Regular readers of Critic Speak probably realize the absence of something that nearly every other movie blog on the web is currently running: Comic-Con coverage. I figure it’s best that I clue everyone in as to why, because our reasons for avoiding the popular convention will significantly influence the site’s content from now on.
Those who have attended Comic-Con for over a decade frequently bemoan the progressively growing presence of film and television at the convention. In the late ’90s, only the absolute “geekiest” of visual entertainment appeared at Comic-Con — comic books and other niche media were still very much the focus. But over the last decade, movies and TV have overtaken everything else, as studios throw lavish panels and footage previews designed to promote their latest releases. In other words, instead of remaining about art, the convention has become about marketing. The biggest news-item thus far about this year’s gathering: A “Twilight” fan was hit by a car as she dashed into traffic, hoping to secure a good place in line—three days early—for the presentation.
For five years, from 2007-2011, I attended the bulk of the movie presentations in Hall H, the largest auditorium where the highest profile projects are showcased. Why? Because I lived in San Diego, I got in free with my press badge, and most importantly, my coverage brought my website copious page-views. On the whole, the presentations were not enjoyable or compelling (though, in the interest of fairness, I will admit that they had their moments, such as Nicolas Winding Refn’s thoughts on filmmaking last year and Kevin Smith’s annual Q&A). I attended solely because I was excited by the prospect of my Google Analytics account going haywire. When I videotaped the “Iron Man 2” panel in 2008 and posted it to YouTube, plastered with my website’s URL, I received more page-views over the course of one weekend than I did over the rest of the entire summer.
This year, I knew it wasn’t likely that I would be press accredited at Comic-Con due to my recent change of outlet. Critic Speak has done incredibly well, traffic-wise, for a site that is not yet three months old, but as the convention has grown more popular, it has become difficult to get a brand-new outlet accredited. And indeed, we were not. Thus, I was forced to make a decision: pay $150 to attend an event I have never enjoyed or skip it all together. It was a no-brainer: all the hassles of Comic-Con—the crowds, the parking, the endless spree of advertising—were not worth paying for.
After making the above decision and shaking the feeling that I had to cover Comic-Con to remain relevant as a blogger, I realized that by covering the convention, I was actually doing something wrong: perpetuating the popularity of an institution I am intellectually opposed to. By attending an endless slew of movie panels at Comic-Con, we true film fans do not gain anything. In fact, we sacrifice quite a bit. By watching several extended trailers and clips of upcoming movies, we make the experience of actually watching said movies when they are released less enjoyable and authentic. By cheering for directors and movie stars during glorified Q&A sessions with reliably moronic audience questions, we celebrate celebrity rather than artistry. Twitter, by comparison, is a superior form of direct communication between artists and audiences — and that’s saying something.
More than anything, by attending Comic-Con (or intensely following coverage of the event), we are treating advertising (which is all that the panels are) as relevant to the craft that we love, when it fact, it is objectively not. We are allowing the studios to dictate to us what we want, rather than deciding for ourselves. Nothing is a better illustration of this than Hall H’s annual “Trailer Park” program, in which 6,000 people willingly watch previews for upcoming movies so that they can keep their seats for the day’s panels.
The realization that I supported such an anti-art event so blindly, all in the name of generating page-views, makes me rather ashamed in retrospect. The glorious thing about the Internet is that bloggers are supposedly beholden to no institution—free agents—but in reality, we have become so addicted to page-views (the only path to monetization) that, at least on movie blogs, we have become the studios’ bitches. Serious film critics whose work I respect willingly cover Comic-Con because it is a meal ticket — and a good one, at that. This is understandable, but if we truly want to be viewed as journalists and not just Internet promoters, it is not acceptable. We must collectively push back and stop treating advertising as though it is relevant to art, because this is the only way that film blogger surrogacy to the studios will end.
Some might argue that bloggers are merely seizing the free-market and responding to their audience’s desire for this type of content, which viewers want to see regardless of whether or not it is advertising. My response to this argument is that posting this material is fine if you run a “geek site,” where publicity materials are the bread-and-butter of your business and you do not practice “serious” film criticism. Though, I do have to question why any true film fan would want to spoil movies by partaking in their Comic-Con previews.) But without naming names, I will assert that it is heinous that serious film blogs that aim to be considered journalism drink the Comic-Con Kool-Aid so willingly. The day that we become more beholden to advertising and readership than the print media is the day that we have not fulfilled the promise of the Internet (that is, if the day hasn’t arrived already).
At the beginning of this column, I wrote that my realizations about Comic-Con will result in some changes to Critic Speak. Allow me to explain. Even though Comic-Con only lasts for five days in July, the “Comic-Con mentality” continues year-round, and it has unfortunately corrupted us here at Critic Speak. We have posted plenty of articles that are essentially advertising—trailers, release date shifts, etc.—just like what you see at the convention. This was done in the name of page-views. For instance, when our posting of the “This is 40” trailer caught fire on Reddit and garnered us over 40,000 new visitors, James and I couldn’t help but get excited. But I now see that this was wrong. It is our job, as aspiring journalists, to not fall into the trap of “the numbers” (which film critic David Elliott wrote about so eloquently in his recent farewell column).
As a result, effective immediately, we will no longer be posting anything that could qualify as advertising unless we have something valuable to say about it. If we post a trailer, there will be substantive commentary to go with that trailer or, at the very least, a reason that we want you to take a look at it. Page-views will no longer be a primary concern. In our first post on this site, we made a promise: “While we will post our fair share of news stories, home video release round-ups, and box office predictions, we hope to add our unique perspective to every story — to offer original content that keeps you coming back.” We lost sight of this promise for awhile, but from now on, it will be honored religiously.
Let me be clear: When I speak negatively about Comic-Con, I am not speaking about the entire convention. I am simply talking about the film and television-related events. The “original” events—primarily those that are, you know, comic book-related—have remained largely pure. There are still panels with artists, writers, and executives from that industry in which fans can learn and be illuminated. I used to wonder why comic book enthusiasts would complain about the film and television studios “taking over” their event. Now that I have removed myself from it, I understand completely. When advertising supersedes art, the true fans are the ones who suffer.
Minor changes to grammar and phrasing were made for a 2013 repost of this column.
11 thoughts on “A ‘Con’ is right: Why Comic-Con is destructive to film journalism and fanhood”
DEATH TO THE CON!!!
You speak the truth. Go forth and multiply(your posts).
What, pray tell, is a “serious” film blog? I’m so tired of this “with us or against us” mentality some in the online film sphere seem to hold. Comic-Con is a celebration of fandom. Yes, it’s also capitalized on by the corporations in a mass marketing frenzy, and no one should have any problem with that so long as the end result is fans enjoying themselves and getting excited about film. Telling film fans “you’re not a real fan if you do A, B or C” is nonsense. I appreciate and respect your personal choice to not cover comic-con for your personal reasons, however, these platitudes of what “real” film fans should or should not enjoy or what “real” film bloggers should or should not cover is blindingly pompus.
My main issue, as I think I’ve voiced adequately, is that Comic-Con coverage is, by its very design design, not critical. As the name implies, it is the responsibility of critics to be critical.
I do not necessarily have a problem with the event itself. I have a problem, as I have voiced, with the way that the event as been treated so un-critically that it is now treated as though it is as relevant to filmmaking as events of considerably more artistic significance.
The inherent problem with your thesis is that it equates to lamenting the lack of a Prime Rib menu option at a Shushi Bar.
Journalism is not synonymous with criticism. Journalism is, by nature, informative. Critical analysis is certainly a part of journalism, but not at all times nor is it the end goal. Given the pure quantity of information released at an event like Comic-Con, one could make an argument that to not cover it would exhibit a lack of “real” journalism.
The center of your premise seems to be that since there is nothing presented at Comic-Con that gives itself to critical analysis it is therefore a fools act of “drink(ing) the Comic-Con Kool Aid” to cover it and according to you, subjects one self to not being “real” journalists or “real” fans.
As a pure film critic (if that is not what you qualify yourself as forgive me for misspeaking) there are only a small handful of screening opportunities to watch and analyze full feature films, and from that perspective I can understand a degree of professional frustration. It is your Prime Rib. However, you ignore completely that this event is about giving fans an experience. To generate excitement amongst them. I assure you sir that despite your assertion, I am a “true” film fan as far back as my earliest childhood memory, and I love Comic-Con and eat it up.
To use a sports analogy Comic-Con is in many way the pre-game. You have to wait until the game is played and is over before breaking it down, discussing the twists and turns it took, where the mistakes were made and where acts of greatness were achieved. That is the time for critical analysis.
You erroneously forget that while marketing and advertising piggy back on events like Comic-Con, they do not by default become synonymous. Film fans love Comic-Con, they engage there, they get to see and touch and experience things there they never otherwise get exposed to. Virtual mountains of information is released and first looks are given… yet to you none of that holds fundamental value. To you, sites that would stoop so low as to give coverage to such an event lowers their standing.
Again, I appreciate and respect your personal choice to not cover Comic-Con for your own personal reasons. However, Comic-Con is a place for real journalists to gather all the new information released and disseminate it to those who trust and follow you to stay informed. If all you’re interested in is critical analysis, that’s fair, just stop grousing that your favorite dish isn’t being served up at our Sushi Bar… which by the way the rest of us are enjoying a great deal.
“Journalism is not synonymous with criticism. Journalism is, by nature, informative. Critical analysis is certainly a part of journalism, but not at all times nor is it the end goal.” — While I certainly agree with this in theory, I think one would be hard-pressed to justify most of what is posted about Comic-Con as actual journalism. Actual journalism raises questions, considers implications, and reports on the substantive (e.g. “What are the socioeconomic impacts of an event like SDCC?”). I do not believe that recapping what was in trailer footage shown in Hall H is actual journalism. That’s becoming a surrogate to the studios. Which, again, is fine if you’re a “geek site,” but otherwise, it distracts from real news.
* * *
“To use a sports analogy Comic-Con is in many way the pre-game. You have to wait until the game is played and is over before breaking it down, discussing the twists and turns it took, where the mistakes were made and where acts of greatness were achieved. That is the time for critical analysis.” — Pre-gaming is for sports. Art cannot and should not be evaluated before it has become artifact.
* * *
“Film fans love Comic-Con, they engage there, they get to see and touch and experience things there they never otherwise get exposed to.” — Undoubtedly, this happens, and as I note, that is the original spirit of the event. However, there are better venues with far less downsides through which film interests in particular can be cultivated. Comic-Con cultivates the “pre-gaming” mentality of which you speak, which I believe is wholly destructive because it is so inextricably tied to marketing and corporate interests. And it has nothing to do with the “final product,” unless you’re writing a book deconstructing how a movie movie from pitch to marketplace.
* * *
“Comic-Con is a place for real journalists to gather all the new information released and disseminate it to those who trust and follow you to stay informed.” — I simply wish that they could approach that information critically. Which is not to say negatively. But rather, to sort through the PR-spin rather than wholeheartedly embrace it. Somehow, there has been a narrative fostered that Comic-Con is a utopia for geeks and, through this premise, the studios/advertisers have been able to hijack it because the masses blindly go along with most of what is part of the event.
The bottom line is this: Trailers/previews/etc are not artistically relevant. They certainly have other relevance, but that’s rarely what bloggers examine at Comic-Con. It’s always “This movie looks like it’s going to be great, with awesome special effects.” That’s not criticism, and to pretend otherwise is silly.
“Art cannot and should not be evaluated before it has become artifact.” That’s sounds fine to say except it’s not what is actually happening. No one is evaluating finished product. Art is not such a tightly defined entity that it holds itself up inside the four concrete walls you’ve seemed to have constructed around it. Art, at times, is visceral, art is experiential, art is something to be engaged with and at it true heart art is the purest form of subjectivism. Giving fans glimpses into what is coming, feeding the pre-existing curiosity and hunger is a full and valid exercise (certainly not complete) in allowing people to engage in it.
You also falsely argue a point of illusion. Were one just to read your article, you’d think nothing happens at Comic Con other than screening trailers and then writing about them. If you have indeed ever covered Comic-Con, you either know that to be a complete falsehood, or you never actually knew how to properly cover Comic-Con in the first place.
However at this point I need to stop engaging with you. You operate on a flawed presupposition that what happens at Comic-Con and what is presented there is not “art”, and therefore no point of discussion will alter your thinking. Thus, any further dialog is rather pointless.
The discussion may be over, but I would like to clarify as a final point: This article was specifically about coverage of the film/TV events Comic-Con (both what is posted and what is demanded by blog audiences), not the actual experience of attending. Descriptions of footage and descriptions of what directors/cast say to shill the movies are the bread and butter of this. They make up 80%+ of the coverage on film/TV sites.
kudos to you! if you don’t “love” comic-con, then don’t cover it. write about what you “love”, if that be criticism, and that will shine through in your work.
there is no shortage of things (film and otherwise) to write about that one would spend a few moments of their day reading.
it also remains to be seen just how many years are left for Comic-Com before the bubble bursts. Flops like Scott Pilgrim have shown studios that just because something blows the geeks’ minds at Comic-Con doesn’t mean the excitement is going to translate to big box office in the real world. And the day will come when people are tired of Hollywood making nothing but comic book superhero movies all the time, to the exclusion of all else. I remember Comic-Con way way back in 1989, when it was at a much smaller venue and was, amazingly, all about comics. I wouldn’t even be able to relate to it now.
I’ve never attended San Diego Comic-Con and I really have no desire to. It just seems like an overcrowded publicity stunt. Bravo for not drinking the “Koolaid” and standing up against the media frenzy that is ruining cons for true fans.