Debating Passionately with Fans on NYCC's 'Fans vs. Critics' Panel
by Alex Billington
October 13, 2014
This past weekend it was New York's time to geek out. The New York Comic-Con took place at the Javitz Center on the west side, with over 100,000 geeks/nerds/fans of all ages attending. On Friday evening I was invited to participate in a panel called Your Opinion Sucks! Rotten Tomatoes Critics vs. Fans where a small group of "professional critics" sit in front of a room full of fans and argue about what they like/didn't like. This isn't the first time this panel has appeared, as Rotten Tomatoes has been hosting it in San Diego and at conventions like CinemaCon for years, but it was my first time on it. I really wanted to have fun, see what people wanted to debate, and enjoy the experience of being on a panel instead of covering it (for once).
I am as much a fan as I am a critic, so I knew this would all be interesting. The concept of the panel, likely originating from the rift between critics' opinions and the "general public", is to have fans come up to the mic and talk briefly about a film they love (or hate) and argue about it with the critics. Why would they say this movie sucks? What about this one? The panel ran 45 minutes and I was joined by colleagues: Jordan Hoffman @jhoffman, Edward Douglas @EDouglasWW, Scott Mantz @MovieMantz, Mark Seman @MarkSaysHi & Sarah Ricard @Sarah_Ricard, with Matt Atchity @Matchity moderating and Grae Drake @graedrake at the mic. While it was my first time, it wasn't Mantz's first time, and he was wired up, ready to go. Right off the bat, with the first person at the mic, Mantz was standing up and almost yelling at them. But doing so passionately without condescension, confidently defending his opinion yet still curious.
It wasn't an intense, or overly witty debate, it was fun - simple as that. We spent 45 minutes arguing about everything from Zoolander to Pacific Rim, with a brave fan questioning the classic status of John Ford's The Searchers. Of course someone brought up The Dark Knight Rises, talking about how bad it is, with an even amount of agreement. Mantz fired back at one point telling everyone how underrated Edge of Tomorrow is. Everyone was having so much fun, even when there were disagreements, that no one wanted it to end. As we came down to the last five minutes, both the critics and fans cheered when someone shouted we should just let this panel go on and on into the night. Why not? Here we are having healthy, fun debates about movies.
At Rotten Tomatoes #NYCC panel. Movies argued against the consensus: Red Dawn remake, The Searchers, Zoolander, Ben Stiller > Leslie Nielsen
— Joel Schlosberg (@joelschlosberg) October 11, 2014
That was the biggest revelation during my experience on this panel: it is possible to disagree and not make anyone feel bad for having a different opinion. Yea, sure there's a bit of playful mocking when it comes to the girl who thinks Zoolander is the greatest comedy ever made, but then five minutes later we start talking about Tropic Thunder and Jordan points out that here's another modern comedy that may be better than Zoolander. For all the genuine passion that fuels sometimes very nasty debates between critics, occasionally that passion can engage the community in a way that embraces different opinions rather than segregates them. This was a big room full of people with opposing opinions and yet everyone had a smile on their face.
Everyone had fun. That's what it was all about at the end of the day, having fun, even if it was capitalizing on the rift between fans and critics. I found it interesting that the panel of critics they chose for this year's New York Comic-Con seemed to feature people who are as big of fans as they are critics. We recognize the value of having a strong opinion while at the same time can geek out over the kind of movies/TV/comics we love, and hopefully that attitude can spread. There doesn't have to be a separation and maybe a successful event like this is proof that fans and critics can get along, even if it's just for 45 minutes one night at Comic-Con.
As with most presentations at Comic-Con, you must be there in person to truly understand the complete experience. My hope is that Rotten Tomatoes releases a video of the panel in full (if that happens we'll let you know). In the meantime, at the least it's an experience worth mentioning because it was so entertaining and not at all combative. I've read two opposing articles about the panel itself, written by other critics who helped host different versions in the past. One is incredibly negative and seems to have an issue with the fact that there wasn't any real, worthy debate (but that wasn't the point anyway…); the other is positive and again praises the experience calling it "an enjoyable evening of not-so-witty banter." Agreed. My own photo:
Thanks to Matt Atchity from Rotten Tomatoes and Aaron from Found for the invite and opportunity to be a part of this experience. I'm so glad I said "yes", and I'm glad I was there. I was nervous beforehand that someone might call out that one review I wrote that one time, and what does all this mean, and how can you say this. But nope. It wasn't about that, it was about having a fun time debating movies, arguing about our opinions, and recognizing that differences are part of life. Criticism is not about bashing people over the head with wit and seemingly-intelligent snark until they must agree, it should be about a healthy discussion, hearing from everyone about their own unique feelings, and arguing passionately but also compassionately.