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It’s Not about Joss: Concerning The Avengers, Science Fiction, and New York Times Critics

Note: I outright stole this from Tee’s blog. Tee is awesome. Read his blog.

The original is posted here.

Since 3 a.m. last night, I have been singing the praises of The Avengers, the über-anticipated epic directed by one of the deities of fanbois everywhere Joss Wheedon. Now while this may make me sound like I’m looking down my nose at fanbois and geeks, I disagree — I’m just practicing full transparency, just as I practice in my life a blatant display of geekiness. It’s part of my job. It’s part of my life. I have no shame being a geek. It’s who I am.

This morning (as in the midnight showing) Pip and I saw what I would argue is Joss Whedon’s second-best film (still not as shiny as his best) but his greatest triumph as a screenwriter and filmmaker. Whedon took four of Marvel’s heaviest hitters, threw in three more for good measure, shook well, and created a script and a movie that was balanced, entertaining, and good fun. And when I say fun, I mean “original Iron Man” fun. Already on IMDB and Rotten Tomatoes, the reviews are coming in and the movie will, as summer blockbusters do, raise the bar for other movies of its ilk…

I will go on to say, though, if Battleship breaks The Avengers records, I am seriously going to wrap up this blog and hide. For a decade.

There was, though, one venue that did not care for The Avengers: The New York Times. Perhaps the one voice against the film would have gone unnoticed had Samuel L. Jackson not channeled co-star Mark Ruffalo’s Hulk and gone on a Twitter rant.

The backlash, some of which I admit to piling on to, comes across as fanboi rage. It would be just one more incident of fanboi rage that makes geeks look like idiots playing World of Warcraft in the basement of their home, but what makes this fanboi rage different is Samuel L.M.F. Jackson (and you know what the MF stands for…) leading the charge. But why? It’s just a sole negative review, right, amongst a tsunami of positive ones, right?

I can’t speak for Nick Fury but I can speak for myself, and when I did on my Facebook page, comments continued to prod at my (apparent) opinion of theNew York Times review, the summer blockbuster, and how this movie really won’t in the long run further anything in the genre other than Joss Whedon.

Instead of ranting on Facebook, I decided to bring my rant here. Why? Because I feel the need to explain myself…again.

My own stand against the New York Times review is not because (gasp!) they didn’t like The Avengers, because there will be Marvel fans who will refuse to go mainstream and simply protest for protest’s sake. I take more umbrage in theTimes’ apparent disdain for the genre on the whole. Admittedly, the review could have been a lot worse, but it does come across a bit condescending. For example…

“The light, amusing bits cannot overcome the grinding, hectic emptiness, the bloated cynicism that is less a shortcoming of this particular film than a feature of the genre.”

This was the point of the review that made me blink, but not as bad as…

“The price of entertainment is obedience.”

Hold on — was the New York Times review telling me I was being manipulated to enjoy this film? “Obey — as this is a summer blockbuster…” or some such?

At this point, I was reminded of another review from the Times

“The true perversion, though, is the sense you get that all of this illicitness has been tossed in as a little something for the ladies, out of a justifiable fear, perhaps, that no woman alive would watch otherwise. While I do not doubt that there are women in the world who read books like Mr. Martin’s, I can honestly say that I have never met a single woman who has stood up in indignation at her book club and refused to read the latest from Lorrie Moore unless everyone agreed to The Hobbit first. Game of Thrones is boy fiction patronizingly turned out to reach the population’s other half.”

I have grown tired — very tired — of how Science Fiction and Fantasy is regarded as the red-headed stepchild of storytelling genres, and regardless of accomplishments like Game of Thrones or The Avengers, the NYT has fed into that with ongoing commentary, which I found to be a shallow look at what is a complex, well-written series. The snide remarks about The Avengers, a movie that was a real gamble no matter how you look at it…

And yes, before I get the pile-on about the formulaic summer blockbuster with all the pretty people in the leads, The Avengers was a gamble because Marvel started up the hype four years ago. This movie could have been a steaming turd ala Green Lantern because —Whedonites, prepare your own retaliations now — Joss Whedon isn’t perfect. Dollhouse, for me, was proof of that.

Whedon was given a challenge and he surpassed it. Four years of hype, of buildup, of expectation, all fell into place with this film; but leave it to the New York Times — just as they did with Game of Thrones — to pretend that the argument is invalid, and it’s just more of that Science Fiction and Fantasy crap, designed to appeal to the gamer crowds exclusively.

Perhaps I’m snapping in light of things like people who claim “Oh I don’t read that science fiction stuff, that’s just not my thing…” while they say only a moment later “Oh yeah, I’m reading The Hunger Games on my Kindle right now…” A great comeback to “That sci-fi stuff is too weird for me…” is “Really? What was the last title you tried reading?” To date, only one person has ever come back to me with an answer to that — it was Lani Tupu and the book wasStranger in a Strange Land.

Good on ya, Lani.

My ire is not against the Times’ review. It’s the Times’ attitude about Science Fiction and Fantasy being beneath them. There’s a lot more to this genre than death rays, swords, and magic. When done right, it is about people and the extraordinary challenges they face; and if we are really given a terrific story with amazing characters, it is how we can learn from their struggles and face our own. The NYT critics apparently do not see it in that same light, and as they fail to understand it simply think it’s tiresome.

And to my friends on Facebook who drove me here, no, I’m not angry on you disagreeing with me. That’s not my style. I was growing punchy in my own failure to make clear what I was reacting to. Disagree with me all you want, so long as we’re having the same debate. Right?

Maybe it’s sleep depravation and not fanboi rage that is currently driving me. I’ll take a nap. Let you know how I feel tomorrow…

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