I know I’m not the only one getting tired of this, right? The prepubescent, pretentious posturing that has infected our golden age of pop culture? The constant comparing and contrasting of brands, comics, and films across social media, blogs, and message boards is escalating to levels which may end up causing permanent damage within geek culture. And the worst part is that we have no one to blame but ourselves. To be perfectly honest, I’m almost certain these words will fall on deaf ears (or eyes, as the case may be), but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth trying.
Geek culture in general and comic book films in particular have never been more popular than they are right now. But I fear these days of popularity are numbered. Instead of jumping for joy at our culture’s newfound acceptance and respect, we are jumping down each other’s throats every chance we get. People synonymous with being outcasts because they were considered “different” are quickly becoming the ones who cast out. This is perhaps most prevalent when it comes to “choosing sides” between the big two, Marvel and DC.
I’m not quite sure why many fans are so concerned with choosing sides. Especially when we live in an era in which you don’t have to. Choosing between Marvel and DC is like choosing between pizza and cheeseburgers. They are both delicious in their own ways, there are many different versions of each, and it’s pretty difficult to find people who don’t like either one. And the absolute best part is, you can definitely have both. My fat kid analogies aside, there’s no requirement put on us as fans that says we need to draw a line in the sand.
The personal preferences of the audience contribute greatly to the success of the films. There are two distinct tones that are attributed to movies from each studio. Marvel films are mostly lighthearted action comedies that happen to have comic book characters in them. They are the epitome of Marvel comic books come to life. DC films are gritty, unapologetic, realistic, and usually darker in tone. Marvel films put “fun” above everything else, while DC puts the real world within the world of its characters. They are two very different approaches with two varying amounts of success.
To this day, The Dark Knight Trilogy is still the most successful individual superhero franchise on the block. It took Marvel two Iron Man movies and The Avengers to get Iron Man Three to join the billion-dollar club. The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises did it twice, and with no boost from a team-up film or 3D premiums. Regardless of ticket sales, The Dark Knight Trilogy and the Iron Man franchise (as well as other Marvel films) had distinctly different tones and storytelling methods. The point is, there were plenty of people who enjoyed both.
However, when it comes to Marvel, their overall success is second to none. Clearly their method has resonated with a large group of people. They’ve done a great job of making the genre more accessible to general audiences. For blockbusters to be profitable, you absolutely need viewers outside of your core target audience. As much as we may not like to admit, hardcore fans of the superhero film genre do not make up the majority. We are a very solid and loud minority, certainly, but WB and DC films make most of their money from average Joes.
In my opinion, much of this “Marvel vs. DC” nonsense comes down to a combination of group-think and fear of exclusion. Very few people truly want to be outsiders in any aspect of their lives. We all have a desire to share the things we enjoy with other people. We need that commonality shared within our relationships. There’s no doubt that we are more willing to gravitate towards people who share the same feelings and beliefs as we do. If we interact with people who don’t feel the same way, that usually isn’t a very enjoyable experience. When it comes to how strongly we feel about these comic book characters, group-think and fear of exclusion are intensified.
I see it everyday, mostly in social media or on message boards. The insults from both sides of fandom permeate our phones and computer screens. One group of people criticizing another because they don’t feel the same way they do. More often than not, there isn’t even a healthy and intelligent discussion around the differences between the two groups. It’s clearly easier just to insult each other. Why has this become the norm? Why do we continue to let this happen unchallenged? I don’t think the dark side of fandom will ever be erased, but the amount of respect we give each other can definitely be increased.
The sense of community that a comic book/sci-fi convention offers is, in my opinion, the best that fandom has to offer. Within these conventions are thousands of people who have different interests and passions but are all a part of the same overall culture. Of course there are people at conventions who don’t like what you do, but they still want to share in the experience with other fans. For example, I’m not a Doctor Who fan. I gave it an honest shot, but I just didn’t connect with it. There are always tons of people at the conventions I go to who are true “Whovians.” I don’t like what they like. But I respect them, because we all have the same passion — albeit for different things. I’m not going to walk up to Doctor Who fans and tell them they’re stupid or that their show or universe is dumb. I’m simply just not a fan, and I’ve accepted that. But why does that sense of community and camaraderie have to go away once the convention is over?
The internet gives many of us some level of anonymity. With that anonymity, unfortunately, often comes a reduced fear of reprisals for our behavior. Let’s face it. It’s downright shocking the things that some people can get away with saying on the interwebs. I know we are all ultimately protected by freedom of speech, but that isn’t a license to treat people horribly just because you don’t have to talk to them face to face. Social media connects us with millions of people, but it doesn’t make everyone more sociable. Now, I’m not going to blame the internet for making people mean. There will never be a shortage of miserable people who enjoy making other people as miserable as they are. But I do think we should take the blame for standing by and letting people get treated like crap because they don’t like the same movie as someone else.
The only way this will ever get better is through self-accountability. We need to hold ourselves to a higher standard. We need to constantly spread that sense of community across fandom, regardless of what device or medium we communicate with. Instead of immediately dismissing someone’s opinion because it isn’t the same as yours, perhaps you could hear them out. Seek out healthy and intelligent discussions about your interests. Talk to fans of things you don’t like. Be open to other opinions and ideas. An intelligent debate about a film or character with someone may not change either person’s mind, but who knows where that discussion could lead?
Ultimately, who cares if someone prefers Marvel movies over DC or vice versa? We all have our reasons why certain films resonate with us. Sometimes we can explain it, and sometimes we just can’t. Some people enjoy films from both companies, and I wish more of us did. These films aren’t made just for Marvel or DC fans. They are made for all of us. If you don’t enjoy them all, it’s okay. If you prefer films from one company over the other, that’s okay, too. The only opinion that truly matters is your own. Don’t be afraid to like something when your friends don’t. But don’t criticize someone else for not agreeing with you.
We all love these characters. We connect with them. We enjoy their stories and identify with their struggles. No matter what’s going on in our lives, we can read a comic or watch a film and enjoy that temporary escape. They are always there for us. Has a superhero ever said, “I’m not going to help you because we don’t have the same taste in movies”? That would be pretty ridiculous, right? Superhero films are for all of us. Maybe someday we could all act like it.