Every Annoying Letterboxd Behavior
I’ve had a lot of downtime at the airport and hotel on our Christmas trip and spent much of it looking at the movie-review social network Letterboxd. (Of all of the networks that did the “drop the ‘e’ for SEO purposes” thing, this is the worst. Call the fucking site Letterboxed. Please. It’s almost 2024, guys. Give us back our “e,” OK?) I quite like the service, but as a social network it’s a) made up of humans who are b) trying to stand out from the crowd like a goth at the homecoming pep rally. Here’s a list of some of the many annoying things people do. I’m sure someone else has done this before I have and done a better job of it. Here is my Lttrbxd profile so that you can note my own annoying behaviors, some of which are criticized in this very list.
Like-whoring by writing tweets instead of reviews. Like-whoring is the basic problem with every social network depraved enough to have a “like” function, of course. The most obvious like-whoring behavior on Letterboxd is the shoehorned-in one-liner review. On rare occasions, these are funny and apt and really say something; mostly, they’re people desperately trying to appear witty to strangers and succeeding only in appearing desperate. You have to really know what you’re doing to pull one of these off. (Like so much else in life, it’s important not to suck.) A lot of the time, you can tell that the person started from the premise of doing a pithy one liner about a movie and worked backwards from there, rather than actually organically developing a funny observation and deciding to post it. Worse, though, it’s an abuse of the platform. If you want to tweet about a movie, do it on Twitter! That, actually, is one of the more annoying elements of the whole social networking era, the tendency of every network to become Twitter over time. It’s a cynical move for several reasons, a big one being that people are much more likely to read a one-line review and thus more likely to give it a like. The site isn’t meant for showing what a precious and clever boy you are. Write actual reviews.
Doing the opposite by writing a dissertation. The endless look-at-me-I’m-so-cute one-line reviews are a constant on Letterboxd, but there’s plenty that go too far the other way, too. I love a good longform review that does a deep dive and carefully considers themes, of a kind that wasn’t really possible in the era of all-print media. But this is not the venue. Start a blog like everybody else. I think three or four or five well-considered paragraphs are a sweet spot for Letterboxd; go much beyond that and you’re dropping a monologue into a conversation. Again, match your engagement to the structure of the network.
Fake contrarianism. “I don’t care who knows it or what it costs me, I think Saving Private Ryan was robbed at the Oscars.” Damn, bro, what a courageous, original sentiment. (Also you’re wrong.)
Comparing your taste to some other party who you know will be unpopular with other users. Probably the most basic lesson of the social internet is that if you can’t get popular by being smart or funny, you can get popular by ostentatiously hating the right things. “Film bros” are big here - “the film bros might not like it, but [Movie Everyone Already Respects] deserves some respect!” Ex-boyfriends, too. (“My ex-boyfriend made me feel like the movies I like didn’t matter, so I’ve carried that around with me and obsessed over it for the past 7 years to show how independent my taste is now, so fuck you Gabe.”) Film snobs, of course, take their licks; I think 80% of reviews of MCU movies are really about resenting film snobs. Then you have disliked contrarians like Armond White, those know-nothing bigshots at the Hollywood studios, and the “average Letterboxd user,” etc. Just come up with a perspective that you can confidently assume other people will reject, even if it’s an entirely vague abstraction, then counterpose your own righteous stance against that. Works every time.
Utterly superficial appeals to facile political critiques. These are usually wrong, and when right are shooting the fattest of fish in the smallest of barrels. Yes, Gone With the Wind is pretty fucked up in 2023 political terms! Where would we be without your wisdom to guide us? Using politics to inform a review is great. Explaining why the implicit or explicit political themes of a movie are trouble is fine. Arriving at a pat political condemnation as a substitute for having an aesthetic take on a movie is boring and pointless. Observing that Scar from The Lion King is in many ways a depiction of a queer outcast is a little rote, but it’s a fair point that can deepen interpretation of the movie. Hanging your entire opinion of The Lion King on that observation, acting as though that notion can constitute an actual critical reaction in and of itself, is like saying you liked a steak because it was made of cow; it says nothing about the actual experience of eating it and leaves the reader no better informed. There is no political claim so meaningful that it allows you to abdicate your responsibility to have taste.
Talking about “easter eggs” or fan theories. Fuck off nerd.
Accusing other people of faking their affection for a movie. This stuff absolutely wallpapers Letterboxd. Take any movie with a) a lot of four-and-five star reviews and b) even the slightest amount of formal difficulty or experimentation, and you’ll find a smaller chorus of people insisting that all of those people don’t really like the movie and instead are just trying to look smart or cool or whatever. It’s not the assertion that a movie is bad but that no one could ever sincerely think it was good. People get so mad when a movie they don’t get receives a lot of positive reviews. And please understand me here: to say that they don’t get it is not a value judgement. I’m not suggesting that if only they were smarter, they’d like the movie. I’m just saying that some people like things that other people don’t, and we mostly understand that to be fine, different strokes. But when it comes to lack of narrative coherence (e.g. Inherent Vice or Mulholland Drive) or overt complexity (Southland Tales or Upstream Color) or committed plotlessness (Mystery Train or Everybody Wants Some!!) or Malicky-ness (Tree of Life or Song to Song), people are viscerally offended at the notion that someone else digs what they don’t. It turns out, though, that taste is subjective, and further that some people genuinely enjoy narrative art that’s focused on elements other than traditional plot or coherence in conventional terms. Make peace with this and, if you think a movie is shitty, say that it’s shitty, not that everyone else would say it was shitty too, if only they were as brave and honest as you. The fear that, somewhere, someone is looking down their nose at you remains the most powerful force in culture.
Inventing your own scoring system in a network with a five-star system. 78/100! B+! Three boxes of popcorn! There’s a star system right there baked into the app, jackass. You even get half-stars, unlike Goodreads. Is your aesthetic judgment really so exacting that you think that it can only be expressed as a percentile, and do you honestly believe a single goddamn soul on Earth (other than you) can interpret the difference between your 84 and your 87? Please. Stop treating this like the Gifted & Talented program at your elementary school.
Pretending to believe (but not really believing) that people won’t recognize your name as a professional film critic. “Hello, fellow humble Letterboxrs! You know, I watched this fil-im right after doing an interview with Wong Kar Wai, and I tried to think of how to situate my response in the broader oeuvre of my work. What, my username, ActuallyGeneShalit? Hoho, well it’s funny you should ask….” Just write your goddamn reviews for whoever’s publishing you and collect your $45, or use a pseudonym, or something. Or just front the fact that you’re a professional instead of being cute and waiting for people to comment, “Wait, are you really the movie reviewer for FuckBuzz.com???”
Writing a review for a limited-release movie you clearly haven’t seen because you know 90% of the reviews near the top come from the first couple dozen that are posted. You saw that movie that has so far only been shown to an audience of twelve people at the Yakutsk January Film Festival? Really? Hmmmm. I have my doubts! Look, I get it: it’s a permanent problem of so many internet communities that the only people who get a lot of attention are the people who go first, while the most perceptive and thoughtful things that get said are so often the ones that take a long time to germinate. Well, I’m afraid you’re just going to have to be the change. This behavior is thirsty. It’s the equivalent of posting “FIRST!” in the comments of a Mr. Beast video. Do better. Be better. Hang out six pages deep in the reviews with three likes, just as the rest of us do.
Reviewing the same movie over and over again to demonstrate your “journey.” You haven’t got that many witty thoughts, chief. Save some server space for the rest of us. And it always ends up being like a limpdick memoir - “When first I watched Amazing Spider-Man 2, I was wandering in the desert of meaninglessness, but this new watch finds me a man transformed….” Did you know there’s an edit function? Feel free to use it if your tastes have changed! If you must review a movie a second time, wait a minimum of like five years since the first time, then go for it. Anything sooner than that, or any amount of reviews more than that, and you’re just blogging.
Going into the comments of your old review for any movie that is now considered even mildly controversial in identity terms to apologize and explain that you’re a different person now. Yes, I’m sure your praise for Blazing Saddles was an act of youthful indiscretion and you now have all the right opinions. Duly noted. I appreciate your courage. #respectmyjourney
Reviewing a problematic movie positively but engaging in endless histrionics about how you know it’s Bad.
Writing your own imaginary movie in your review of a real one. I actually don’t think the complaint that a review “is about the movie you wish it was, not the movie it actually is” makes much sense - any review, really, is comparing what it’s reviewing to a better version of itself. But I also think that if your review of You’ve Got Mail ends up talking about how it would have been better as a murder mystery, you’ve wandered too far.
It wasn’t like the booooooook! Cry more.
Trying to be - or even worse, being - a Letterboxd celebrity. Can we just have one fucking space online that doesn’t feature a Brahmin caste, please? There are movies on the frontpage when I log in, but that’s what they are, movies, not users algorithmically launched at me. I only find out someone’s follower count if I seek that knowledge out, and I promise I won’t ever do that. I understand that Letterboxd doesn’t have the even more austere purity of Goodreads, where I never see anything by anyone I’m not explicitly following and which might serve me three new posts ever five days. The reality that people get more followers by writing popular reviews and that having more followers means more people see your reviews which means that they get more likes and thus are more popular…. Well, this is simply the basic Gini process of the internet, the Matthew effect doom loop hell we’ve locked ourselves into. Still, Letterboxd is a nice site to go to because I look at movies and there’s a lot of interesting opinions that I would otherwise have no access to. Getting sweaty trying to become the most followed user on the site is some tryhard bullshit. You don’t have to review 15 movies a day. Just be part of the hive, please. It’s better for all of us. You shouldn’t be deriving your self-worth from how many people like your review of Ernest Goes to Jail anyway.
Also I know somebody out there is going to get mad at me for coding many of these behaviors as dude things but, well, that’s the price of being an ally.