by Mary Harrington
Monday, 5
September 2022
Dark Web
10:30

The lesson of The Lord of the Rings ‘review bombing’

The wisdom of crowds descends into meme wars
by Mary Harrington
Credit: Imdb

The print era is irretrievably over. And with it, we can wave goodbye to the ideal of ‘objectivity’ — and also public support for mass democracy.

You might say this is a lot to read into the ‘review bombing’ of Amazon’s new Tolkien fanfic series, The Rings Of Power, but we should take this as a microcosm of something far greater than mere collective review mechanisms.

The back story is as follows. Amazon has released a new series intended as a prequel to Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy that has prompted delight and rage in equal measure, with what some fans perceive as heavy-handed ‘woke’ casting.

The result has been such a deluge of intensely negative reviews that Amazon has suspended reviews entirely. Nor is this the first such instance: the Disney+ show She-Hulk also recently became the focus of a “review bombing” campaign. In response, some are beginning to question the notion of crowdsourcing objective reviews at all — a shift that signals how radically the digital era has transformed core beliefs about the world in just two decades.

Back in the heady early-noughties days of social media, the general assumption was that public opinion was just there and the internet would simply make it visible — something envisaged as obviously a good thing. James Surowiecki encapsulated this in his 2004 The Wisdom of Crowds, in which he argued that collective intelligence is, in fact, better at assessing reality than single decision-makers. Thanks to the power of the social web, Surowiecki thought, we can now take advantage of that collective intelligence and power of truth-seeking to make the world a better place.

Lol, as they say these days.

No one gave much thought as to what would happen when collective intelligence became aware of itself as such. And where early-noughties internet optimists imagined that this would just reveal something that was objectively there, it turns out that making public opinion visible has recursive effects. As we’re beginning to discover, the upshot is not a careful, collective, deliberative striving for the truth, but increasingly unhinged meme wars.

Opinions have never been formed in a vacuum. They’re infectious, as people copy one another. And when this process is made visible it sets off public opinion trends. As more of the public square has moved online, we’ve seen how these can grow monolithic and bitterly factionalised, stifling potentially important public deliberation: take, for example, the hysteria that shut down public discussion of lockdown trade-offs.

This is the dynamic now playing out in ‘review bombing’ of TV series: in essence, it’s a proxy war for a larger moral one, with real-world consequences. So wherever you stand in the argument over the Tolkien fandom, the upshot of our collective loss of faith in “the wisdom of crowds” is an increasingly evident determination across the board to give credence only to the wisdom of some crowds. Others, meanwhile, must be rendered voiceless by any means necessary.

This is one thing in the context of a TV show. But what does it do to the core assumption of democratic governance, that politicians should take public opinion into account? As we slide further into the digital age, we can expect this new tension to become, itself, a core political battlefield.

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Andrew Dalton
Andrew Dalton
1 month ago

This series has virtually nothing to do with The Lord of the Rings. It is essentially an “adaptation” of The Silmarillion, a book which Amazon do not have the rights for. They attempted this by using the appendices of Return of the King, which they do have the rights to, and then making everything else up as they went along.
The “woke” casting is only a minor part of this show’s issues. Galadriel, Elrond, Gil Galad are effectively different characters performing entirely fabricated acts. Amazon is using the “woke” casting as a shield to argue that anyone who doesn’t like the show is an ‘ist of one form or other.
However, one point absent in your commentary is the ridiculously inflated reviews the show got from critics during the embargo period. Review ratings that plummeted after the embargo was lifted. Why does no one have an issue with this? Amazon is using access to garner better review ratings and therefore influence, which apparenlty is entirely acceptable.
As for the show for itself, the visuals and sets look good (but I’d argue not $1B good or whatever the final cost was) and that’s about it. I’m not sure what the plot is. I mean, I know what it’s supposed to be, but its relationship to the source material is so distant that it is not exactly helpful. The writing, particularly the dialogue is dreadful.
It’s probably not a 1 out of 10 show, but honestly anything more than a 5 would be astonishingly generous. And for a 1 billion dollar series, that’s embarrassing.

Robert Cooksey
Robert Cooksey
1 month ago
Reply to  Andrew Dalton

I’m glad that The Rings of Power has been overwhelmingly rejected by the fans. After watching the first couple of episodes i was shocked to see just how bad it was. It seems to me to be the latest sinister example of cultural appropriation of our European literature, myth and legend, history and culture.

Linda Hutchinson
Linda Hutchinson
1 month ago
Reply to  Robert Cooksey

Tut, tut. Cultural appropriation only goes one way, and you know that.

Dominic S
Dominic S
1 month ago
Reply to  Robert Cooksey

This seems to be a better critique. If you want to it is possible to ignore ‘woke casting’ – it is after all a fantasy, so anything is possible. However, it is not possible to ignore the fact that it is shockingly bad.

Robert Cooksey
Robert Cooksey
1 month ago
Reply to  Dominic S

But Rings of Power is totally wrecking Tolkiens lore. Tolkien would not recognise it at all. It’s an insult to his writings.

V T C
V T C
1 month ago
Reply to  Dominic S

Exactly. And I hope woke producers everywhere do not ever realize this. Christian movies, BTW, suffer from the same malady.

Jamie B
Jamie B
26 days ago
Reply to  Dominic S

“…so anything is possible.”
Then why fret over costumes and sets? If realism isn’t sought, why not just film at the local shopping mall?

mark white
mark white
1 month ago
Reply to  Robert Cooksey

Wouldn’t be like Europeans to appropriate anything. As for RoP , I think it’s far too twee and anaemic ( ditto Sandman). Try to please everyone and you please no one.

Richard Parker
Richard Parker
26 days ago
Reply to  mark white

Won’t let you off with a downvote. Your first sentence implies a one way street, which frankly is b*****ks.

To anticipate a riposte, Europeans are far from blameless, like many other cultures, but that’s not the point you made.

FWIW, I agree with your second point.

Rick Lawrence
Rick Lawrence
25 days ago
Reply to  Richard Parker

I think you missed the sarcasm in the first sentence

Richard Parker
Richard Parker
26 days ago
Reply to  Robert Cooksey

Agreed, especially your final point.

Appallingly/entertainingly, I saw an opinion piece in a major news outlet the other day which claimed, with absolute po-faced seriousness, that Tolkien’s work was inherently racist. From what I could gather, this was due to the uses of black and white, light and dark as signifiers in his narrative (since of course all usage must be cross referenced to everybody’s pet theories du jour).

I can only take refuge in the thought that even the “faithful” must surely tire of this nonsense eventually.

Vaughn C
Vaughn C
1 month ago
Reply to  Andrew Dalton

I was not aware that this adaptation is not based on the Silmarrilion. Thank you for saving me the time I would have taken to watch it. I owe you at least a few hours of my life.

Andy O'Gorman
Andy O'Gorman
1 month ago
Reply to  Andrew Dalton

Quite agree. Much like they did in destroying The Wheel of Time. I watched the first season and will not bother with the rest. The characters were hardly recognizable.
What a pity as it had huge potential.

John Riordan
John Riordan
1 month ago

Good article, but there is a misconception in its central argument – or an omission, at least. It’s that the creators of content are themselves part of and players within the culture war. It is therefore incorrect to imply, as the argument does, that content is created innocently in an ideological vacuum and culture war disputes only emerge downstream from it.

In fact, operating on such a fallacy can even be argued to be a technique of the culture warriors: it’s a variation on the technique presently employed politically in which Woke activists assert that there isn’t a culture war at all, it’s merely right-wing reactionaries starting fights over nothing. This is of course absurd, but the basis of the culture war is intended to be absurd, so this is nothing new.

In this context it is not plausible to imply that content creators are innocent victims of some demotic digital avalanche. They are very often part of the system responsible for trying to police and realign cultural boundaries, and just because the collective online reaction to this very often includes basement-dwelling misanthropes regurgitating paranoid nonsense does not mean that a great deal of it isn’t entirely valid criticism.

Last edited 1 month ago by John Riordan
Linda Hutchinson
Linda Hutchinson
1 month ago
Reply to  John Riordan

Woke activists assert that there isn’t a culture war at all, it’s merely right-wing reactionaries starting fights over nothing.
The nearest analogy that I can find for this is that of A being continually punched by B, when A gets fed up and punches B back, B throws up his hands in horror and says A has started a fight. This is technically true, a fight needs two protagonists; when it was just B punching A it wasn’t a fight. B feels entitled to do what he does and just expects A to take on the chin.

Paul O
Paul O
1 month ago

Excellent point.

I think once A finally starts to properly punch B back, B is going to wish they’d never started any fights.

Luckily A also tends to be more pragmatic, fairer and more tolerant so won’t keep punching B just for the sake of it.

Bernard Hill
Bernard Hill
1 month ago
Reply to  Paul O

…that’s because such an “A” would be behooved of toxic masculinity.

Vaughn C
Vaughn C
1 month ago

You just described Woke culture in lightning speed! Thank uou.

Bernard Hill
Bernard Hill
1 month ago

Excellent, and very accurate analogy Linda. Wokery is very much girlie in origin and flavour.

Leo X
Leo X
28 days ago

Your analogy implies that both are equal, which is not the case. A is the muscle thug while B is the nerdy weakling wearing glasses. And it’s not punches, it’s pushing. A, the bully, keeps pushing B around since their first year at school. Then one day B gets tired and pushes back. A doesn’t budge an inch and decides to beat the hell out of B. Except that that’s not acceptable, so the teachers, the parents and anybody else with a hint of human decency can see who’s in the wrong.
So they put anti bullying policies in place and now A thinks they’re the victim.

Richard Parker
Richard Parker
26 days ago
Reply to  Leo X

Do you get out much mate? Just asking…

Rick Lawrence
Rick Lawrence
25 days ago
Reply to  Richard Parker

Strange response to a good analogy

Richard Parker
Richard Parker
26 days ago

Nice point, succinctly out.

It is kinda amusing to be thus gaslit by a crowd who are so fond of the catch-cry of “gaslighting”. Also, annoying, but only in the way that children can be annoying sometimes.

Betsy Arehart
Betsy Arehart
19 days ago

B throws up his hands in horror saying A has started the fight and, because B has the power of the state-media-bureaucratic-woke complex, rounds up A and sends him to the gulag.

Last edited 18 days ago by betsyarehart
Andrew H
Andrew H
29 days ago
Reply to  John Riordan

Well written argument. If the creators had have been happy with an overwhelmingly positive response to Rings of Power then I’m sure they’d have said “the people have spoken” and taken the plaudits accordingly. That is not to say that trolls (not of the Snow or Cave variety) don’t fling mud pretty much for the sake of it at whatever project they don’t like, it’s what such people do, but most people with more than the intelligence of a concussed orc can tell the difference between well reasoned argument (good or bad) and statements which boil down to “this is crap, I don’t like it because it doesn’t fit 100% with my expectations.”

Philippe W
Philippe W
1 month ago

If you’ve ever followed Surowiecki on twitter it becomes very clear very quickly that he’s a deeply unlikeable narcissist; if you’ve ever seen the Amazon show in the title you’ll know this has little to do with woke casting.
Absolutely everything is wokely cast these days, the practice even being written into the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences operating code. You may recall. Two people from underrepresented groups and six from ethnic and racial minorities must have important roles, and the formidable but constantly ignored majority of normies are so exhausted by this nonsense that it barely registers any more.
You can therefore be 100% certain that any time wokeness is used as the reason for a terrible show being terribly received, it is 100% because the show is actually terrible and not because the audience is very suddenly up in arms at all the stupid wokery.
tl;dr it’s a terrible show

Lennon Ó Náraigh
Lennon Ó Náraigh
1 month ago
Reply to  Philippe W

Do the quotas of the Oscars apply to the Best Foreign Language Film category? If they don’t, it’s obvious discrimination. If they do, it’s cultural imperialism.

Michael Josem
Michael Josem
1 month ago

A key principle of The Wisdom of Crowds is that the crowds are only wise when they are large, diverse, and each individual is independent of each other. What is happening here was foreseen in TWOC: when crowds develop groupthink, and when they influence each other, they fail miserably.
We can see this in the form of groups punishing outsiders, whether it be in fake expert groups, or these sorts of mass coordinated action efforts. Those groups are not diverse, and the participants are not independent of each other, and thus, they are not wise crowds.

Bernard Hill
Bernard Hill
1 month ago
Reply to  Michael Josem

Exactly Michael. The ‘secret ballot’ aspect is essential, just as ‘autonomous’ purchasing is in genuinely competitive markets for goods and services.

Last edited 1 month ago by Bernard Hill
Edwin Blake
Edwin Blake
1 month ago

The underlying assumption here is that the crowd sourced reviews are wrong. Why? What is that based on? The fact that Amazon does not agree with them? It is scarcely disinterested. Or perhaps they do not coincide with the author’s opinion? From the tiny bit I’ve seen of the review scores they average about 4 / 10. Maybe that’s deserved.

Julian Farrows
Julian Farrows
1 month ago
Reply to  Edwin Blake

According to the Hollywood Reporter LotR fans that dislike The Rings of Power are racist: https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/tv/tv-features/lord-of-the-rings-rings-of-power-racist-backlash-1235211341/

M. Jamieson
M. Jamieson
1 month ago
Reply to  Edwin Blake

I don’t think she is saying they are either right or wrong, just that they are not simply the individual responses of viewers. Which is not just the case with films but with online behaviour in other areas as well.

Benjamin Leroy
Benjamin Leroy
1 month ago
Reply to  Edwin Blake

I think whether the average score for this show is deserved or not is besides the point of the article. Perhaps 4/10 rightly reflects the quality of the show so far, but when you look at the distributions of audience scores, they are incredibly polarized (mostly either the minimal or maximum score with very few moderate ratings). This is not a distribution one would expect if reviews were truly a pool of independent opinions. It rather suggests that there is some sort of underlying ideological battle, or at least two radically opposed sides with regards to expectations from such a show. I agree with the author that the causes and protagonists of this battle are clearly identified. One can legitimately point out that the article focused only on the review bomb aspect and not on the unreserved praises, but ultimately those are two sides of the same coin.

William Shaw
William Shaw
1 month ago

It’s a shame. I’d like to enjoy the series but I’m afraid that’s impossible. Apparently all the money in the world can’t save a badly written production. All I can think is that Amazon must have a very low opinion of their subscribers.
With regard to She-Hulk, I stumbled on that series a while back and only managed to stomach the first 10 minutes. To describe the show as woke doesn’t fully capture the steaming pile of unmentionable that it presents to viewers.

Last edited 1 month ago by William Shaw
Ben J
Ben J
1 month ago

Just watch ‘The Critical Drinker’ on YouTube demolish programs like this, from the POV of someone who simply enjoys genre fiction and movies.

Dominic S
Dominic S
1 month ago
Reply to  Ben J

This seems to be the way to critique a TV show – that it is bad compared to others of its ilk.

James Trueman
James Trueman
1 month ago
Reply to  Ben J

I recently stopped watching ‘The Critical Drinkers’ videos as I do feel that he is peddling to an increasingly right wing audience. He does touch on a lot of the primary frustrations a majority have about modern television and film, namely rushed production, lazy scriptwriting and profit focused franchise building, but his emphasis on ‘the message’ (as he likes to call it) has always bugged me. There is nothing inherently wrong with more diversity and representation in entertainment media. I’m sure we can all speak of the joy and inspiration one feels at seeing a character one can relate to (for whatever reason; race, gender, character traits etc) put to screen. Everybody deserves that. In the case of The Rings of Power I actually think Arondir is one of the most interesting characters so far, mainly because he is stoic and doesn’t say much. I don’t think it’s fair to judge a television series until you’ve seen it through to the end but so far I agree that it is off to a bad start. The script is clunky, there are an overwhelming amount of characters and the tone is jarring. The frustrating thing for me is not the narrow minded insecure people moaning about ‘wokeness’; people like that have always, and will always, exist, sadly. But the fact that Amazon, like Disney, is focusing solely on this moronic commentary and ignoring the genuine measured criticism behind it from a much larger majority. It’s a genius marketing strategy and it works every time. If you enjoy The Rings of Power then good for you, I just yearn for a time when major film studios and corporations will allow creators the time, resources and trust to tell their stories with an emphasis on quality, not quantity and profit. Peter Jackson spent nearly a decade preparing his film trilogy; he took some liberties with the lore back then which upset many of the fan base but the reason his adaptation is so praised is because he absolutely nailed the tone. The music, the cinematography, the costumes, sets. The sprinkling of quiet scenes like Aragorn singing the Lay of Luthien and Saruman recognising the ring of Barahir. All of these things are what made it feel like Middle-Earth; this fantasy world that Tolkien had spent his entire life building. Amazon was going to recreate this depth in two years? Keep dreaming.

Emyr
Emyr
1 month ago
Reply to  James Trueman

Fair points and appreciate sharing your thoughts in detail.

In regards to the Critical Drinker and the ‘message’. To be fair to him on the latest livestream about the Rings of Power (“Ask the Drinker #5”) he actually explained that the progressive aims for diversity, inclusion representation etc is good and laudable. It’s just the execution that’s wrong as it’s heavy handed and preachy. This is what turns off people. He even praised a Bollywood film RRR.

I have to say going in I wasn’t enamoured with the ‘diverse’ casting for Rings or Power. I like Arondir, for the reasons you put forward. He’s cool, able and stoic although needs a proper backstory. I liked Disa and her interplay with Durin and Elrond. Unfortunately Galadriel isn’t exactly a compelling protagonist as she argues with everyone and doesn’t seem to care as much for the men she leads. Hopefully they’ll properly develop her character.

The show itself looks stunning and you at least feel like you’re in Middle-Earth from a visual perspective. It’s not all bad but 4/5 out of 10 is a fair score in my view.

As for Peter Jackson, yes he did take some liberties with the story that people didn’t enjoy. But if you compare the quote from Lindsey Weber (Executive Producer for RoP) in Vanity Fair compared to Peter Jackson from GreenCine in 2022. He made it clear he didn’t want personal politics to be injected into the story and instead be faithful to the lore. Whereas Lindsey Weber/Amazon explicitly stated they wanted Middle-Earth to represent the world as it is today.

When you start treating art and entertainment as an extension of your activist social justice politics, especially when adapting source material. You’re only going to compromise the vision of the creator. The two are incompatible.

Last edited 1 month ago by opaque83
Anna Bramwell
Anna Bramwell
26 days ago
Reply to  James Trueman

And yet how often do programmes intrude east asian or indian or south american or kurdish actors into their shows? Why is it always black and white? Dont they deserve to have characters they can relate to?

Miriam Cotton
Miriam Cotton
1 month ago

Yeah but The Rings of Power is awful tripe all the same.

Daniel Lee
Daniel Lee
1 month ago

She’s right. Lol. Public comment passes harsh judgment on Woke entertainment posturing and suddenly it’s the Public at fault and not the inane posturing.

John Murray
John Murray
1 month ago

I don’t entirely disagree with the article, but I think there needs to be more realization that stunts like “review-bombing” are the work of tiny (frankly a bit unhinged) groups who don’t represent anybody other than themselves. In particular, we need more people realizing it is ok to ignore what a small, but loud crowd is saying on Twitter.

Richard Abbot
Richard Abbot
1 month ago

The Wisdom of Crowds was always an absurdity. People go mad in crowds, and only later, individually, do they come to their senses.

John Riordan
John Riordan
1 month ago
Reply to  Richard Abbot

That’s a basic misreading of the theory. It’s a popular one though, for people desperate to believe that Brexit is a mob triumph over reason, for example. As pointed out by others on this page however, the wisdom of crowds emerges from a crowd as a collection of distinct individuals putting their own views forth. It does not emerge when the crowd tries to reach a consensus within itself. This is why democracy is stubbornly effective despite still being highly flawed and the main reason it remains effective is the secrecy of the ballot, which makes the actual voting choice a personal, secret choice which can be made irrespective of any collective pressure one way or the other.

laurence scaduto
laurence scaduto
1 month ago
Reply to  John Riordan

Good point. But in this case the vehemence of the criticisms, the anger and the hurt feelings of some of the critics makes “the madness of crowds” a very appropriate explanation.
Scary, really.

Erik Hildinger
Erik Hildinger
1 month ago

Gustave Le Bon, in his book The Crowd, made much the same point almost 130 years ago. A bunch of individuals does not make a “psychological” crowd, as he defines it; they must exhibit what he called a “mental unity.” Once that occurs, they become unreasonable and emotional, and thus easily swayed. I recommend the book. Despite its age, it explains much of what we see currently online and in culture and politics.

Last edited 1 month ago by Erik Hildinger
Simon Hannaford
Simon Hannaford
1 month ago
Reply to  John Riordan

The point made in The Wisdom of Crowds was that the key lay in the aggregation of individual choices.

Richard Abbot
Richard Abbot
6 days ago
Reply to  John Riordan

Only if they are indeed DISTINCT individuals, forming conclusions for themselves, individually. In most crowds this is simply not the case.
The response to the Brexit referendum and then the response to Covid confirm this

Last edited 6 days ago by Richard Abbot
Laura Creighton
Laura Creighton
1 month ago
Reply to  Richard Abbot

The wisdom was in large numbers, but not crowds. As an undergraduate, we did this sort of experiment. Some of it was for class, (on how to remove bias in your scientific experiments) but more of it was just for fun. For instance, we filled a glass jar with jellybeans, or peanuts and then invited people to guess the number in the jar. Whoever was closest got to keep it. As long as the people guessed secretly, by secret ballot, the guess which was the average of all the guesses was a pretty good estimate for what is in the jar. However, if you handed a the same jar to a group of people and asked them to work out a guess together — you mostly got the guess of the person who was most persuasive, or some number that was in between the first two guesses. You could rig this. Stick a person in the group with instructions to really insist on some known wrong answer. Watch people line up with whoever was most certain, rather than whoever was closest to correct.
But if you gave people the weekend off, outside of social pressure, they would come back on Monday refreshed and more likely to ignore Friday’s certainties for ‘on further reflection, I think that the number we came up with as a best guess on Friday was too low’ (or too high if the error was in that direction). This may be the real problem with social media — nobody gets to go away for the weekend. You are always in the crowd.
But this doesn’t mean that democracy is dead, or is mob rule. But stick with the secret ballots, for goodness sake!

Last edited 1 month ago by Laura Creighton
Ali W
Ali W
1 month ago

How did this article not even touch on bot accounts used to simulate public opinion?

Nikki Hayes
Nikki Hayes
1 month ago

Forget Tolkein, for the most part, and just enjoy the series as it is – an incredibly gorgeous piece of fantasy eye candy. I’ve watched the first two episodes and enjoyed them well enough – but I’ve suspended my “Tolkein never wrote that” radar, its far more enjoyable like that. Just like Game of Thrones.

Ash W
Ash W
1 month ago

This article doesn’t just miss the mark but it fires 180 degrees in the wrong direction. The idea that mainstream media somehow provides objectivity and that is undermined by the crowd is an extraordinary claim that is not backed up. What you’ve missed is that the show is shocking in every technical way feasible. You’ve also failed to acknowledge that protest against a corrupt media is a key component to review bombing. Since you want to make this about wokeism, let’s take the example of CyberPunk 2077 instead, which a clearer example. The game was review bombed because the producer overpromised, shipped a low quality, broken product and paid the media to cover it up so the launch would be successful. This is exactly what has happen here and failing to acknowledge it makes your argument rather meaningless. Review bombing happens because…get this…people get upset when you lie to them and destroy things they care about, existing or promised. The solution is very simple. Don’t ship garbage.

Last edited 1 month ago by Ash W
Arkadian X
Arkadian X
1 month ago

I have not seen the show yet, but the phenomena described is well known. It most certainly didn’t start the other day.
Leaving aside the likes of Amazon (the goods side if the business, not the video on demand) and the fact that their site is full of fake reviews (which they tolerate/encourage), partisan reviews are nothing new.
Going back to TV series, whenever a new show airs, within minutes there will be loads of reviews on ImDB and similar sites who will have prejudged the content. When there is a franchise new instalment there will be 2 camps, those enamoured by it and the haters. What the show is actually like is anybody’s guess.
I do believe that a lot of these reviews are authentic, in the sense that that have not been incentivised, but they don’t really talk about the product per se, but exclusively about one’s tribe.
The main point is that there is really nothing new going on here.

B Davis
B Davis
1 month ago

But what is the lesson, exactly?
As the author herself notes, “Opinions have never been formed in a vacuum. They’re infectious…” And on line the ‘infection’ is ‘viral’ (to coin a phrase!). This should not be surprising, nor is there a lesson here other than the one already well-learned (the lesson every retailer & ‘Mad Man’ counts upon): people influence each other. Of course we do!
Ms. Harrington leaps, however, from the obvious to the rather tenuous assertion that the : “As more of the public square has moved online, we’ve seen how these can grow monolithic and bitterly factionalised.” What?? If, indeed, the on-line meme trend is “monolithic”, meaning “large, powerful, and intractably indivisible and uniform”…then it cannot be “bitterly factionalised”. Conversely, if what witness in that on-line ‘public square’ is factionalised, then it cannot be monolithic, can it?
And therein lies the problem.
In fact the ‘infinite’ size of internet dialogue lends itself always to ‘diversity’ of thought, perspective, and passion. This is the factionalization of opinion noted by the author. Yes, particular perspectives do indeed become viral, infectious, and heavily repeated….but equal and opposing perspectives (on most things anyway) also compete for that same virality. This leads, inevitably, to conflict and clashing as opposing perspectives rumble and tumble across a multiplicity of on-line forums.
This is not a bad thing. In fact it is, in many ways, the ‘marketplace of ideas’ that free speech generates. It is within that marketplace that truth (the better idea) eventually triumphs, bloody but unbowed.
At least it does unless Big Brother (in the form of State or Technocratic Censor) puts his heavy thumb upon the scale, closes the marketplace, and declares — monolithically! — that Idea X is the only permissible Idea because it is the approved idea!
“No one believes more firmly than Comrade Napoleon that all animals are equal. He would be only too happy to let you make your decisions for yourselves. But sometimes you might make the wrong decisions, comrades, and then where should we be?”
And that, of course, is why the ‘marketplace’ MUST REMAIN OPEN…even if within the marketplace din we encounter perspectives which wrinkle our blankies and tweak our sensibilities.
Why should the Rings of Power be any different…even if the factionalised reviews are heavily critical? Why should we presuppose that the ‘wisdom of crowds’ (which in this case is not really the wisdom of crowds so much as it is the passions of fanboys (and girls) writ large) in this case is wrong?
What we witness is the ‘conflict’ of professional reviews (which are generally favorable as they are untied to Tolkien’s work) with audience reviews (which, at this stage, are heavily tied to Tolkien…as we would expect). It should be unsurprsing that IF we disconnect what we witness on the screen from the books, that thus isolated we tend to enjoy the cinematography, the special effects, the beauty of the actors (not so much the wooden dialogue). Equally it’s unsurprising that those who know and love the source material are outraged at the Woke Reimagining of the tale, even unto the obliteration of the source.
Just how many heroic, tough, clever, resourceful, brave, warrior-champion, monster-killing women can we squeeze into 60 minutes? How many different races, colors, ethnicities, and accents can we jam-pack into every gathering? Sadly, as much as we might enjoy the epic vision of the set designers and cinematographers, the cramped, hothouse insistence on politically-correct, WOKE casting & plot redesign significantly & jarringly interferes with out ability to become lost in the story we would dearly love to be lost in.

Anna Bramwell
Anna Bramwell
26 days ago
Reply to  B Davis

What is a professional review?

John Lacey
John Lacey
1 month ago

Absolutely right, all those countless 10 out of 10 reviews that are obviously review bombing paid people or bots are ruining realistic scoring systems. Oh that’s right we don’t talk about those, or that IMDB (owned by Amazon) and Amazon we’re deleting all reviews below a 6.

Joe Cho
Joe Cho
1 month ago

Amazon-owned IMDB is deleting ALL reviews under 6/10. Combine that with the gap between “professional” critic ratings and audience ratings on Rotten Tomatoes. House of the Dragon faced similar “woke” accusations from right-wing trolls and yet audience ratings and professional critic ratings were comparable and they didn’t need to manipulate reviews.
Seems like the real story is corrupt megacorp knows it messed up and is using its privilege and power to buy good press and silence authentic dissent in frantic damage control. It’s going to blow up in their face.

Andrew Dalton
Andrew Dalton
1 month ago
Reply to  Joe Cho

A lot of the so-called right wing trolls who were calling out woke casting in House of the Dragon have actually admitted the show is pretty good.

Allison Barrows
Allison Barrows
1 month ago

Douglas Murray has a thing or two to say about crowds. He uses a different word to describe their “wisdom”.

Robert Hochbaum
Robert Hochbaum
1 month ago

“Lol, as they say these days.”
Lol

Jeff Cunningham
Jeff Cunningham
1 month ago

I’ve always considered “wisdom of the masses” or crowd to be an oxymoron. The tyranny of the majority is a fearful thing for minorities and exactly why the U.S.A. was by design a republic (which it is appearing we have been unable to keep).

Andrew H
Andrew H
29 days ago

Some good comments here. For what it’s worth, speaking as a LOTRs fan, the series looks good but so far, that is all that can be said for it. It’s possible it will pick up once it gets into its Strid(er), it’s only two episodes in but so far, it’s not very good. Poor characters, poor story (so far) and cringe worthy acting in parts. As my school reports used to regularly say, “could do better.”

Juffin Hully
Juffin Hully
1 month ago

I am a great admirer if Mary’s writing, but in this post she has managed to use “it turns out” twice in the same sentence. Dubious achievement.

Dear UnHerd, please do not try to save money on editors. This makes the site look worse than it is.

Last edited 1 month ago by Juffin Hully
Z 0
Z 0
1 month ago

While reviews may be gamed to some degree, Amazon knows the viewing statistics in great detail. In particular, they know precisely how many viewers continue past the initial episodes, judging the quality for themselves rather than relying on the opinions of others.
If there is an organized effort to bias the reviews to keep “less woke” people away, that would actually tend to reduce the falloff among those who watch the early episodes, by causing many who might not like it to never start it; those who begin watching the series anyway are statistically more likely to be biased towards it.
People who don’t actually find it very well written and produced but who have a tribal affiliation with wokeness may watch the early episodes and give falsely positive reviews to support the cause, but they are unlikely to waste their time by continuing to watch unless it’s actually good.
Let’s see how happy Amazon is with viewer retention, and whether they get their money’s worth for $1B USD.

Vaughn C
Vaughn C
1 month ago

For your political point, we should review Alexander Hamilton’s position on what we can essentially call “mobocracy” or an uncontrolled democracy giving simple majorities the true sway of power. His objections and others led to the Electoral College Act. How could we weight opinions about online adaptations of classic literature in the same manner? 🙂

Jamie B
Jamie B
26 days ago

When/how was it established that these negative reviews are mostly insincere? It’s simply ‘known’ a priori that nobody is naturally fed up with woke messaging, and such apparent outrage could only be manufactured?

Last edited 26 days ago by Jamie B
Jean Pierre Noel
Jean Pierre Noel
25 days ago

Lots of hot takes inspired by more hot takes from people with an agenda. The mainstream’s media glowing reviews are no better nor worse than the whiny bomb ones. Without being great, it’s fun to watch with the kids without thinking about the culture war.

ELM
ELM
29 days ago

Let me confirm that the show is at least in part getting review bombed because of racism and misogyny. I live in Eastern Europe and I am by accident a part of a big Russian-speaking community that is participating in said bombing. People discuss how they create multiple accounts and leave negative reviews in English, and I can assure you they are motivated by racism and misogyny, because they don’t hide it (though they often start their comments by saying “I am not racist, BUT…” ). They also teach each other not to mention “black hobbits” and “strong whamen” in their reviews, and instead talk about the flaws in the story and bad dialogue, because then the review is less likely to be deleted. It is still a 1/10 review after all, so it does it’s job.

Now, I personally can’t help but see this kind of attitude in any review that gives the show 1/10. I don’t see how anything but the most radical views (be it racism or hysterical Tolkien fangirlism) can lead you to call the show garbage, when it is clearly above average, given the bar set by everything we get to watch nowadays. It is *at least* a good show, 7/10 in my book. It is coherent, beautiful, vast, intriguing and clearly created with love. It is honestly jarring when I see a 38% rating on RT, while some other shows are “certified fresh”, and noone bats an eye. This is *at least* as good as Sandman, imo, better. But I don’t really have to say it, I have no doubts the viewership numbers will be excellent.

I consider myself a huge fan of Tolkien books, but I don’t see the merit in gatekeeping and bombing every attempt at reimagining the story. I don’t understand why people are ready to kill if it takes a step away from Jackson’s aesthetic or Tolkien’s 20th century vision. I would prefer to see more shows based on Tolkien, good and bad, rather than one nervous attempt in a lifetime made at the gunpoint of raging fangirls.

I don’t need you to agree with me on 7/10, but I also don’t need a barrage of childish or racist 1/10 reviews to influence my opinions every time a big show comes out. Something has to be done, I don’t know what.

P.S. I find it laughable how people criticize “woke” writers for writing Mary Sues and then get outraged when Galadriel is written as flawed and in many ways unlikable. That’s called setting up a character arc.

Last edited 29 days ago by ELM
Andrew McDonald
Andrew McDonald
26 days ago
Reply to  ELM

I know the ‘…something..’ that has to be done – don’t read the reviews! I don’t, so I’ve enjoyed reading this article and the comments, but purely as sociological material and a sidelight on what the dimwit part of the crowd is up to. The series is terrible, but I don’t have to be told that, especially not by a bot.

Anna Bramwell
Anna Bramwell
26 days ago
Reply to  ELM

Jackson’s changes were directed at making more time for battles and fights not in the original, and less for the likes of Tom Bombadil and the cleansing of the shire ( and Sam’s renewal of said Shire using Gakadriel’s gift of earth.) He did well, but it meant a lot of boyish hokum .

Anna Bramwell
Anna Bramwell
26 days ago
Reply to  ELM

And what is behind the cunning Russian racist reviews written in flawless English? Why should they do thus? And which country are you talking about/from?