Talking About How We Talk About Movies

The way we discuss movies is weird. An IO9 article titled "A Brief History of Zack Snyder Defending the End of Man of Steel" is the perfect example.

Initially I toyed with naming this article “A Brief History of Defending Zack Snyder Defending the Ending of Man of Steel” as a direct response to the IO9 article I’m addressing. As I thought about my point more though, I realized that I’m not interested in directly responding to the article. I’ve weathered these types of criticisms of Man of Steel before and know that, despite Katharine Trendacosta’s (the author), claims, there’s nothing logically inconsistent about the progression of Snyder’s explanations, especially given the changing context of his comments (promoting Man of Steel and transitioning into promoting Batman v Superman). No, what’s most bothersome here is how she makes her point.

Trendacosta’s focus is on characterizing Snyder, not critiquing his content. In rhetorical terms, she is addressing his ethos (character), not his logos (logic). While she initially begins by acknowledging Snyder’s points, her responses to them are snark that attempts to paint the director as stupid. In reply to one of Snyder’s reasons for having Superman kill Zod she quips, “Yes, if you don’t murder once, how can you ever come to the conclusion that murder is bad? That’s how morality works, right?” At Snyder discussing the conceptualization of Superman’s character she gibes, “Consistent characterization just isn’t any fun, apparently.” Neither is constructive dialogue, apparently.

Unnecessary biting retorts aside, Trendacosta’s characterization of Snyder becomes more direct and explicit near the end of the article. She describes Snyder’s reasoning for his artistic choices as “tricks,” “dodging,” and, strongest of all, “condescension.” And here is where I jump off the “taking this person seriously” train and we reach the impetus for me acknowledging the article, its denouement:

Zack Snyder is going to be defending his choices in Man of Steel for the rest of his life. He could have gone conciliatory and said, “We did what we felt was true to the character, apparently other people disagreed. Maybe it was a mistake not to consider how a wider audience would react, but we still think we made the right movie.” But he hasn’t. If anything, he’s only gotten more defensive with time.

Note the subtle sliding in of the label “defensive.” That description is an assumed premise (claim without evidence) inside of an assumed premise. Trendacosta is saying that “Snyder is going to be defending his choices in Man of Steel for the rest of his life” because he didn’t go “conciliatory.” What does she mean by “going conciliatory”? She means acknowledging other people or, more to the point, granting validity to the perspectives of non-experts. She wants the professional filmmaker to state that “maybe it was a mistake not to consider how a wider audience would react” when making a movie. And if he did acknowledge that point in earnest, he’d have to think about that wider audience and its reaction the next time he made a movie. So in other words, Trendacosta is upset Snyder didn’t take the audience’s non-expert ideas into account when making Man of Steel.

This distress is clearly demonstrated in her closing paragraph:

Which is actually really worrying, because it could indicate that, instead of learning from Man of Steel, he’s going to double-down in Batman v Superman. You can’t learn from a mistake that you refuse to admit you made.

She’s using the word “mistake” two ways in the final sentence. Her article is framed as a response to Snyder’s rhetoric, but, as I demonstrated, it becomes a critique of how he approaches moviemaking. Trendacosta is worried he’s going to “double-down” on his approach of trusting his own (expert) mind rather than taking into account everyone else’s minds.

When I read Trendacosta saying that Snyder didn’t consider the wider audience’s reaction, I read her as saying “Snyder didn’t consider my reaction.” Then I wonder how this article was even published. Then I wonder why we even accept such comments as a valid form of discourse about movies. Is Trendacosta really interested in understanding movies or does she just want to see herself on the screen? And if she does want to see herself on the screen, why isn’t she making movies (or web series or two minute shorts or etc)?

Articles like this one are exactly why Bill Belichick, the coach of the New England Patriots, is non-cooperational in his post-game press conferences. He is the expert of all experts on how to coach football. Standing there and answering the critiques of non-experts regarding the choices he made during the game only grants validity to the non-experts. Please don’t misunderstand me. There is most definitely a place for non-experts to present honest question to experts with the intent of gaining understanding. Articles such as Trendacosta’s exist in the complete opposite place of a search for understanding.

Likewise, I am not saying people don’t have differing tastes and preferences when it comes to movies and art and that they shouldn’t voice those differences. There is just a wide chasm between voicing your thoughts and equating your non-expert thoughts on a subject with an expert’s thoughts on that same subject–and the only way to traverse that chasm is on a zipline called narcissism.

And is that how we really want to hang out and talk about movies?