Has that rule changed with the burgeoning platform that is the Internet? Apparently not. And therein lies a powerful lesson about online communication.
Earlier this year, Paramount Pictures released the 12th film in its venerable Star Trek franchise. Directed by JJ Abrams, Star Trek Into Darkness earned big bucks and a mixed bag of reviews. But for a huge segment of Trekkies, Darkness and its predecessor, 2009’s Star Trek, have departed from the storytelling and social commentary of the original 1960s series. And they’re not afraid to say so, sometimes brutally.
In that light, the website Trekmovie posted an editorial describing how Star Trek is “broken.” A great many fans piled on, decrying the shortcomings of Abrams’ work.
This prompted one of the writers of Darkness, accomplished scribe Roberto Orci, to weigh in directly. He criticized the editorial (and, presumably, the author) as “a child acting out against his parents.” The ensuing exchange led Orci to reference “shitty fans,” point out that “there’s a reason I write movies and you don’t,” and suggest such critics should “F*** off.”
Orci later apologized for the rant via Twitter—his not-so-remorseful excuse: “Twice a year I explode at the morons”—but the damage had been done. Commenters slammed him for lashing out at fans, calling Orci “insufferably arrogant.” He’s since shut down his Twitter account and vanished from the online fray.
Orci isn’t the first man to confront his detractors—Samuel L. Jackson vs. AO Scott over a scathing New York Times review of The Avengers is a recent example. But now that the interwebs afford nearly everyone the chance to share their opinions, the well of self-proclaimed film critics has broadened. It isn’t surprising that Orci lost his temper.
Yet columnist Simon Brew, writing for the website Den of Geek, suggested that part of the reason fans reacted so strongly to Orci’s comments is the unspoken rule, i.e., critics may criticize, creators may not.
“He could sit there and take it, working to the old unsaid agreement that the customer can say whatever they like once they'd handed over their cash, no matter how wronged that may leave him feeling ... or he could engage with it,” Brew wrote.
While Brew didn’t give Orci a pass for his condescending remarks, he did suggest that fans were being unfair to him for daring to defend his work.
In my view, this instance shows the two-edged sword that is social media. On one side, now everyone has a means to share an opinion; the downside is that the Web doesn’t distinguish between learned opinions and puerile name-calling.
The painful lesson that Orci learned reminds us to be careful and critical managers of what we post. Orci’s words will live on; no apology will make them go away. Worse, those words will color everything he says or posts, perhaps for the rest of his career.
How we engage online detractors sets the tone for our long-term relationship with them. Hence my personal rule of thumb: Never post on the Internet what you wouldn’t be proud to see on an expressway billboard.