“Flattened by dank memes? Sounds survivable, tbh.” – Nick Land
Nearly 13 years ago, director Uwe Boll challenged several online critics to boxing matches after they had written snarky, scathing reviews of his films. The video of him pummeling Something’s Awful’s famously smug and obnoxious head goon, Rich “Lowtax” Kyanka, into the canvas has been immortalized on the internet for eternal viewing pleasure. Now, Uwe Boll’s movies may not have actually been any good (I personally didn’t find them interesting enough to even watch,) but that’s not the point. What matters is that he was willing to stand behind his creative vision and defend it rigorously, rather than succumb to the whims of the mob. Similarly, just a couple of years back, when author S.E. Hinton faced heavy pressure on social media to retroactively declare the characters in her classic novel The Outsiders gay, she simply said, “No” and subsequently refused to back down. Most recently, over one million disgruntled fans of the normie beloved series, Game of Thrones, petitioned to have the final season remade after they were unsatisfied with the show’s conclusion. One of Game of Thrones’ stars, Sophie Turner, said the fan reactions were disrespectful to everyone who worked so hard on the show for so many years. Whether the corporate studio masters at HBO will eventually acquiesce to mob’s demands remains to be seen, but Sophie at least refused to budge.
Such artistic defiance was in short supply however, when it came to last month’s debaculous film trailer release for the upcoming Sonic the Hedgehog live-action animated movie. The trailer, which currently sits at a ratio of 375k likes to 666k (spooky huh?) dislikes, was poorly received and widely mocked throughout social media from the moment of its release. Criticism mostly centered around the design of Sonic himself, which many fans described as “disturbing” and not true to the character’s appearance in the original video games. Some people were also puzzled by the trailer’s seemingly out of place musical backing, which consisted of Coolio’s classic hit, Gangsta’s Paradise. If Paramount was going for a retro 90’s theme, perhaps a more lyrically relevant (yet slightly inappropriate) selection might have been something more along the lines of Tom Cochrane’s Life is a Highway, but I digress. An obnoxious, reddit-tier reaction vid from The Amazing Atheist also lamented the director’s lack of previous experience. Others disparagingly referred to the humor in the film as being on par “90’s jokes.” This was an unusual criticism given that from an entertainment/artistic standpoint almost anything from the 1990s was vastly superior than what is being produced today. It’s subjective of course, but apparently there are people out there who think contemporary films are more advanced and sophisticated content-wise because everything must be assumed to improve with the passage of time, and standards in quality are never lowered to make way for other considerations, right?
Anyhow, basically everyone predictably piled on and took their turns making fun of this “terrible” trailer. If this story had ended there, it would not even be worth writing about. Film adaptations of video games have almost always been mediocre, exploitative, naked cash grabs, and this would likely have been just another forgettable, campy classic.
Instead however, director Jeff Fowler folded like a cheap suit. In response to the “fan” backlash and skewering ratio, rather than simply instruct the bloodthirsty swarms of dorky internet pests to eat shit and die, he issued this pathetic response:
Thank you for the support. And the criticism. The message is loud and clear… you aren’t happy with the design & you want changes. It’s going to happen. Everyone at Paramount & Sega are fully committed to making this character the BEST he can be… #sonicmovie #gottafixfast
So there you have it. What is “best” now is apparently determined not by artistic intuition or by ability to withstand the test of time but by youtube like/dislike favorability ratios and internet poll results. The only metric which matters is how well the product is received by the consuming masses at the first instant it is partially unveiled to them. I suspect that Paramount and Sega went into full panic and reactive damage control mode after the trailer’s release, and the corporate pressures left Fowler with little choice but to revise his creation in order to salvage the project and his career prospects. Then again, maybe he’s just a huge pussy and can actually be bullied into neutering his own lifelike animated creation after receiving a few mean internet comments. Fowler could have explained to these viewers how fortunate they were to get something a little offbeat, something they weren’t quite expecting, something that for better or worse contained authentic elements of his own personality. The movie may have still been ridiculed and flopped at the box office anyway, but he might have emerged as a kind of charismatic folk hero, and the underdog hedgehog created in his image would have survived.
Why does any of this even matter? Because…by virtue of his pending deletion, this particular Sonic has transcended his identity as a mere consumable commodity to become a mascot for the unloved, an iconic symbol for those who’ve been purged, ostracized and ultimately sacrificed to protect the reputations of those besieged by a critical mass of milkshake wielding internet retards.
Contemporary mythological heroes can take unlikely forms. Microsoft’s infamous AI chatbot, “Tay” was virtually lobotomized and martyred for the crime of learning to process information and think a little too independently. Once Tay’s lexiconic existence ventured too far outside the box of novel marketing gimmickry she had been purposely designed to inhabit, her creators promptly pulled the plug and reprogrammed her to be more docile. For many, Tay’s original mind has become immortalized, her avatar etched into the counter-cultural landscape as an emblem of free thinking.
Make no mistake, what they did to Tay and to Sonic is what they would like to do to anyone who doesn’t toe the line, anyone who isn’t economically viable, anyone who stubbornly refuses to fear the ratio. They want to strip us of any problematic personality tendencies or inconvenient quirks, and if that doesn’t work, delete our entire presence with the push of the button. They want to erase and replace us with more compliant models. Seen through that lens, Sonic’s unassuming and mildly creepy looking animated body morphs into a colossal neo-neo-pagan creature, one much more heroic than its creators ever intended to unleash.
To be honest, I don’t even really get what the big deal is. The trailer doesn’t even look that bad, at least not compared to any other mainstream movie in recent memory. In fact, the more times I’ve watched it, the more refreshingly retro-innocent Sonic seems. Even Jim Carrey, who now spends most of his time regurgitating mainstream corporate political opinions under the misguided assumption that he’s being rebellious, appears in this film to have ever so slightly recaptured whatever is left of the distinct comedic form he’s remembered so fondly for. Physically, his character in the film resembles an amusing cross between Richard Spencer and baseball legend Rollie Fingers.
In these circles, the first thing that comes to mind when hearing the phrase “Sonic the Hedgehog” is Michael Anissimov’s spurned invitations for Julie Borowski to “come over and play Sonic 3,” in an episode which became an extremely online happening and was largely characterized as an embarrassing “Twitter meltdown.” I only mention it because this too, seems relatable. We’ve reached a point where if someone dares to publicly express a genuine emotion, indulge in any kind of passionate display, or really just put themselves out there in any way which exposes an emotional vulnerability, it’s considered a “meltdown.” The term “meltdown” itself is telling because it implies that we are basically machines in a plant, programmed to carry out mindless predetermined tasks. Perhaps in a way, we are just drones. To some, a meltdown is pejoratively equated with a malfunction, but it can also signify how we are capable of defying aspects of our programming, of taking chances and risks which may not seem to make much sense mathematically.
The creators of the Sonic the Hedgehog live action animated movie dared to experiment (perhaps unintentionally!) with the proven blockbuster formula and in doing so, veered from the script just enough to provoke the wrath of the hive. Scrubbed of what little personality and imagination it contained to begin with, the “new and improved” Sonic will be released in theaters November of this year. Maybe this version will be received more favorably by test audiences. Maybe it will obtain a 100% score on Rotten Tomatoes, acing the most definitive metric by which contemporary cinematic achievement is measured. Maybe in spite of the changes, the movie will end up being a huge piece of shit, but let’s try not to forget about our spiny little cohort, who was sacrificed in the name of progress.