Negative Reviews

If you look on your Youtube hompage right now I guarantee the following will come up in your suggested videos. There will be a WatchMojo.com top 10, a smug Youtuber gurning at you with a title in all caps and there will be a negative film/ game review rant. You can normally tell straight away from the thumbnail whether the video is genuine breakdown of why the film/ game is bad or just faux-rage hyperbole designed as a form of entertainment. I have wasted many an hour watching over-the-top negative reviews of films in particular but one evening it dawned on me, why am I watching these? What entertainment or satisfaction do we get from watching a piece of art being torn apart? Why is the anger funny?

Fundamentally I believe we like to see people fail. This isn't an out-there-theory, the line between comedy and tragedy is a very thin one and always has been present, just look at any Shakespeare comedy. This gives us gratification as it makes us feel better about our own failures in life, even celebrities make mistakes and make bad movies. In the same way tabloids pick over pictures of glamorous film stars walking out of there flats at 4am with no make-up on, these reviews remove the enigma behind successful actors and directors and expose their human side and thus their flaws. As artists in the film industry tend to take themselves quite seriously it also serves as way of taking them down a peg.

Personally I have watched countless videos of both Mark Kermode and Red Letter Media ripping to shreds the latest Adam Sandler movie. In my head I have built up a perception of what Adam Sandler is and what he stands for, a lazy strand of humour and film making that I detest on artistic and moral level. This is despite the fact that I've only in fact seen one film with Adam Sandler in, Punch-Drunk Love, which is by all counts not a typical Adam Sandler film. I have built up a perception of Adam Sandler just through my media consumption, having his films advertised to me and generally polluting the fringes of my online habits. Despite never having any interest in seeing any of his films (except Punch-Drunk Love) he is, in a very small way, a part of my life through no choice of my own. Is watching a scathing review of his film a reaction to that? A way of protesting against the media attention he gets through his status? Maybe.

Another reason for watching reviews good or bad is a form self-validation. Watching a positive review of something we think is good makes us feel our opinion is valid and correct. We aren't alone in our opinion, they are people who agree with us. This works the same the other way round. As mentioned before, films with terrible reviews often pollute us with advertisements and are often huge box office successes. Take the Transformers franchise for example. Every film comes out with vicious reviews, but that never stops the film making millions in profit and topping the box office. It can often feel like you are alone in not liking these films when they drown out the competition, so watching a negative review can give you validation about your opinion.

This is interesting on slightly more subconscious level but the obvious reason for watching these is the humour angle. Anger is funny. Anger is especially funny when it is anger at something that is inconsequential. Anger is not so funny when it is directed at third-world hunger, the ever increasing wealth gap or cancer. However, when it is directed at a game, which has the sole purpose of entertaining someone, that is funny. Somebody getting so worked up about a bad film or game when there are some many other, better ones out there is ridiculous in many respects, and the majority of the time the people in the videos are playing a character or being deliberately hyperbolic to get a more extreme reaction and therefore views. Drawing humour out of anger this way though is hard to do and the pacing has got to be right or it just becomes irritating. But this online personality which is adopted is one of diminishing returns and as akin to the loudness wars, where people have to shout louder for longer to get noticed. This however can remove any aspect of depth from the character and the criticism.

As a 14 year-old I got obsessed with the Angry Nintendo Nerd, in many ways the Godfather to angry video game reviews. I found the central idea of this person still playing the games he had as a kid and getting completely infuriated with them hilarious. I don't the videos any more as they are pretty crass and my humour has matured since then, but this central idea is something that I feel has been lost in many of the current crop 'angry reviewers'. AngryJoe and the like seem to get quite angry at games that are actual quite good and try force the humour and the outrage. For me this feels cynical and the whole process feels lazy. But then again loads of people love him, so what do I know. I hope somebody has made a negative review of him, that would validate my opinion.