The long-awaited series of Lord of the Rings is completely burned down on several online platforms: a so-called ‘review bomb’. What is it and why do ‘fans’ do it? “They don’t agree with which way ‘their’ series is going.”
Media scientist Dan Hassler-Forest of Utrecht University has been seeing the phenomenon for about 5 years. “We’ve seen this in the past with movies like Captain Marvel and Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” he says. “And at the moment, for example, with the Marvel series She-Hulk.”
‘Don’t waste your time with it’
So the most recent victim is The Rings of Power: the most expensive series of all time, set in the world of Lord of the Rings by writer JRR Tolkien. Reviews of the new series have been mostly positive, but the response from fans online has not been kind.
As per review website Rotten Tomatoes: ‘It’s nothing like Tolkien’s world; it’s a bad ‘girl power’ teen movie,” one writes there. There is also criticism of the actors of color, who would not appear in the fantasy world: ‘They try to be so politically correct. I’m so tired of that, don’t waste your time watching this series.’
Media scientist Dan Hassler-Forest explains in EenVandaag on NPO Radio 1 exactly what a ‘review bomb’ is
Domain of white straight man
The Rings of Power is the victim of an orchestrated attempt to plummet the average rating, Hassler-Forest says. The so-called ‘review bombing’: specially programmed bots flood websites with bad reviews, which, according to the media scientist, are usually behind fans who are dissatisfied with a new direction.
He sees it mainly arising from online fan culture that focuses strongly on a few specific media forms and genres, such as games, science fiction, fantasy or horror. “Not entirely coincidentally, also genres that were previously seen as the exclusive domain of white straight men.”
That group is annoyed, for example, by the fact that superhero Captain Marvel is a female protagonist with a feminist character, says Hassler-Forest. And the fact that a large number of female actors and non-white characters have the leading roles in Star Wars also led to reactions: “You always see that it concerns a group of fans who are dissatisfied that the central role is not played by someone who is him or her.”
“It’s ultimately about ownership of fans who follow a certain genre. Lord of the Rings used to be about white men, but in recent years you have seen a shift in that, with a more diverse cast,” he explains. “That is not only the case in the film world, but everywhere in society. This makes this group of fans restless and angry.”
Advantage of negative attention?
According to him, there is little that can be done against the review bombs. “They are online systems, a form of fake news and misinformation. You can build all kinds of algorithms, but you can’t keep up with the speed at which things come online.” Do the negative reactions also influence the viewing figures? “The female-starred Ghostbusters remake was one of the first major victims of some form of review bombing on YouTube. “And it delivered disappointing sales.”
“Yet, according to many, that was due to the film rather than the fuss,” Hassler-Forest added. “Some producers are also happy with this attention, because it also provides a lot of publicity. That can make a large audience curious about the fuss.”