The Dangers of Tribalism in Cinema Fandom

The Last Jedi

Everyone has an opinion when it comes to film. While there are some objective elements to be critiqued, cinema is a largely subjective art-form. You may like a certain movie while someone else may not. In an ideal world, these disagreements would result in conversations highlighting what you admired, while admitting the faults, creating a civil discourse that takes in alternate viewpoints. Unfortunately, these interactions are becoming few and far between. Many of us seem to believe that you have to pick a “side”, or in fact that there are “sides” to pick at all. This tribalistic sentiment has been brewing in online film circles for a while but seems to have reached a boiling point with a few recent blockbusters.

The Great Divide

When Star Wars: The Last Jedi was released in 2017, it was received with substantial backlash from a portion of the audience. Even so, there were many movie-goers that loved the film. Neither “side” were right or wrong, and both had some legitimate arguments as to why they felt the way they did. However, instead of discussing the elements overall, battle lines were drawn up and perspectives were turned up to extreme levels.

Those that hated the film seemed to do so without any leeway for mentioning positives. It was immediately placed as the worst Star Wars movie by some. Conversely, those that enjoyed the movie began putting it on a podium as the franchise’s best. The initial vitriol seemed to create a great divide. While past Star Wars films have resulted in split opinions, the antithetical views were more powerful than ever.

It almost seemed as though both “sides” felt the need to justify their judgement by loving or hating it with little nuance. In the online space, those with a mixed viewpoint were dismissed as individuals began doubling down on how they felt. A film that is able to separate its audience like this could have resulted in an interesting discourse regarding the factors that made the whole. Instead, fans felt like they needed to pick a “side”, failing to accept any part of what the opposing “team” had to say.

Tribalism can be defined as “the state or fact of being organised in a tribe or tribes”. It is human nature to want to feel like you are part of a group. Being surrounded by people that reinforce your view makes you feel justified and correct. It amplifies your interpretation and is a large reason why movie-goers became so divided on The Last Jedi. A similar thing happened with Captain Marvel, as some claimed it as a comic book classic, while others decided it was the worst Marvel movie ever. Again, neither was right or wrong, but it seems that those with the strongest opinions were bolstered by everyone around them, feeding the need to address the opposing stance. As is the case with other parts of society, this tribalism has had a negative effect on cinema conversation as a whole.

The “us vs them” ideology is at the crux of tribalism in online film circles. Audience members have begun to feel as though anyone with an opposing view is objectively wrong and that they are undoubtedly right. As mentioned before, this creates a situation where each “side’s” thoughts become heightened, drowning out any civil discussion and creating a landscape filled with “best ever” and “worst ever” standpoints. We now live in a world of extremes, with very little middle ground. The reactions to films like The Last Jedi and Captain Marvel have developed “teams” of fans, filled with confirmation bias and the inability to take in alternate views. This has created a phenomenon of close-mindedness which lessens the quality of critique as a whole. It has become hard to find valuable opinions about film, as so many viewers seem to heighten their outlook to an intense degree. Right now, it is difficult to read whether fans truly despise a film or if they have been influenced by their “team”. Instead of engaging in a dialogue about the pros and cons of a movie, the tribalism of modern cinema has birthed an environment which is not only cemented in severe judgments but is also incredibly toxic.

On platforms such as Twitter and Reddit, users spew insults and hateful rhetoric to express their viewpoint. While it may seem like this attitude would only come from the negative stance, those with a positive view of a film are doing it as well. Spawned from the feeling that you need to pick a “side”, this mentality has stopped many viewers from accepting alternate perspectives, responding to them with arrogance and disregard. Because they are surrounded by those that agree with them, their comments are supported and the chance of respectful discussion only becomes weaker.

Tribalism in modern cinema fandom has many dangers. Audiences feel the need to have extreme viewpoints, failing to accept that movies are made up of positives and negatives. A film is now either the greatest thing ever released or an abomination to humanity. Furthermore, this split in fan bases has generated a vicious “us vs them” divide. While there still are places to have diverse conversations with those that disagree, they have become weaker by the day, as each “side” vehemently tries to tell you why your nuanced opinion is wrong. Too many are trying to fit into their “side”, with the truth being that there are no sides at all. We are all fans of cinema, and no divisions will change that.