Ghostbusters online attack reveals dark side of digital age

LOS ANGELES • The rage was immediate. As soon as the Hollywood trades reported that Sony Pictures was going to reboot Ghostbusters with women in the lead roles, Internet trolls tumbled out of their caves to insta-condemn the effort.

As with most online nastiness, the face of the outcry was a blank one. Most of the negative comments and social media posts were anonymous, courtesy of peaches such as Grungemaster93, GargoylePhlegm and Neanderthal101. Reinventing their beloved 1980s-era comedy? With women busting the ghosts? Not on their watch!

Then came James Rolfe. With him arrived a lesson about the digital age.

Rolfe, whose YouTube channel, Cinemassacre, has 2.1 million subscribers, posted a video last month that takes aim at the new Ghostbusters, which is set for release on July 15.

Looking into the camera, he criticises the visual effects shown in an early trailer, and, with flashes of anger, condemns Sony for sweeping the 1984 original movie "under the rug like it didn't happen". Rolfe, 35, advised his followers that Cine- massacre, known for movie and video-game reviews, would be sitting this one out.

"I refuse to watch it," he said, sitting with his rimless glasses amid a gumball machine, Star Trek memorabilia and bookcases stacked with old VHS tapes.

The 2016 Ghostbusters reboot stars (from left) Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon, Melissa McCarthy and Leslie Jones. PHOTO: SONY PICTURES ENTERTAINMENT/YOUTUBE

With that, the furore around Ghostbusters had a focal point. His video racked up 737,000 views in its first day, on its way to 1.7 million. Rolfe, who sometimes posts videos as a character called Angry Video Game Nerd, became a Nerd King among a certain crowd.

"He will almost certainly be on the right side of history," read a sympathetic article on Heat Street, a libertarian website owned by Rupert Murdoch's News Corp., reflecting the tenor of many of 22,000 comments on the video non-review.

"This isn't about feminism," Danika Lee Massey, a YouTube star known as Comic Book Girl 19, said in a supportive post. "This is about greed. This is about a bad idea."

But a lot of people, including a significant number of men, immediately blasted Rolfe as a jerk, with some of the blowback taking on a personal tone. "I keep fixating on his wedding ring," film critic and humourist Eric D. Snider wrote on Twitter. "Someone MARRIED this man-baby." (Snider later deleted his tweet.)

Writing about Rolfe's "tantrum" on the website Death and Taxes, part of the SpinMedia empire, Maggie Serota said he looked as if he were "sitting in a wet diaper".

When finally coaxed to the telephone, Rolfe, who works from his East Coast home, did not want to talk about his Ghostbusters video, saying he thought it spoke for itself and he did not want to address the fallout.

"When people attack me, it's always about trying to get a reaction," he said.

But he did talk about his childhood. As a high school student growing up in New Jersey, Rolfe said, he was "extremely shy and didn't have too many friends". Movies, both the Hollywood kind and the homemade variety, got him through.

He used the family camcorder to make horror films, later studying cinema at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, where his junior- year movie was called Curse Of The Cat Lover's Grave.

"I wanted to make a really big cult sensation," he said, with a laugh.

The new Ghostbusters, which, by the way, has been generating positive reactions in test screenings, according to Sony executives, finally gave him his wish.

Even comedian Patton Oswalt weighed in on Rolfe's non-review review.

"I really wanted to hate this Cinemassacre Ghostbusters review but I'm such a fan of noisy, thick-saliva swallowing it won my heart," he wrote on Twitter.

Getting serious, he added: "I like @cinemassacre. I'm just tired of pre-emptive criticism. Society imploding. It's gross."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 20, 2016, with the headline 'Ghostbusters online attack reveals dark side of digital age'. Print Edition | Subscribe