Captain Marvel 's $455 million opening weekend is an enormous, expensive failure. Not for Marvel, or fans of superhero movies, or people whose opinion seems to matter. For trolls.
Trolls have been trying to sabotage Captain Marvel 's success since the first trailer dropped last September. So persistent and numerous were these trolls in their "review bombing" that Rotten Tomatoes changed its policies to prevent people from rating a movie before its release, and YouTube altered its search algorithm to uncouple star Brie Larson's name from the smears.
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Captain Marvel 's box office performance has led many to say that the movie " defeated " or " conquered " the trolls—and the trolls certainly did lose. But while Larson fielded many interview questions about the trolling, and even hit back at those complaining her character should " smile more ," to say that Captain Marvel " beat " the trolls is a bit like pronouncing a horse's tail victorious over a biting fly. What Captain Marvel does prove is that trolls seem to have lost their best weapons: surprise and edginess. Trolls have become ignorable, even boring.
Trolls haven't always been this dull—and some varieties still aren't, of course. (The fact that people who hate women-led movies and Russian operatives influencing US elections share a noun is confusing, and increasingly inappropriate.) Even as recently as 2016, the exact tactics that failed to tank Captain Marvel partially scuppered Paul Feige's all-women Ghostbusters reboot, which went from being lauded as a feminist triumph to being a heavily trolled box office flop . (To be fair—sorry, Kate McKinnon—it wasn't a great movie .)
Then the same trolls went after Rogue One , Black Panther , Wonder Woman , and Star Wars: The Last Jedi : complaining that casting women and people of color was racist, sexist, and childhood-ruining; launching #boycott campaigns; spreading fake news stories designed to damage ticket sales; and carpeting the internet with bad-faith pre-release negative reviews.
In their zeal, trolls have undercut themselves. They've broken Goodhart's law: When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure. In training people to expect that crowd-sourced review platforms will be hijacked in advance of a "progressive" movie, trolls trained us to tune them out.
In their zeal, trolls have undercut themselves. They've broken Goodhart's law : When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure. In training people to expect that crowd-sourced review platforms will be hijacked in advance of a "progressive" movie, trolls trained us to tune them out. What was upsetting during Ghostbusters ’ rollout was already ho-hum by Wonder Woman 's: People started (correctly) presaging the trolls' complaints. By the time The Last Jedi ’s cast was making the late-night rounds, anti-progressive movie-troll coverage had already settled into a easy rhythm: A portion of "the internet" (almost always described as "small but noisy" or "small but vocal" minority) hates the movie you expected them to hate for all the reasons you expect them to hate it.
Like grout stains in your shower, movie trolling has receded into the background. You don't like looking at it, you'll occasionally do your best to wipe it away, but does it hurt you? No. Because the lulz-nothing-matters stuff that relies on tactics like review bombing and hashtag hijacking is no longer anyone's definition of edgy.
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Trolling has been blunted not only because they have worn out their own playbook, but also because so many other people have adopted it. These days, the line between superfan and troll is near nonexistent: Lady Gaga fans review bombed Venom as thoroughly as misogynists did Captain Marvel . Shouting about how offensive a movie is as soon as its trailer drops in hopes of bending cinema to your political will is also now standard Liberal Twitter fare. Ghost in the Shell and The Great Wall both bombed at least as hard as Ghostbusters after progressives took issue with their whitewashed casting.
Not so long ago—provided you were a middle-class white person—trolls were newsworthy because they felt like a cultural anomaly. "Trolling used to be what punctuated an internet that otherwise felt in control, in a political context that made sense," says trolling expert Whitney Phillips. "Now, whatever chaos trolls might try to kick up pales in comparison to what the world is actually like." When news broke that wildly popular Fox News host Tucker Carlson had defended child marriage and statutory rapists, he shrugged off his words as "naughty." If that doesn't remind you of 4chan, then congratulations for staying off 4chan.
In this troll-saturated context, it's hard to care about street-level trolls and their movie boycotts. In fact, it would probably behoove us to stop caring about "trolls" at all. If the dividing lines between the online and offline world no longer matter (and we know that they don't), then perhaps we should stop acting as though trolling is a special category of behavior. Trolls are boring now because, even if they hide behind digital cloaks of anonymity, we can see them for what they are: schoolyard jerks.
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