Is Social Media Destroying The Geek Community’s Ability To Critically Think?
Right now I live in a country (the United States) for which the concept of critical thinking feels like a novel and abstract concept. We’re bombarded by click-bait articles on both sides of the political spectrum. Terms like “snowflake,” “fake news,” “alternative facts,” and the like are legion. Far right extremists read Breitbart articles and consider them Gospel, while far left extremists believe Jenny McCarthy is apparently the second coming of C. Everett Koop when it comes to vaccines, and that the white horse for the USC Trojans football team is racist. The result has been a polarized society so ensconced within their own echo-chambers that they’ve given up all hope of rational discourse. If you need evidence of this, you need look no further than your favorite social media site. Hell, go to Google right now and type in “political memes” and the ensuing tsunami of triggered “you mad bro?” pictures will drown you.
While much of what I’ve just written applies to a variety of topics-religion, politics, gay rights-I want to focus on the one that’s important for people who frequent this site. I’m talking about Geek Culture as a whole. Gone are the days where movie and television rumors are relegated to the pages of Premiere, EW, and CinemaScope. Now you can click on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram and have instant access to the latest movie rumors and stories…whether they are true or not. I mean Christ, how many times does Ben Affleck have to say ” I don’t want out of being Batman,” before people believe it? For the love of Alfred, it’s late summer and we’ve still got garbage like this floating around! Not only is this article misleading based on the title, it’s based on one source that later clarified their article.
So why is this happening? For one fundamental reason: too many people in Geek Culture (and society in general) aren’t thinking critically. Now I don’t want to paint Geek Culture with too broad a brush. Certainly there are those of us out there who recognize click-bait bullshit when they see it. Nevertheless, a lack of critical thinking is a fire that’s blazing across the Internet. You only have to go to a Reddit debate about Game of Thrones to know that. Seriously, there are people on that site who I’m positive flunked grammar classes at Trump University.
So what exactly is critical thinking? Well it depends on who you ask. Author Barry K. Beyer defines it as “clear judgements that are well-reasoned and thought out.” The U.S. National Council for Excellence in Critical Thinking defines critical thinking as, “the intellectually disciplined process of actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, or evaluating information gathered from, or generated by, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication, as a guide to belief and action.” For me at its most basic, critical thinking is just asking logical questions.
So we take a statement like, “Robert Downey Jr. to be replaced by Katee Sackoff as Iron Man. Character will be renamed Iron Heart.” I completely made that up, but it sounds plausible. It’s not like I said it was going to be Cloris Leachman. But just because it sounds plausible doesn’t make it fact. If I’m thinking critically about this statement I’d ask questions like: “What’s the source of this information? Is it a reliable source? Are there other sites or outlets that corroborate this report? Has anyone spoken to either RDJ or Katee Sackoff about this news? Is there video evidence? Has there been a press release from Disney? Has anyone contacted Kevin Feige? If so what was his response?” These are reasoned, logical questions that anyone with an inkling to dig below the surface would think about. However, as author Terry Goodkind says in Blood of the Fold, “Passion rules reason, for better or for worse.”
In an age where we have unlimited access to everything from what Chris Evans cooked for dinner to Jennifer Lawrence’s nude photos (and by the way people who looked at those pics–not cool), critical thinking is something we can’t be bothered with. “It’s too hard” we say. “It takes too much time” we say. “I’m re-watching season five of Basketball Wives,” we say. (Well not me.) It’s just easier to accept a Facebook post that Jennifer Garner will star as Quint in a re-make of Jaws or that Josh Gad is meeting with Warner Bros. and he’s portly so he must be playing The Penguin! Yes it’s easier. But it’s also lazy and as geeks we do this at our own peril. And don’t get me wrong I’ve done it myself a time or ten.
Let’s try an experiment. For the sake of argument let’s stay in the DCEU world. Check out this tweet from Leon Thomas a few weeks ago:
OK so let’s approach this information from a critical thinking standpoint. We have a statement, “Warner Bros. declares ‘Justice League’ movie ‘unwatchable.'” Fine. So who’s the source? It’s Leon Thomas. Well who is he? A search reveals that Leon Thomas is the founder of a site called Renegade Cut. The very first paragraph says:
“My web series, Renegade Cut, features thematic analysis of film with an eye towards philosophy. This web series examines film techniques as well as the morals, meanings and messages of popular movies.”
Nowhere on this page do I see his qualifications as a Hollywood Insider or if he’s gone to film school or anything regarding his background. Now I’m not trying to disparage Leon Thomas. I don’t know him from Adam and he does have over 3,000 followers on Twitter so there’s at least some people out there who think what he has to say has value. Hell it’s not like I write for Entertainment Weekly and I sure as shit don’t have a direct pipeline to Kathleen Kennedy. I only bring this up because it’s essential to question the source.
So let’s take it a step further. Leon in this instance is actually sharing a tweet from the online site “The Playlist.” Naturally I went to the site and checked it out. I even Googled how reliable “The Playlist” is historically. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find anything really substantive. However, as for the site there are legit advertisers on it such as Virgin Mobile, there are interviews with actresses like Noomi Rapace and the Stranger Things creators the Duffer Bros. It seems like a fairly reliable website.
Yet, there is a recent article called “‘Gotham City Sirens’ replaced by Joker and Harley Quinn Movie.” Now this article is misleading because it implies that Gotham City Sirens is being scrapped. If you read the article though you find it’s being “reconceived.” Whatever that means. Essentially, it’s on hold indefinitely, which honestly happens to a lot of films. But when you look at the source that “The Playlist” used (“The Tracking Board“) you hit a bit of a roadblock. That site has NO direct source from Warner Bros. They don’t even quote “an anonymous source.” Furthermore, they make the bold claim that David Ayer (who is supposed to direct Gotham City Sirens) is no longer directing any DCEU movie. Says who? All they stated was that GCS was being reconceived/delayed, not that Ayer was out.
As you can probably see at this point, critical thinking can drop you far down the rabbit hole and you don’t always get a clear answer. “The Playlist” seems like a reliable source but “The Tracking Board” doesn’t. However, their intel is probably solid considering their track record.* Yet it begs the question how much can we trust “The Playlist” if their sources seem unreliable? That line of thinking consequently extends to Leon Thomas. And although a goal of all film analysts is to make money doing it, the fact remains that Leon’s website requests that you donate money so he can do the job full-time. That means creating articles and videos with some sizzle. Sometimes a steak may smell and sound good but be fatty as a Homer Simpson-sized box of donuts.
I spent over an hour delving into this one topic and my assessment of whether or not Leon Thomas’ original claim is valid is inconclusive. You see how frustrating critical thinking can be. It’s not always rewarding and you may not like the answers you find, especially if it challenges your own worldview from a Geek Culture perspective or otherwise. And when you get down to where the lightsaber meets the Kyber crystal, many times we want a movie, television, or comicbook report to be true. We want it so badly we are willing to forego reason for passion. Hell I’m no exception. I once bought this bullshit hook, line, and sinker. The idea of an Indiana Jones film involving Genghis Khan, Chinese Communists, and the Cross of Jesus was tremendously appealing. Never mind the fact that SuperShadow is a notorious liar or that “George Lucas” gave away the entire plot. I believed this to be true because I wanted it to be true. (FYI the information I’m talking about is about halfway down the page under “Is this for real?” Spoiler alert: It’s not.)
As tremendously tempting as it is, passing off a rumor as fact is disingenuous at best, destructive at worst. While I don’t expect everyone to spend hours on end digging to find out if an Instagram Post of Jessica Chastain standing next to a Poison Ivy picture with a #BigThingsAreComing hashtag next to it is real, it might be in your best interest and the interest of the Geek Community as a whole, if you reconsider sharing this particular piece of information.
Now if you’ll excuse me I have to retweet @FakeChrisRock who says Chris Rock will play Damien Wayne in Matt Reeves’ upcoming Batman film.
*Not sure if you caught this, but I just told you the Tracking Board has a solid…well…track record. However, the only reason you think that’s the case is because I told you. You can’t just take my word for it.
You can follow me on Twitter at @DarthGandalf1