The deal with that Rotten Tomatoes thing

So here’s what happened. This is the short version.

I think it’s funny when people post angry comments on one-sentence excerpts from reviews on Rotten Tomatoes without reading the actual reviews. What could be more useless than a response not to a review but to a one-line quote from a review? I also think it’s funny when people get worked up over a movie’s Tomatometer score, becoming increasingly despondent or outraged as each new negative review pulls the score lower. All of this is especially funny when it pertains to a movie that the angry people haven’t even seen yet.

To exploit this, I posted a fake negative review of “The Dark Knight Rises” — and clearly labeled it as fake — on my website, then posted a link to it on Rotten Tomatoes. I wanted to see how many people would post angry comments on Rotten Tomatoes without reading the “review.” It would be obvious, since anyone who was angry clearly hadn’t read the “review.”

Here is what the fake review said:

“The Dark Knight Rises” is easily the most disappointing Batman film so far — and I’m including Schumacher’s “Batman & Robin” in that statement. Nolan has finally lost his touch.

Just kidding! I haven’t seen “The Dark Knight Rises” yet. It’s probably very good! I just wanted to post a negative quote on Rotten Tomatoes and see how many idiots would type angry words at me without actually clicking the link to read the whole review. Given that Rotten Tomatoes commenters are the worst human beings on the planet, I suspect the number will be large.

Also: It doesn’t matter if a movie you love doesn’t get a 100% RT score. It affects you and the movie in no way whatsoever. “You ruined this movie’s RT score!” is the dumbest complaint a person can possibly make.

Also: If you get angry about a review of a movie that you haven’t even seen yet, the terrorists win.

Real review to come!

The first sentence is what I used as the Rotten Tomatoes quote.

The fake review was up for a couple hours. I never intended to keep it up forever, just long enough to get some responses, and then the joke would be over. The Rotten Tomatoes staff, quite understandably, doesn’t like people pranking their system. Like many critics, I had a log-in that allowed me to post links to my reviews on Rotten Tomatoes. (RT staffers add other links manually, and I believe there’s an automated system that periodically checks certain critics’ sites for new reviews.) Since I abused this back-end privilege, Rotten Tomatoes took it away — which is perfectly fair. Your kid gets a speeding ticket, you take away his car keys.

Rotten Tomatoes also decided that my reviews will no longer count toward the Tomatometer. I hope they’ll reconsider, but that’s their decision to make. I can understand where they’re coming from. With the nonsense that was happening with the actual negative reviews, they were in no mood for shenanigans this week.

Here is what Rotten Tomatoes editor Matt Atchity said about it in an article explaining why RT had temporarily suspended commenting on “Dark Knight Rises” reviews:

Which leads me to Eric D. Snider. He thought [correctly] it would be funny to post a negative review link on Rotten Tomatoes that links to his own site. He misrepresented his review link. (In case you didn’t know, some critics post their own reviews, and my staff posts some — it’s about 50/50). By attributing the link to, he misrepresented that organization. This is not the first time he’s done this. [It is the second.] In our opinion, by knowingly posting a link that isn’t a review (and he hadn’t seen the movie), Snider has abused our trust, and therefore, his reviews will no longer apply to the Tomatometer.

Please understand that I have no argument with Matt. He and I have been in contact via email. We’re still discussing all of this. I understand where he’s coming from, and I think he understands where I was coming from.

My point was to make fun of blind, mindless fandom. It had nothing to do with Rotten Tomatoes itself, which is a useful site that I refer to every day, but with the freaks who post comments there, and who have turned Rotten Tomatoes, IMDB, and just about every other movie website into cesspools.

I made no attempt to deceive anyone. My fake review was clearly labeled as such. The only people who were deceived were the ones who just read the one-sentence excerpt from it. They got what they deserved: fooled. I’m responsible for exploiting their foolishness, and for giving them a venue to demonstrate it. But I am not responsible for their foolishness.

And the people who realized it was a joke and were STILL upset because I had tampered with the Tomatometer — well, I don’t even know what to say about those people. A movie’s Tomato score has no bearing on your ability to see and enjoy the movie, especially a huge movie like this. It doesn’t matter. If you are angered by negative reviews and/or by a diminishing Tomato score, you should be made fun of. I stand by that.

The only people who are justified in taking the Tomatometer seriously are the Rotten Tomatoes staff. It’s their business. The Tomatometer might be trivial in the grand scheme of things, but it’s what Rotten Tomatoes does, and so it’s reasonable for them to be upset when someone tampers with it. I am sorry — really — for any extra work I caused the RT staff during a week that was already busy and stressful for them. RT was the venue of the prank, not the target of it. I have no beef with Rotten Tomatoes.

I’m also sorry for indirectly dragging into it. I do write for them, but of course my fake review was posted on my own site, not theirs. My reasoning was simply that the joke would be funnier if my super-negative quote were attributed to a higher-profile site, regardless of where the link was actually going. “This is even worse than ‘Batman & Robin’ — Eric D. Snider,” is better than “This is even worse than ‘Batman & Robin’ — Eric D. Snider,”

When you post links to your reviews on Rotten Tomatoes, there’s a little drop-down menu that has all the outlets you write for, and you choose the appropriate one. About 10 percent of the time, I accidentally click the wrong one anyway, and mark a review as when it’s actually or whatever. I’m not saying this time was an accident — this time was on purpose — just that one shouldn’t read too much into it. I take full responsibility for the prank, and I apologize to my bosses for besmirching that site in the process.

Did I pull this prank to drive traffic to my site? No. I did it for the reasons already stated: as an experiment to see how unhinged people would get over a negative review. People tend to assume that traffic is the only reason anyone does anything on the Internet, but that wasn’t what I was thinking. The best-case scenario for my joke would have been that I got NO traffic, because EVERYONE would have just read the quote on Rotten Tomatoes and not the whole review. The link was only up for a couple hours. I did get some extra traffic in that time, and have continued to get some this week, but my site isn’t monetized very well. The extra clicks on Google Adsense have earned me maybe two dollars. I will gladly donate it to whichever charity is handling outreach and counseling for people who have been traumatized by negative “Dark Knight Rises” reviews.

Some news reports have asserted that Rotten Tomatoes BANNED a critic for posting a FAKE REVIEW of a MOVIE HE HADN’T EVEN SEEN!!! There’s nothing factually wrong with that sentence, yet it completely misses the point. It makes it sound like I tried to pass off a fake review as legitimate, and then sometime later was found to be lying. That’s not what I did at all. The review was clearly labeled as a fake from the very beginning, and my reasons for posting it were clearly described. I had no intention of deceiving anyone for longer than the two seconds it took to click the link at Rotten Tomatoes and see the punchline.

I don’t mind if you didn’t like the joke. But please at least acknowledge that it was a joke, not an earnest attempt to lie about a movie I hadn’t seen.

I’ve been a movie critic for 13 years. I’ve written close to 3,000 reviews in that time, and the links are all still cataloged at Rotten Tomatoes. (The count there says 3,150. There are duplicates because some reviews were posted at more than one site and RT’s automated system counted them twice.) I’ve done some “trolling” in my day — it’s worth noting that I did basically the same thing with “The Dark Knight” four years ago — but where movies are concerned, the instances of regular old reviewing and dissecting and snarking outnumber the instances of prankery and hijinkery.

Anyway, “The Dark Knight Rises” is pretty good. “Iron Man 3” is terrible, though, worse than “Daredevil.”

UPDATE: Almost exactly a year later, Rotten Tomatoes rescinded the ban and let me back in, on the condition (of course) that there be no further shenanigans.