Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Ebert Called On Carpet For "Anti-Fanboy" Comments

Recently, Chicago Sun-Times movie reviewer Roger Ebert reviewed the movie "Fanboys," and sparked controversy with the following statement:

"Extreme fandom may serve as a security blanket for the socially inept, who use its extreme structure as a substitute for social skills. If you are Luke Skywalker and she is Princess Leia, you already know what to say to each other, which is so much safer than having to ad-lib it. Your fannish obsession is your beard. If you know absolutely all the trivia about your cubbyhole of pop culture, it saves you from having to know anything about anything else. That's why it's excruciatingly boring to talk to such people: They're always asking you questions they know the answer to."

Response, as you can imagine on teh Internets, was swift. From one letter-writer, "Jimmy Mac":

"Now… when I read the words "Idiotic Lifestyle," my heart sunk. I actually felt personally offended. I've never felt such emotion before while reading a review. I felt like you were calling out my lifestyle as Idiotic. Why the hate??? Where does THAT come from. It was an ignorant and close-minded put-down that needs to be addressed. Remember when Chuck Woolery said the 501st (Star Wars costuming group) were guys who need to get a life at the Rose Bowl parade??? He realized afterwards that it was a ridiculous remark and he apologized. I think this situation is just as bad times 10!

An idiotic lifestyle? Tell that to the members of the 501st and the Rebel Legion who sacrifice their spare time to visit children hospitals all over the world just to bring a little joy into a sick kid's heart. Doing it for no money…Only the payment of a child's smile. Receiving hugs while dressed as Star Wars characters – tears streaming down their checks underneath their stormtrooper helmets."

In response to Jimmy Mac's letter, "Ed" had this to say:

"It may be true that 501st and the Rebel Legion sacrifice their time to bring joy to sick children. God bless 'em. It may also be true, however, that such selfless compassion on their part does not accurately reflect the majority of "fanboys." My sister was a volunteer nurse at a hospital and I gotta say, she never came home and told me the one about a group of Stormtroopers visiting the leukemia ward. You bring up a few stories to cynically tug on the heartstrings, as if THOSE were the reasons you like to play dress-up. The fact that you have to bring up a few exceptions to the rule just reveals how deep you have to dig to find respectability in what amounts to grown men who, when asked to state their religion on a government form, fill out "Jedi" on the "other" line"

Of course, the movie "Fanboys" has been stirring up controversy in the fan community for some time now...Flying Monkeys Comics summarizes the whole thing for you quite nicely (in webcomic form, natch!) EDIT: this site seems to be down. So check out this Wikipedia entry for the backstory on the movie & its troubled history.

Has anybody seen this movie? Is it any good?


  1. Anonymous9:53 AM

    The link doesn't work! Gahhh!

    I haven't seen Fanboys yet, but once it rolls around to NC, I'm going to see it first chance I get.

  2. Funny thing is, I was always under the impression that Ebert and Gene Siskel were at the very least comic book readers if not out and out fans based on some comments from both of them during reviews of comic book films they did together. Maybe I was wrong.

    I like Ebert's reviewing style, and have for a long time, but it seems ever since the most recent battle with cancer his reviews have been more and more mean spirited and snarky. And more off-point than usual. I mean, does his opinion of obsessive fanboys really have that much bearing on the quality of the movie? If it does, then the review doesn't hold much water. I find "the writing was weak and the acting sub-par" a better indication of how good a movie is than "I don't like extreme fanboy's, this film celebrates them, so I hate this film"

    And Jimmy Mac was making some intelligent and heartfelt points until he brought up the pizza thing and threatened Ebert. Kind lost all the good will I had for him as a defender of the faith right there.

    And, not to sound hypocritical, I believe Ebert reviewing partner, the late Gene Siskel, bought John Travolta's white suit from Saturday Night Fever because he was such a big fan of the film. If that is not fanboyish behavior, I don't know what is.

  3. Oh, as for the movie? I haven't seen it yet, but I'd like to. :)

  4. I have no interest in seeing the movie, but that "idiotic lifestyle" Mr. Ebert refers to, has kept many of his favorite directors in business. Christopher Nolan may not be a George Lucas, but he's definitely a fanboy favorite.

    I'm not fond of most fanboys, but I'm referring to the extremes. Just because someone dresses up in a costume, it doesn't make them an idiot. It just makes them a passionate fan. You don't see anyone calling a guy who puts on a Brett Favre jersey an idiot.

  5. Its not out here yet, when I was in NYC over Valentines Day it was playing at the AMC in Times Square and my bf wanted to go on a tour instead of seeing it. Im still bitter about that.

  6. Haven't yet, but I will see it.

    I have heard tell of this fanboy community called "Sprots" or "Spotrs" or "Sports" or something. These guys dress up like characters-- often piecemeal even in their day-to-day life. Like imagine if you wore a Jedi robe like a coat! They have conventions ALL THE TIME, like, every week when the season is on, & are so lame that they will watch televised airing of their conventions!

    Are there maladapts in the comics, sci-fi, & gaming communities? Yes. Are there in any community? Yeah.

  7. I saw Fanboys in Columbus and I think it was pretty good. It was definitely funny and was definitely full of Star Wars jokes. If it wasn't so far away I probably would have went to see it again and will definitely be getting the DVD when it comes out.

  8. Anonymous1:11 PM

    So, how is making a living writing REVIEWS any less fanboyish than being simply an enthusiast with one particular passion? Because it's socially acceptable? Maybe now, but I can guarantee that claiming "Film Critic" less than 100 years ago would have seen one laughed out of the pub.

    Ebert has been wrong before, and then fessed up to it when popular opinion demanded it and it gave him a paycheck. (See Ebert's liner notes for the premium edition release of "The Good, The Bad and The Ugly") He refuses to accept videogames as "art", yet he gives the same arguments that opponents of film-over-theater have given in the past. He's forgotten his own history, and started to believe that his role as a critic is one of setting definitions as opposed to commenting on definitions as they are being set by actual artists.

  9. I would have seen Fanboys but the flick is only playing in select theaters, which pretty much counts out KY entirely.

    I think people should just ignore Ebert's comments though, and move on. Fans making a big deal about Ebert's commentary only end up giving Ebert more publicity, which is what he wants.

  10. @Hyson:

    Well, unless his name is "Brett Farve"

  11. Ebert has always been very snarky in his criticism, just read his Wet Hot American Summer review. He's not afraid to poo on things he does not like. I like that about him.

    I think it's a fair to point all the other activities people obsess and base their lives upon: sports, movies, even work.

    But you also have to realize, that even being one of the biggest franchises ever, Star Wars is still a niche.

    To limite your life to a pre-established structure is usually a mistake, but a bigger one I think, is to do so with such a niche, in which you're willfully excluding most of the world.

  12. I take it that we're talking about the same Roger Ebert here who was a fanzine editor and turbo sci-fi/comic book geek in his 1960s youth, which he documents here:

    Seems like he would relate to fanboys pretty well.


  13. Anonymous4:38 PM

    You know, it doesn't HELP when someone references the extremes of a group, and someone goes "you suck" as if they are lumping everyone in.

  14. Eilliam Gatevackes

    "...his reviews have been more and more mean spirited and snarky."

    Possibly ironically, Ebert just blogged an essay decrying the overuse of Snark.

    I like Ebert, but he does seem to have a chip on his shoulder with regards to nerds. I believe he was kind of a nerd growing up and to paraphrase an old adage we tend to dislike most in others that which we dislike in ourselves.

  15. Okay... no one else said it (but I'm sure it's being used elsewhere as we speak..."

    "Worst Review Ever"

    29% at RottenTomatoes, 26% Top Critics, 82% community

    Pull quote: ""Fanboys" is an amiable but disjointed movie that identifies too closely with its heroes. "

  16. I'm with JMY. Ebert's a passionate fan of films, and one of the best critics, if not writers in the country. It seems here he was venting a bit about some annoyances the most often self-dubbed "fanboys" stir up in him. But considering he's posted most responses to his blog (which is awesome) I doubt he's all close-minded and old-farty about it.

    But he is of course completely right. And being an enthusiastic, or even passionate fan is a lot different than defining your life by a mediocre 70's sci-fi. And I hear the movie is pretty awful.

  17. Anonymous8:23 PM

    The guy just had half his face removed. He's got a right to be a little bitter.

  18. I was sort of inbetween Jimmy Mac, Ed and Roger Ebert, seeing them as all making some decent points... then I got to the end of Jimmy Mac's letter where he went off the deep end and decided I'd be more in Ed's and Roger's corner.

    Actually, I thought Ebert was harshly dismissive in that little bit in his review. It's uncalled for. Jimmy Mac's apoplectic response isn't going to win an converts to the cause, though. Geez, I hope he's not a representative sample of his species.

    I don't plan to see the movie. Not even on DVD or television.

  19. Typos and all, my point still stands.

    People are obsessive about things, to different degrees. I know sci-fi/comic book fanboys can be annoying, just from personal experience...but are they any better or worse than any other group of fans of anything activity or genre? Not really.

    But I think it's also correct that it just gives Ebert attention. Of course he expected outrage.

  20. Anonymous2:33 AM

    "So, how is making a living writing REVIEWS any less fanboyish than being simply an enthusiast with one particular passion?"

    Oh, there are too many answers to this question. Way too many.

    As for the film in particular, it's rather sad that George Lucas himself gave the nod for this, that he has stooped to an entirely new low in order to seem like "Uncle George". I also.... you know... I just don' get this film. It's just a hobby, why does it deserve it's own film?

  21. I do think it's a little sad that a man so passionate about film that he made a career out of extolling its virtues can't see that same passion in someone else's hobbies and interests...

    But on the other hand, the response to his statements does seem to prove his point for him at times. Let's face it, we all know fans who give fandom a bad name. :)

  22. I say this with no malice: it's fair to say that fandom is a safe haven for geeks and the socially inept, right? OK, fine. In a lot of ways, I count myself one of them.

    Are we hurting anyone?

    Can't rich famous guys like Roger Ebert step the eff off and let people who have trouble relating have a crutch? So what? Things aren't easy for everyone.

    How would Ebert like it if I said, "You know what I hate about fat people?" Because, you know what, I could. I could say it right at him.

    Everyone has a hard time with something and some of us have a helluva time ad libbing in a social context for a whole lot of reasons. That doesn't mean that the folks can't make a contribution to the world, you know?

    We geek out. We're a little awkward. So what.

    The other day I overheard a guy telling someone that he wanted to be buried in a Pittsburgh Steelers jersey. I'm sure people would think that's a little silly, but, socially, that guy would get a pass. If you're obsessed to a ridiculous degree with a football team: that's okay. If you're obsessed with Jedis: well, you're a retard.

    Eff that. The truth is, if you spend a lot of times around grown men who fixate on sports you'll find that pretty much the same observations apply. They talk about The Eagles because they don't know what else to say. In fact, if you really pay attention, you'll find that their listening and communication skills in these conversations is pre-school level.

    But it's okay. That's about football. Football is serious. Not something silly like imaginary men with laser guns.


  23. "How would Ebert like it if I said, "You know what I hate about fat people?" Because, you know what, I could. I could say it right at him."

    Um, maybe that would have been more apt before he his bout with cancer.