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Yesterday’s surprise announcement that the Zack Snyder cut of Justice League is being completed and released via HBO Max, AT&T’s new streaming service, has sent ripples throughout the entertainment industry. While not entirely an unprecedented move, the news seems to validate a vocal contingent of Snyder fans who have begged (you could also say ‘bullied’) DC Entertainment and its parent company, Warner Brothers, to “Release the Snyder Cut” of the 2017 film.

The theatrical cut of Justice League was already a massive undertaking, with a reported budget of $450 million between production and marketing. With a worldwide gross of just $658 million, though, the film was considered by the studio a commercial disappointment, and critics panned it as well. For Warner Brothers to commit to spending a reported additional $20 million on a director’s cut of what was already an expensive embarrassment may seem strange to people who don’t spend much time on the geeky corners of the internet.

“So they want a director’s cut,” said a non-geeky family member some months back, after I failed to adequately describe the toxicity of the #ReleaseTheSnyderCut movement (which you can read about here). “That’s it, right? What’s the big deal?”

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The release of a director’s cut, in most cases, certainly isn’t as big of a deal, though they are exciting for fans. Blade Runner seriously suffered from studio meddling in its 1982 theatrical cut, and after several modifications, Ridley Scott’s “Final Cut” is widely accepted as the superior version of his sci-fi classic. Tolkien fans swear by the “Extended Editions” of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, which were already upwards of three hours each theatrically.

DC fans may point to Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut, representing the preferred version of the 1980 film as directed by Donner, before he was replaced by Richard Lester. After all, while Zack Snyder remains the only credited director of Justice League, he left production early to mourn the tragic suicide of his daughter, and Joss Whedon was brought in to finish the film in post-production. Extensive reshoots followed, which were reportedly micromanaged heavily by the studio, and Whedon received a screenwriting credit alongside Chris Terrio, who wrote the initial script.

All things considered, the case for a director’s cut may sound relatively clear-cut, even if it does raise the question of why Warners couldn’t have pushed back the film’s release as Snyder took time away to cope with his loss. Yet the filmmaker’s legions of fans built up an entire mythology surrounding his exit with cult-like fervor. It would be impossible for me to provide a comprehensive guide to the movement’s conspiracy theories in this piece, or to adequately summarize the movement’s history of harassment.

The main thing to understand is that an almost religious devotion developed around the director, with his elusive “Snyder Cut” becoming their holy grail. Had the #ReleaseTheSnyderCut movement existed merely as an enthusiastic contingent of DC fans expressing their desire to see a film as its director intended, we’d be having a different conversation. But that’s not what happened.

A fan with a homemade “Release the Snyder Cut” sign at SDCC 2019. Photo: Joe Grunenwald

To be clear, I‘m not claiming that everyone involved in the #ReleaseTheSnyderCut campaign is a bully. As long as you’re not hurting anyone, why shouldn’t you be able to express your desire to see your favorite director’s preferred version of an ambitious superhero movie uniting Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Cyborg, and the Flash? Nor do I fault Snyder or anyone else heavily involved with the film’s production for wanting to see a finished product that more closely fits their original vision.

But the fact remains that a loud portion of the “Release the Snyder Cut” fandom did hurt people. Critics and executives were harassed via social media, and some were even driven off of those platforms as a result. The history of harassment is well-documented. Any community, including fan communities, is bound to have its share of bad apples, but it’s hard to shake the feeling that by releasing the Snyder Cut, Warners is giving in to the bullies.

All of that said, the “Snyder Cut” itself isn’t really the issue here. I’ll probably end up watching it, and I might even enjoy it. What I’m concerned about is the precedent it sets.

Toxic fandom has been a problem in fan communities since long before the phrase entered the popular lexicon, and as new technologies and communication platforms have emerged, it has only seemed to get worse. What it really comes down to is an intense sense of ownership over one’s interests. Some people’s identities are so tied to their favorite TV shows, football teams, video games, or superheroes that they feel compelled to fiercely protect these things they hold so dear. If that means targeted online harassment, gatekeeping, or even death threats, so be it.

In a very real sense, that all worked out for the Snyder Cut movement. Sure, it took a few years, but they’re ultimately getting what they wanted. They’re so satisfied that they’ve already started a new campaign, this time for the “Ayer Cut” of Suicide Squad.

And that right there is the problem. Toxic fans have always made demands of the entertainment they consume, and the internet has only made it easier. But now that the Snyder Cut movement has shown that such demands can be met if they’re persistent enough, the floodgates have opened. This will likely make fandom, as a concept, worse for generations.

It’s difficult to see this as anything other than a slippery slope. There will be more “Release the [Director] Cut” movements, and each one will be insufferable. More fans of other franchises will view their pursuit of idealized versions of the things they like as a form of activism, a noble pursuit for justice and purity. When production problems on a high-profile piece of entertainment are reported, more fans will find reason to believe their favorite artists are caught up in a complicated web of lies, and thus it is their duty as a True Fan to expose the conspirators.

More harassment, more perceived culture wars, more death threats. Remember when Star Wars was actually fun to talk about?

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11 COMMENTS

  1. I was hearing this morning that come November-ish, we’re going to start seeing a dropoff in original content, with Hollywood production shut down now. I wonder if that had anything to do with WB/HBO’s decision to release this.

  2. I really do not get this. It may very well be better than what we got, but it’s still going to be a Snyder movie — shallow, wangsty, dumb immitations of better material that mimics the dialogue while completely missing the substance. Man of Steel lacked all of Superman’s heart, Watchmen completely missed every point of the comic, and Batman vs. Superman was so stupid it borderedon parody, if only it had been funny. (Ha ha! Lex Luthor made that lady drink pee!) “Better than Justice League” is such a low bar for quality it’s a safe bet it will still suck, and suck hard. Unless Joss Whedon somehow went back in time and retroactively ruined the first two movies in the series, it’s a safe bet most of the worst elements of Justice League were Snyder’s fault, since they were inherited from those movies. What’s next, Transformer’s fans demanding they release the Bay cut?

  3. We’re in a state where the majority of fandoms are toxic by default, especially in the nerd/geek universe and we should stop denying it. Like the article mentions, its the passion of the fans and the perceived ownership that creates this. So much gatekeeping, elitism, trolling, power trips, sexism, harassment, bullying etc as normal behavior and i’m not just talking about dudes. The best thing for anyone who wants to enjoy something in pop culture, is to just enjoy it on your own and never engage with the fandom communities for that thing.

    In terms of this Snyder Cut. HBO max was already at a huge disadvantage in the streaming wars. They need reasons for people to sign up for another service. This presents some original content that might get their first month sub numbers up and try out a service that most were planning to pass on.

  4. “any community, including fan communities, is bound to have its share of bad apples, but it’s hard to shake the feeling that by releasing the Snyder Cut, Warners is giving in to the bullies.”

    Like Disney and Lucasfilm gave in to the Last Jedi haters, by retconning some things from that film and reducing Rose’s role to less than two minutes of screen time. There was a popular meme saying Rise of Skywalker was “written and directed by Reddit.” That’s about right.

  5. The movie studios and comics companies spent many years catering to fans, holding fan service events at conventions, and making statements like “We’re doing this for the fans.”

    Small wonder that fans became entitled, and came to believe they were the real creators and owners of their favorite IP. (“If I spend two hours watching a Spider-Man movie, it’s MY movie!”) Moving from the margins to the mainstream turned fans from outsiders to bullies. And a lot of the bullying is accompanied by right-wing social and political views.

    Fandom has become a pathetic mess.

  6. Warner Brothers is a billion dollar company and cannot be bullied by a group of fans. This isn’t really about rewarding what you feel is bad behavior or respecting art.

    What this is about is preserving your role as a so-called tastemaker.

    You present yourselves as “The blog of comics culture”. I suggest you just eat your helping of crow and move on quickly to something else instead of reminding everyone how out of step you are with the people you claim to represent, something that has been happening more and more.

    And next time when you’re deciding how to spin a story with other so-called pop culture experts at least try to make your stories different from one another. So many stories…yet they are all the same. It’s like a bunch of people agreeing to cheat off the same test and changing a few words here and there.

  7. I was wondering when the Breitbart/Reddit/4chan crowd would drift over here to defend “the fans.” Thanks for showing up, Yikes!

  8. Hello Bill, feels like your post was insincere. Going to put it under the translator.

    “I was wondering”

    You were afraid.

    “when the Breitbart/Reddit/4chan crowd”

    Groups that you have no evidence that I am member of but fear is a potent weapon and if you can stir it up hopefully people won’t notice your lack of an actual argument against anything I said. It worked for Trump.

    “would drift over here to defend “the fans.”

    You truly believe that fans can bully a billion dollar company into submission. I guess you believe that a corporation can be bullied because you believe corporations are people, just like Mitt Romney.

    “Thanks for showing up, Yikes!”

    Go back to where you came from.

  9. “You truly believe that fans can bully a billion dollar company into submission.”

    They did it with Disney and Lucasfilm after The Last Jedi, and got the awful movie they wanted: Rise of Skywalker. And they got Paramount to change the design of Sonic in another recent awful movie.

    Multibillion dollar companies have been kissing the asses of fans for decades, Yikes. But you’re probably only 15 and wouldn’t know that.

  10. “They did it with Disney and Lucasfilm after The Last Jedi, and got the awful movie they wanted: Rise of Skywalker. And they got Paramount to change the design of Sonic in another recent awful movie.”

    “Multibillion dollar companies have been kissing the asses of fans for decades, Yikes. But you’re probably only 15 and wouldn’t know that.”

    If Disney was really being bullied by fans do you really think that Rey would have been the star given the breakdown of the people who see these movies and buy the merchandise? Do you really think that Finn would exist given the fact that Disney is obsessed with making money in China? The character was actually shrunken down on posters appearing in China here is the link https://variety.com/2015/film/news/star-wars-china-poster-controversy-john-boyega-1201653494/ But you’re probably only twelve Bill and wouldn’t know that. Do you think that Sonic would be taking place in the USA?

    No one can make these companies do anything they don’t want to do. But you aren’t really concerned about that you’re just sour over the waning influence of this site and other sites like it.

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