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Accuracy • Independence • Integrity

October 22, 2020   |   Ithaca, NY

ColumnsPopped Culture

Amateur video essayists discourage nuanced discussion

With the prominence of social media, film discussion is more democratized than ever. But unfortunately, as is typical of most internet discourse, film discussion can be problematic and counterproductive rather than welcoming.

This dynamic is clearest with younger cinephiles who grew up learning from amateur film critics on YouTube. While a relationship with YouTube when they were younger might have meant they had easy access to diverse opinions, this does not by default grant them a formal education or the right to state their opinions as facts. This message seems to be lost on younger video essayists whose opinions are often based solely on extreme emotion poised as objective fact. 

This type of thought process has created a community in which many video essays have cheesy clickbait thumbnails that read “WHY IT WORKS” or “WHY IT SUCKS.” The simple mindset that every film, song or artist is either the best thing ever or the absolute worst is common for Generation Z. The United States’ stark political divide stands as an example of how people’s opinions must be black or white. This translates to the extremes in film discussion, and, as a result, some video essayists make people feel bad for having differing opinions rather than having a spirited discussion.

“HiTop Films” is a prominent culprit of this nauseating trend. His videos are usually extreme takes on how a movie fulfills a one-word, basic emotion. HiTop’s extreme opinions are on full display in his video “Spider-Man: Far From Home Broke My Heart in which he discusses how upset the latest “Spider-Man” film made him. At the beginning and end of this video, HiTop claims it’s okay to have different opinions from his own but then quickly makes anyone who liked the film feel bad. He talks about the film making him feel “sick,” insinuating his viewers should absolutely feel the same way. 

This type of discussion might be excusable if HiTop considered himself a film critic, but he is a video essayist. A critic would present concrete reasons that the film does or doesn’t work and then provide a verdict on their opinion of the film. An essayist’s goal should be to provide a complex argument about a film based on facts and analysis rather than to convey an opinion. When HiTop blurs the lines between essay and review, the messaging can become muddled. These videos will satisfy shortterm viewing, but they don’t go above and beyond to prove a complex point about a film. 

HiTop’s video essays look at films through an overblown, emotional lens. He rarely articulates his opinion in a compelling, multidimensional way. He’d rather keep his arguments self-indulgent rather than welcoming. He is well researched, but his work goes to waste when his arguments have little complexity to them.

In “Spider-Man: Far From Home Broke My Heart,” HiTop talks about what the Spider-Man character means to him and how this movie doesn’t satisfy that. HiTop fails to acknowledge that a film is made up of work from hundreds of people. Though the film has a clear vision of who Spider-Man is, HiTop just doesn’t like Peter Parker’s (Tom Holland) close relationship with Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) because he feels it is not as intimate as Peter’s relationship with his traditional father figure, Uncle Ben. This might have been a decent argument, but HiTop’s tone is so full of anger, saying things like, “Why should I take this movie seriously?” or “You won’t see my a– in the theater,” that it’s hard to be sympathetic to his opinion. Spider-Man is for the people, not for HiTop alone, and his failure to accept a new direction for the character is frankly childish.

Another YouTube essayist in HiTop’s group has many of the same problems with baseless and aggressive pretentiousness. Enter “The Cosmonaut Variety Hour,” or Marcus, and his snarky attitude. Though he has no formal education in film, Cosmonaut works overtime to make his thoughts sound like objective facts. It’s easy to get sucked into one of his videos and laugh at whatever film he’s tearing into. But within this entertaining premise, Cosmonaut often criticizes aspects of films that do not deserve it, sometimes missing the point altogether. The best example of this is in his video about the “Star Wars” prequels. He argues that the Jedi are foolish and brash — and that this quality is a flaw of the movies — when the whole point of the trilogy is to illustrate the Jedi’s hubris.

These videos give way to a toxic discussion in the comments section in which everyone believes that only their opinion is the best. Some people online even behave as if they could have done better themselves. All this begs one question — who gave you the right to assume this role?

As a moviegoer, film student and someone who regularly discusses films online, it’s important to recognize where you stand in the industry. Cosmonaut and HiTop are not formally educated essayists, like Patrick (H) Willems, and yet they often take the moral high ground as if they know better than the viewer. That is not to say that they never make strong arguments, but those arguments are often drowning in clickbait titles, thumbnails with extreme claims and flimsy arguments.