Culture Shock

Holy social media, Batman


The Internet blew up last Friday.

You can thank Ben Affleck for that.

Rather, you can thank the millions compelled to socially share their vitriol over the casting announcement of Affleck as the new Dark Knight in 2015’s Superman vs. Batman.

So how many of these Affleck-as-Batman haters also trashed the casting of Caped Crusaders Christian Bale and years before that, Michael Keaton in Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman?

Perhaps this mob of malice should be reminded that the announcement of Heath Ledger as The Joker in 2008’s The Dark Knight was widely panned by these same fanboys as well.

Ledger only went on to set a new standard for comic-book villains in movies — his iconic Joker becoming a fixture of Internet memes — and posthumously win an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for the role.

So is that three whiffs and you’re out?

Unfortunately, no. If there’s anything a fanboy and fangirl loves more than superheroes, sci-fi, and cosplay, it’s whining. And with social media, they have a much louder megaphone and larger soapbox in which to share their collective displeasure of anything and everything: video games, TV, music, celebrities, film.

And yet, all their grousing is for naught.

“In social media, everyone has an outlet to bitch, everyone feels like their opinion matters — that their tweet matters, that their Facebook posting makes a difference — and it doesn’t,” said Jeffrey Brown, associate professor in Popular Culture at Bowling Green State University. “That’s a false sense of self-value or self-aggrandizement. We’re the center of our own universe — but that’s it.”

Studios have a strange relationship with fanboys. They spend hours courting and marketing to them at the San Diego Comic-Con. Good buzz generated for a project at the annual event is a boon. Bad buzz and... well, you get Ang Lee’s The Hulk.

Negative fanboy reaction to the first glimpse of the rather cartoony CGI Hulk in a 2003 Super Bowl commercial is partially blamed for the film’s box-office failure. Never mind that the film is a failed marriage of popcorn-movie appeal and the director’s artsy style, a motif that never worked on screen.

The 2003 movie was such a financial disappointment, Hulk was rebooted five years later as The Incredible Hulk, a checklist film of fanboy wants. The adjective in the film’s title didn’t matter and neither did its deliberate bent to comic-book fans. The Incredible Hulk made only $2 million dollars more at the domestic box office than The Hulk, but cost $13 million more to make.

Making fans happy is something studios strive for, Brown said, “but catering to the fans is not good business sense.”

That’s why the four films from writer-director Edgar Wright, a fanboy favorite with Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, and The World’s End have combined to make less than $78 million domestically.

That’s about a $19.5 million per-film average — and probably what Affleck will make from his role as the Caped Crusader.

Ultimately, the Affleck-as-Batman backlash was unavoidable, Brown said, as fans often have strong casting opinions for their favorite superheroes, and have gone so far as to create Web sites pushing their actor selections. The Warner Bros.’ announcement late last week, then, is the ice-cold water to the face of fanboys to wake them from their fantasy of having a say in a film like Batman vs. Superman.

“Every fan feels like it’s their franchise and then suddenly is reminded, no, it isn’t,” he said. “When it comes down to it, [studios] are making multibillion-dollar decisions on a huge franchise with a lot riding on it. They don’t want to [anger] the fans, but at the same time, they’re not going to make everybody happy.”

Contact Kirk Baird at or 419-724-6734.