On Opinions, Transformers 3 and Twitter

An acquaintance of mine is very fond of quoting the phrase 'opinions are like arseholes: everyone has got one'. If you really analyse the semantics of that sentence it doesn't take long to spot that, apart from being a rather crass simile, it doesn't really have much to say ('yes, they are, so what?'). The insinuation though, is clear. Why not use ears, for argument's sake, or noses? The clear implied meaning is that, when this particular sentence is used, everyone currently expressing an opinion is an arsehole.

Recently, that consensus seems to have spread to film criticism. The trigger for the 'you have an opinion: you are an arsehole' debate seems to have been, of all things, Transformers 3. Quite why that film has lit the touchpaper is unclear but lit it it has, most notably in the Empire forums. In reaction to Empire's two-star review of Transformers 3, a poster writes 'What were you expecting you idiot??? ' [sic]. It is apparently not just enough to question what the reviewer was expecting when they walked in to the cinema, we must now label them an 'utterly foolish or senseless person'. And yes, I did look up 'idiot' in the dictionary and no, there was not a picture of Robert Downey Jr.: there was indeed a definition of the word idiot. Idiot.

Largely in response to comments of a similar nature to this, Empire published a blog post entitled 'It's Just A Bit Of Fun': Why Defensive Fans Are Bad News For Movies', in which the notion is expressed that the 'it's just a bit of fun' defence is not a valid one. The article makes several good points relating to the argument stating that 'you can like whatever films you like and I'll like whatever I like and we'll all get along' but at its core, the article teeters on adding to the 'you have an opinion: you are an arsehole' school of thought.

The fact that 'it's just a bit of fun' is not a valid criticism is actually an opinion. The implication in the article's title is that if you hold this opinion you are 'Bad News For Movies' and therefore, presumably (although this is just my interpretive opinion) a bad person. The article defends the magazine's right to 'question bad performances'. It fails to acknowledge though that whether these performances are actually good or bad is still a matter of opinion. The expressed fact that 'a blockbuster can use stock characters with abandon if it uses them well' is an opinion. I could go on.

The problems and delicacies with the debate are well summed-up by a commenter on the above article who does well to state that they wish Empire wouldn't 'tell me my opinion is invalid and I am harming future movies for liking a dumb movie... when you are merely pointing out your opinion as well'.

The key to this is that it appears no longer OK just to express an opinion: we must defend our opinion to the hilt and attack those who suggest differing opinions to ours (and do so in a bold or UPPER CASE typeface). This isn't discussion people: it is battle on the bloggersfield!

If twitter isn't entirely to blame for this knee-jerk 'your opinion is wrong and mine is right' style jousting match then it is at least good ground from which to observe the fight. I suggest an experiment, as follows;

- ensure you are following at least four individual film critics
- time how long it takes for them to publicly fall out
- chart how long it takes the falling out to escalate from 'mild disagreement' to 'you have an opinion: you are an arsehole' territory

I've watched several of these style 'arguments' over the past six months. Not one of them has had anything to add to the critical debate of a film. Several have resulted in personal insults. A select few have resulted in acquaintances parting company, presumably never to speak again.

A good point.

I can only once again echo part of the Empire blog: 'you can like whatever films you like and I'll like whatever I like and we'll all get along'. And hopefully, if we don't kill each other first, we might actually learn something as well, by engaging in discussion with those who have alternative opinions and insights to ours, with open minds and ears and without labelling them as idiots (however much of a hippie that might make me sound). But hey, what do I know. I'm just an opinion. Or is that an arsehole?


  1. I thought the expression (coined no doubt by someone like Gary Bushel) was 'Opinions are like arseholes. Everyone's got one and they all stink'. Unpleasant and coarse, but at least it makes sense. Without the last bit, it's a just another misquote, like saying 'the proof is in the pudding' when tasting something. Completely meaningless. Whereas 'the proof of the pudding is in the eating' actually means something.

  2. That could well be the case (and I suspect it is - it certainly makes more sense and would have made much of my opening paragraph unnecessary!) although I must admit to only having heard it in its clipped form. Another saying that the derivation of the English language has ruined for the masses!

  3. I suppose differing opinons are the only thing that makes reviewing more than free publicity for films. We're here to debate art. Now that the internet has made everyone a critic, we can see why it was only left to the reasoned professionals before.

    We need more blogs like this one and less YouTube commenters. They really hate each other.

  4. I've heard of a variation being 'excuses are like arseholes, everyone has one'. But it equates to pretty much the same thing doesn't it?
    This is a good point and yet some people out there can't take it on board. I have had two reeeeeealllllyyyyyyyyyy personal attacks on my fiction blog. I mean just because my opinions didn't match theirs they felt I was the lowest form of life form! I was horrified at how personal they got. I don't mind critisim and people dis-agreeing with my comments and reviews but to get personal isn't really acceptable. Suffice to say 'delete post?' got a workout!!

  5. Chris - Kind words, thank you very much. And yes, YouTube commenters seem to have their very own vicious circle of dislike and bile going although, to be fair, every so often I've come across an hilarious YouTube reaction.

    Brent - It's very disappointing to see things like that. Take solace in the fact that you are not the only one. I know of a number of sites where they have had to remove comments (despite this being absolutely what they don't want to do) because of the level of attack being made against the writer or another contributor. Very sad to see.

  6. Very well reasoned and thoughtful post. A lot to chew on.

    Dana Stevens of Slate is a critic who I admired greatly for her writing style, even if we don't always share the same opinion. It's interesting, though, how often commenters after her reviews, most especially it seems after her reviews of big budget summer blockbusters, go on the attack. I swear those people don't even read most of she says. They just want a place to whine.

  7. Examples like that are particularly sad to hear. Here's a great writer, making a well-reasoned argument about a film you haven't seen and what's the first thing you've thought to do? Leave a disparaging comment. Some people... I tell you... *shakes fist at nearest group of youngsters*.

  8. Today I saw the film in 3D. Incredible effects ...

  9. Glad to hear you enjoyed the effects Steve!

  10. Only just seen this, courtesy of your repost (effectively) on Twitter. I had always taken the "and it stinks" element of the opinions/assholes quotation as read - that asshole was used not primarily for its coarseness, but for the implication that one's opinion, like an asshole, is renowned for its unsavoury elements. But I digress....

    The first - and most vicious - place I've seen this is on www.theavclub.com which is generally a superb, well-informed, well-written media review website written by talented and intelligent reviewers. Until you get to the comments sections, which are full of vitriol and abuse.

    I think the trouble lies in the nature of online communication: in comments, everybody writes chummily, informally. Arguably, it's just banter to say "Krull is awesome, and you're just wrong for disagreeing." But online, you have no way of judging the tone in which these statements are made, and people get uppity, and feel that with an attack on the films they like comes an attack on the validity of their opinions, and therefore themselves. And if it's badly worded (and God knows, there are plenty of inarticulates online), the response will be just as violent, and then there's nothing for it but the plastic shields and the water cannon.

    Incidentally, Transformers 3 may have been the thing that made you realise it (And to the "What the hell were you expecting?" commenter: Really, sir? Were they maybe expecting to file a professional piece of journalism, collect a paycheque, go home and watch something they actually enjoy, perhaps?), but I don't think it was the tipping point. I think we passed that wen writing on fora became commonplace. Ultimately, I blame Simon Pegg for setting the tone of the debate in the late 90s, when he shouted "Babylon 5 is a big pile of shit!" on national telly.

  11. That's a good point Edwin and considering the nature of online communication is a notable omission from my original article. Not only is tone difficult/impossible to judge but, as you say, people - on both sides of the writer/commenter divide - speak conversationally and informally to people they have never met.

    Places where good writing lives seem to attract at least their fair share of bile, if not more. Then again, good writing can often be an effective smokescreen from which to throw out writing designed to deliberately provoke reactionary comment. I'm thinking in particular here of writers like Jeff Wells, who writes very well but seems to do so constantly with an agenda of provoking a distasteful, often vicious, argument.