed towards the female characters of the film, labeling the protagonist Rey as being too perfect and a “Mary Sue”, a reductive name given to characters who have no flaws. Perhaps most egregious was the way members of the cast were treated by these internet trolls. Rose Tico actor Kelly Marie Tran ended up leaving social media entirely due to the constant harassment from the trolls targeting her because of her gender and race. Some radical alt right internet users even went as far as to create an entire cut of The Last Jedi that removes almost all of the female characters, running at just 47 minutes. This goes beyond just mere satire and is symbolic of the deep rooted misogyny in many of these pop culture circles.
To say that entities like CinemaSins singlehandedly created the alt right movement would be too much. These types of people have always been around and the internet has only further radicalized them and given them a more vocal platform. However, it’s important to realize how intertwined they are. It started with angry comedy reviewers and evolved into channels entirely dedicated to making surface level judgements and nitpicks on films under the guise of genuine critique. The audiences grew and grew, drawing in the alt right crowds from “nerd circles”, many of whom have developed a deep resentment towards women and define themselves by their hatred. This comes from deep sexist roots of othering women and feeling like they, straight white men, are entitled to sex. And much like the bad faith internet reviewers, they use their platform to tear down movies for having women and people of color in prominent roles. There is no nuance, no genuine critique. Just pure hatred.
This issue is much larger than just angry Star Wars fan boys. The rise of the online alt right can be found in every facet of life and has become especially prominent on video streaming sites. Additionally, YouTube has taken very little action against the hateful content on their site despite literal Nazis posting videos. YouTube’s algorithm makes it such that it’s impossible to watch anything Star Wars related without the recommended videos section becoming flooded with vitriolic rants directed at the women and people of color involved with the franchise. It’s important to always be mindful of the content you’re consuming, and to take a stand against bigotry and hatred where it manifests. The internet has, and continues to do plenty of good. Creators from marginalized backgrounds are getting more exposure then ever and people are able to engage with media like never before. The ugly, hateful underbelly of YouTube still festers and needs to be uprooted entirely to ensure a healthy online environment.