On Spoilers and Trolls

So we had a rumble yesterday in Classic Movie Land but one of the good things to come out of it was a discussion on spoilers and trolls, two of the most controversial aspects of blogging.

Soylent Green is people

In the case of yesterday’s trollishness, a commenter objected to a writer mentioning minor plot points in his review of a thirty-year-old film. The plot points were minor and occurred early in the film and so that raises a question of what constitutes a spoiler and how old a work of art can be before it is considered fair game.

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On this site, my policy is to mark plot points with a spoiler warning if they occur half to two-thirds of the way into the picture and I try to always mark information about a film’s ending with a huge SPOILER. It really varies from film to film. I consider it a courtesy as I review some rather obscure works but I think our culture is a bit too sensitive about spoilers in general. Most movies follow the same basic formula in both the silent era and modern times. Maybe one film in two-hundred will be ruined by knowing the ending. However, I realize that a lot of people hate spoilers and so I try to be accommodating.

That being said, a lot of films are so familiar to the average viewer that the idea of spoilers is moot. We all know that Rick doesn’t get the girl in Casablanca, though he does find a beautiful friendship. We all know that the planet populated by apes is really Earth of the future. We all know Ben-Hur wins that darn chariot race.

In the case of yesterday’s kerfuffle, someone objected to very minor plot points being discussed. I have to agree with the general consensus on this. If you don’t want to know anything about a film’s plot, don’t read a review until after you have seen it.

Oh, and Rhett leaves Scarlett at the end.

Troll, troll, troll your boat…

As far as trolls are concerned, I have had relatively few issues. I’ve had to slap on a few bans in my day but most commenters have been perfectly lovely and I am grateful for that.

You always remember your first major troll attack and I definitely found mine to be memorable. I was answering a reader’s question about the decline in John Gilbert’s career (his voice was fine but there were a lot of factors in play) when someone I will call Amaryllis burst in and started a rant about Louis B. Mayer. Now the two men hated one another but, as I said before, the whole thing is complicated. Further, the infamous “brawl in the bathroom” that was supposed to trigger Gilbert’s downfall has been thoroughly debunked and dismissed by biographers and historians.

A troll can be baffling.
A troll can be baffling.

Amaryllis would not accept this and went on a long-winded rant, which covered Judy Garland, my obvious agenda (because I am clearly somehow in the employ of the Mayer clan) and concluded with her lecturing me for changing the subject by bringing up Mayer at all. (I had not mentioned Mayer by name in my initial response, merely touched on studio politics. It was Amaryllis who obsessively discussed him.)

Amaryllis made the blacklist, needless to say, and all her comments were scrubbed because that’s how I roll. I’ve had some trolls since but I have to say that she is the gold standard for tantrums in these parts. Nowadays, I likely would have banned her after her first outburst but I was nicer back then.

But what’s the difference between someone disagreeing with a post and a troll? If there was an easy answer to that, I would be the queen of the internet. But here are some basic elements of a troll comment, at least in my opinion:

  1. The comment attacks the blog owner, author or another commenter personally.
  2. The commenter ignores social norms and automatically takes a combative position.
  3. The commenter is more interested in a fight than a discussion.

The problem is that many of these issues may not be actual malice. Perhaps the commenter does not speak English as their first language and does not know certain softening phrases. Perhaps they simply came off as more abrasive than they intended. It’s hard to tell and so blog owners and comment moderators have to rely on their experience and judgement.

Trolls need to be dealt with decisively.
Trolls need to be dealt with decisively.

I firmly believe that trolls should be deleted and banned on sight. Most small-time bloggers create content in their spare time as a labor of love. There’s no reason in the world to put up with rudeness and meanness. However, this can be easier said than done. (If you are blogging with WordPress, simply got to Settings > Discussion and then scroll down to comment blacklist. You can blacklist by name, IP or email address.)

As I said before, I really don’t get that many trolls. Generally, angry emails or comments are limited to “How dare you say that (NAME OF PERFORMER) wasn’t the biggest star ever?!!?!” I think that’s pretty standard fare for a film blog. It’s the internet. People get angry when other people don’t have the exact same taste but I wouldn’t call them trolls.

On social media, I tend to have an itchier trigger finger. I usually mute these days but had to all-out block an overzealous role-player who was camping out in my feed. I should note that role-playing accounts aren’t really my thing but folks have fun with them and good for them. I even play along sometimes. However, it’s very bad form to try to force someone to role-play with you. It doesn’t make you fun, it makes you Trelane, the Squire of Gothos. (If you’ve never run into one of these accounts, basically, the person is pretending to be a celebrity, politician, animal, etc.)

As you can see, there are no easy answers. However, this is my basic rule of thumb:

Does this person make blogging or social media less pleasant for you? If the answer is yes, consider muting, blocking or banning.

I follow this rule and have found cyberspace to be much more pleasant as a result.

18 Replies to “On Spoilers and Trolls”

  1. I will be writing a strongly worded letter about these Soylent Green spoilers.

    The good thing about yesterday’s discussion is that my wife would occasionally look at me and ask, why are you laughing so hard? Fritzi on Twitter, I would respond. Thanks for all the LOLs. I think the best part was when we “reviewed” two Chaplin films.

    Trolls happen, and I’ve had to deal with them. I can see some people having issues and unleashing them on the Internet. I’ve had some physical issues and that does give me a nasty disposition. But the question I think the trolls need to ask themselves, is what are they trying to accomplish? Sometimes they are trying to tweak you, whereas others are just too obsessed with proving themselves right. I’ll concede to a difference in an opinion on a 50 year-old film (or in the case of this site, sometimes 100 years). I just don’t care enough to engage someone in something as subjective as commercialized art.

    1. Glad you enjoyed it!

      Yeah, there’s a point where you just have to declare that everyone has a right to their opinion and move on. I always snicker at the concept of “objective” reviews for movies, music, video games and other entertainment. What, are we supposed to write about the quality of the lighting equipment? How well the script was printed?

  2. As someone who comes out of an earlier concept of film criticism, I pretty much reject/despise the notion of spoilers. The point of writing about a film is to analyze it, which you can’t do if huge portions of the film are somehow “off limits” to discussion. It’s like deciding you can’t do scientific research in a given area because (your personal favorite translation of) the Bible says this or that.
    That said, I like the TCM concept of, “If you’ve never seen a movie before, it’s not an old movie.” I do try to be sensitive to people who don’t know about the movies I’m discussing and might appreciate a surprise. After all, there are people who haven’t yet figured out every formula that was standard 100 years ago. They have a right to have fun too.

    1. Yes, I find that about half the movies I review need to be covered from beginning to end in order to create a proper discussion. But, as I said, spoiler warnings usually cover all the bases. In case of yesterday’s kerfuffle, the “spoilers” were the equivalent of, “Luke Skywalker and Obi-wan Kenobi then hire a smuggler named Han Solo to transport them off the planet discretely.” I pretty much have no sympathy for people who only want the first few minutes of a movie covered but act 3 does deserve more caution.

  3. BUT LOUIS B MAYER AND BUSTAH AND NATALIE AND VALENTINO’S LOVE LIFE– I HAVE SO MANY OPINIONS.

    Lol, trolls are such a pain, but most of the time, they’re more pathetic and funny than anything.

  4. Personally, I enjoy blog trolls. They amuse me. I don’t feel necessary to return their anger-laced crazy with anything more than simple facts (if I answer them at all). They remind me of one of the big reasons why I keep writing about art on my blog–to cut through the inaccuracies and show what real passion (versus misguided frenzy) about art looks like.
    Thanks for fighting the good fight, Fritzi, and for keeping your Zen against the Pola haters, etc.
    And thanks for the old school Star Trek reference. I shall henceforth call all trolls “Trelane” in my replies. If they don’t get the reference, it’ll drive ’em crazy first as a non sequitur and then later as a smack down after they scurry off to Google.

    1. Yeah, your mileage may vary with trolls. I like the idea of muting them and allowing them to think they are scoring some sick points against you in the argument. Like you, I’m all for passion but weird obsessive frenzy just annoys the heck out of me. Like, take a chill pill, dudes.

      Ah yes, Trelane. I was trying to put my finger on what my role-playing stalker reminded me of. This whole “You HAVE to play with me!” attitude reminded me of something. Life has been so much nicer since they were blocked.

  5. I’ve never really understood trolls — don’t they have anything better to do? — and I guess the answer to the question is, No, they don’t. Which is mostly sad unless they’re the unhinged, threat-spewing type.

    Fortunately, I don’t think I’ve ever had more two trollish comments in my blog’s life People poke the bear, they don’t poke the sloth.

    1. Yeah, it’s truly bizarre behavior. There is always a worry about escalation (which is why I take screenshots of all troll comments before I delete them) but it’s been pretty mild so far.

      Be the sloth! πŸ˜‰

  6. Boy, looks like I missed a (you should pardon the expression) lulu of a discussion! I couldn’t agree with you more, Fritzi, about both spoilers and trolls. I tend to do more synopses than review, but try not to give away anything significant if the film isn’t especially known or is hard to find.

    The fact that there are classic movie trolls out there is hilarious. And a little scary. It takes a certain kind of energy to keep those old battles alive!

    Keep up the great work, FK!

    1. Yeah, it was one of those “How DARE you bring in facts to confuse me?” sort of things. I agree, classic movie trolls are their own special kind of strange. Silent movie ones are even worse. I think because the topic is so obscure, some of these people have had years to build up narratives in their minds and have never had them challenged. They tend to get proprietary about certain stars, especially Rudolph Valentino, John Gilbert and a few others.

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