Let's take a moment to talk about the internet and the people who use it.

As someone who writes for a fairly prominent blog and who, from time to time, gets a fact wrong or overlooks something (when you do several posts a day, it's hard to be perfect), I am familiar with the wrath that internet commenters can unleash. But I am quickly coming to realize that you, gentle readers, have indeed been gentle. If you have a moment, take a look at the Rotten Tomatoes page for The Dark Knight, and click through some of the comments that users have left for the critics who have dared give the film a negative review. Or, to save time, take a look at this piece by Hollywood Bitchslap's Rob Gonsalves, which discusses some of the worst (best?) examples. If you're not inclined to click, suffice it to say that the likes of The New Yorker's David Denby have been told that they "do not deserve to live," that they should "contract AIDS," that they "rode the short bus to school," that "I should go over to your house and beat the living ***** out of you low life son of a b!tch," and so forth.

It's funny: there's been a long, ongoing discussion about RT user comments in the internal forums of the RT-hosted Online Film Critics Society. Some of the critics, outraged by the insulting, often racist missives that appear on the review pages (a Brazilian critic writing in Portuguese is often informed that he should go back to Mexico, etc.), have called for comments to be deleted and for users to be disciplined or banned. I've resisted and discouraged that impulse: it's always preferable to laugh at people like this than to censor them.


So I'm not trying to call for Rotten Tomatoes to more vigilantly moderate its comment threads, or anything like that. Rather, I'm trying to understand something, namely: who are these people? I know plenty of geeks, and none of them would ever go on the internet to yell "f*** you!" at David Edelstein -- at least I don't think so. Would they? Are these perfectly nice individuals who take advantage of internet anonymity to vent their spleen? Who gets this profanely, inarticulately angry at negative reviews of a movie they haven't even seen yet?

Reading some of those comment threads is like entering an alien world. Some of the messages are meant to be ironic, I gather, but they get lost in the abyss of purposeless rage. Even hardcore partisan political blogs, where people are discussing things of much greater significance than one magazine's take on The Dark Knight, rarely get this nasty.

The comments are awful in a lot of ways -- almost all of them are thoughtless, knee-jerk insults. But some, like the ones I've quoted, are just astonishing, to the point where I actually want to meet the people who posted them, out of sheer curiosity. Some readers here are no doubt better tapped into the fan community than I am. So I ask you: What's the deal? Is this just a particularly dim-witted subset of fanboy culture? A repulsive example of the internet's herd mentality? Who are these people, and what's their problem?

(By the way, I saw The Dark Knight yesterday morning, and agree that David Denby is wrong. But I bear the man no ill will whatever.)