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  1. The Staggers
20 October 2022

Shows like The Rings of Power and She-Hulk have been runaway successes – why can’t keyboard warriors admit it?

Happily, these shows have proven to be huge hits – extremely popular with audiences and critics alike, despite the trolling.

By Marc Burrows

The great doom was foreseen from the moment the first trailers hit, the first images were released and the casting first announced. “This will be a disaster.” “This will end the studio.” “Fans have had enough”. Which show? Basically all of them.

Critics on Twitter and YouTube said it about Amazon’s Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power, they said it about Disney+’s She-Hulk: Attorney At Law, and they said it about Obi-Wan Kenobi. And these are just the most recent three. It was said they had been infected by woke agendas, had no respect for their respective source material and that fans would eventually realise. The emperor would be revealed in all his naked glory (thankfully, in the case of the Star Wars shows, only metaphorically).

Happily, all three shows have proven to be huge hits – extremely popular with audiences and critics alike. Only a month into The Rings of Power’s run Amazon executives were claiming that viewing figures were “cresting towards 100 million”. She-Hulk has been Disney+’s top trending show, and is regularly in the top ten streaming shows in the US, according to Nielsen ratings. In the UK, where the ratings are more easily accessible, a respectable 1.6 million were clicking. Kenobi broke records for Disney+, achieving the service’s biggest ever season debut.

These shows received largely favourable reviews as well (if you ignore the review bombing on Rotten Tomatoes and IMDB), with Rings praised for its visuals, performances and for injecting intrigue into a story that few thought had any wiggle room. “Who is Sauron?” became a watercooler conversation, and everyone seemed to have an opinion (mine was wrong, as it turns out). She-Hulk was rightly lauded for its light tone, its charismatic central performance, fourth-wall breaking, and smart, self-aware jokes, with Empire calling its meta-finale “bonkers, reality-smashing fun” that would give the Marvel Cinematic Universe its “greatest shake-up in years”. These aren’t cherry-picked reviews and figures. They’re a representative snapshot.

You’d think those franchise fans that predicted doom would be delighted – their favourite properties have new iterations that have been popular and well received. So why are those same people still calling those shows “disasters”? “It’s almost as if people didn’t enjoy it,” jabs YouTuber Ryan Kinel sarcastically to his 185,000 subscribers of the She-Hulk finale, “it’s almost like nobody even watched this fucking garbage.” Even though we know they did. Meanwhile, fellow streamer Nerdrotic (577,000 subscribers) was busy having his two cents’ worth on The Rings of Power. “This is a repurposed, giant global disaster,” he says of one of the most successful television shows of all time.

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Of course, all art is subjective. Not everyone is going to enjoy these shows. The strange thing here, though, is that these critics aren’t just giving these pieces bad reviews – they’re claiming them as objective critical and commercial failures. Against all evidence. Against statistics and feedback. It’s baffling.

It’s an example of what I call agenda trolling – when a commenter’s personal viewpoint is so firmly set that no evidence is going to shake them from it. Years ago I worked for the Guardian moderating user comments on the paper’s website, which at one point was receiving around 80,000 comments a day. It’s there I came to know the agenda trolls. You’d see climate change deniers or 9/11 conspiracy theorists who, when presented with irrefutable evidence, would simply ignore it and continue with their now-disproved point. These are people so determined to hate something, so frustrated by the very existence of a viewpoint they disagree with, they will start to ignore reality itself.

You can’t win an argument with an agenda troll – they will never, ever believe that they’ve lost. They’re Monty Python’s Black Knight with his leg sliced off claiming “tis but a scratch”. It would almost be admirable, if it wasn’t so maddeningly stupid.

The final episode of She-Hulk’s first season, in which the eponymous character is attacked by a group of male superhero enthusiasts who hate her for just existing, is a gloriously silly, extremely knowing and laser-targeted dig at exactly those fans who can’t see past their idealised vision of what their favourite shows should be. It has not gone down over-well with the YouTubers and Redditers. Small wonder. Critics possessing such limited and inflexible imagination, with such a weirdly deliberate lack of empathy for the enjoyment of their fellow fans, were never going to be bright enough to get the joke.

[See also: What JK Rowling and John Cleese get wrong about cancel culture]

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