What Armie Hammer, Buzzfeed and Twitter prove about toxic online discourse

Twitter, eh? Can’t live with it, can’t live without it. And if you aren’t there, you might not want to do it to yourself; at worst, you’ll be missing out on good jokes. You can get that elsewhere, though.

“What happened now?” you ask, trying to understand what I’m on about again, and why I decided to write about social media one more time.

Where do I start? Everyone’s hurt and tending to their wounds now, the war rages on, and only a few people seem to pay attention to how we communicate in this virtual jungle. It’s not even clear whether people are talking about the piece that unravelled this discussion anymore. But let me try and explain.

It all started when Buzzfeed published an article about the new millennial favourite, Armie Hammer. Dissecting his career, it tried to explain the studios’ politics of “star-making”, taking a stance that many marginalised people wouldn’t get a clean slate if they weren’t a decent return of investment. Many people rightfully pointed out that the story would benefit from a more chiselled angle. It would’ve lost its controversial tone if it called out the toxic individuals who regularly get that second opportunity instead of focusing on a guy who never gave up on his dream, or if it brought attention to these marginalised voices that never got another shot after their big-budget projects flopped. Many saw its sole point of focus as an unfair aim at Hammer’s means to fall back on, and that’s also valid feedback. But besides the healthy discussion about the subject matter and a good debate, a waterfall of insults splashing vitriol in every direction took over the timelines.

Armie Hammer himself spoke up, calling the piece “bitter af”. He had the right to take that stance, especially in the light of his recent interview that called out the double standards in Hollywood. Shortly after, he deleted his Twitter account. More problematic events ensued: Slate published an inconsiderate article afterwards, calling Hammer to get back on Twitter, monopolising on his coping mechanism (the whole idea of “manning up” utilised by the publication is purely toxic masculinity — it’s okay to be vulnerable, in case you wanted to talk about it). That laid the foundations under the battlefield.

Moreover, there were also people who didn’t even bother to read the piece before jumping on the bandwagon. Tweets and comments below the article appeared, criticising the writer for something that she didn’t even mention. Some of the readers accused her of being a bratty pseudo-journalist that shouldn’t write about anything, ever (not that she has a PhD in a subject that she was actually writing about, which wasn’t exactly film criticism, no).

It’s not the first time it happened. A couple of days ago, the Film Twitter raged after a takedown of Paul Thomas Anderson by a young critic and filmmaker, although nobody could pinpoint who said what or when. Of course, the discourse strayed away from the argumentative conversation, turning everyone into a bunch of snipers shooting tweets in every direction imaginable. I like PTA, as he’s lovingly and concisely referred to in the Twitter circles: I’d like to think that Boogie Nights and Inherent Vice which I watched and enjoyed allow me to say that. However, the conversation that ensued was stripped of good arguments, focusing on ad personam attacks. People stopped thinking of how to defend the case, hurling petty insults at everyone who disagreed with them. Subtweets followed. For Zeus, these subtweets! That damn website is a home for speaking over others in cryptic posts. Also, here’s another suggestion if you’re a masochist: try to jump into the middle of Marvel/DC battle and you’ll get crucified, if you don’t like something about it, or even if you do.

All of these moments made me stop and think how we discuss things on social media as a community, a thing that’s been on my mind for a while now. I took a closer look at how I tend to do it and repeat mea culpa over and over. I asked for an outsider perspective to understand what they see when they look at my tweets. And I’ve had another interesting convo when it comes to different communities. Say, the Literary Twitter that I adore, or the music community my friends are deeply involved in.

It’s far too easy to type something up in rage and hit the “Tweet” button. I do it sometimes (I’m sorry!), we all do, snapping and tweeting shitty things without having a chance to consider something in depth. From time to time, it’s a little bit of good ol’ peer pressure and bandwagon-jumping adapted for social media. And largely, it’s because of the very nature of the internet. Sometimes it does feel like screaming into the abyss. We don’t get to see the reaction of the person in question, often they don’t get a chance to respond, so theoretically there are no consequences whatsoever. This time, the outcome proved that it’s completely untrue.

When Armie read the article, he had the right to feel that the thinkpiece wasn’t fair as it used him as an example of something that’s much more complex. That’s why he should be able to do whatever it takes to protect his sanity, even if it comes to removing himself from this narrative. He doesn’t owe anybody anything, and this social media mess gets really draining after a while; I think I envy him a bit that he can detach himself from it.

As fans, we read something that concerns our favourite and decide to stand up for their talent. In my opinion, Armie is indeed one of the most interesting actors of his generation who worked hard to build his reputation, and I’m trying to look further than Call Me By Your Name (which I adored, too!) while I’m typing this. That’s why I’ll gladly try and respond to the Buzzfeed article in question even if I don’t agree with it. But looking at the other side, to take the high moral ground, you need to think about the healthy way of expressing it. Armie’s only human, but so is the author of the infamous article.

Let’s tackle the content first. A fair chunk of the article stepped aside from making assumptions about his talent or evaluating his previous work. It wasn’t reviewing his performances or taking a stab at him as a person beyond accumulating facts. An interesting, constructive opinion piece from Film School Rejects explains it: “These don’t stand as critical evaluations of the man’s work or even his character, but like many good historiographical studies, they take an assumed statement of fact — ‘Armie Hammer Should’ve Been a Star By Now’ — and poke and prod at the corners to reveal the competing narratives underneath. Now, one could certainly make a compelling argument that Peterson’s piece focuses too much on Hammer as the exclusion of Hollywood power structures — a point made by writers like Ira Madison III as the controversy took on its own legs — but that pointed criticism seems lost somewhere amidst the disgust.”

I read some of the insults that the writer of the piece had to endure. Sadly, she’s being destroyed on all fronts. It stopped being constructive; I’m not talking about those who actually added to the conversation with pointing out the different angles or details that should’ve been considered. As writers, we work with feedback and improve if we receive legitimate criticism. We learn this early on when we work with the editors that challenge our ideas, so a gentle poke and an explanation can’t do anything bad. As the audience, we can disagree, then share comments so that journalists get that second chance and change their behaviour or explain what they had in mind. That means we’re holding people accountable, even beyond the editor who sifts through the pieces published on a website/in a print outlet.

But it isn’t so if you’re there only to tweet an insult. I’m looking at you, “Buzzfeed sucks! It isn’t journalism, they just publish these quizzes and listicles!” takes; so many of them ended up under the article author’s tweet. If you express it that way, it’s as toxic as using one talented man to profile a broader phenomenon. You never referred to particular points made by an author or suggested what could be changed. Instead, you used a generalised idea to take down an engaging piece, even if it was skewed and its argument was not necessarily crystal-clear along the way. That doesn’t make things any better, and you certainly don’t have to drag a person you disagree with on a personal level. “You’re a moron” doesn’t count, but if you see things that are wrong with somebody’s take, engage in a discussion. Ask them why they decided to frame it in a particular way. Explain what irked you about it, but be detailed and show you’ve taken the time to think for yourself.

And while writing this, I promised myself: I’d rather write about films I’m passionate about and actors whose work I adore to show them to the wider public, instead of encouraging takedowns. On Twitter, a virtual society that goes practically unmoderated, there’s too much toxicity that comes from radical environments (and bots that tweet ugly stuff 24/7) already. And at the end of the day, we’re all there for the arts.

Kasia Kwasniewska

Editor in Chief

Passionate about far too many things. Loves reading, watching films, eyeing (and producing) good design, listening to music and stuffing her face with chocolate on a daily basis. Cooks from time to time, and drinks far too much coffee to be a normal human being.
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