Two years ago, I wrote a column on those brief reader postings that are attached to newspaper stories on the Web, about how they quickly go from being mere comments on the story to mini-chat rooms.
In fact, why do we refer to them as "comments"? We should just call them what they are: "vents."
Really, they're little more than spewing with a keypad. Shoot-from-the-hip snarkiness that doesn't require fact-checking … or even spell-checking.
I stopped reading them on my own stories quite a while back, but every now and then someone tells me about a comment, for good or ill.
So it was that I was directed to one on a column that ran a couple of weeks ago about Jon Heder and how he's haunted by the ghost of "Napoleon Dynamite" in everything he does.
As usual, the comments were a flurry of opinions, some nice, some not so nice — and they quickly became little arguments between posters, straying from the subject of the column to debate the merits of "Napoleon Dynamite." Which is where the chat-room scenario comes into play.
But the comment I was specifically referred to was one of the last. It was anonymous, of course, and this is what it said: "Chris Hicks is still writing movie reviews??? (I moved out of Utah over 20 years ago.) Hicks is the guy who gave the classic 'Caddyshack' zero stars out of 5. 'Shack' is widely acknowledged as one of the best comedy movies ever. Hicks has no idea what funny is."
Wow! That might hurt — if he knew what he was talking about.
To illustrate the problem with these postings, let's take the four points made by Mr. Anonymous Commenter and address them in order.
In response to his opening salvo, no, Chris Hicks is NOT still writing movie reviews. I write occasional DVD reviews — but all the movies are reviewed by Jeff Vice (occasionally supplemented by wire services).
True, I had the job for 20 years, from 1978-98 — but Jeff's had the job now for more than a decade. Isn't it about time he received credit (and blame)?
The second point, and the one that seems to have made Mr. Anonymous so apoplectic, is my review of "Caddyshack." But I didn't review "Caddyshack."
While it's true I was the movie critic when "Caddyshack" was released in 1980, I was not permitted to review the film because it was rated R. The Deseret News had a ban on R-rated movies until mid-1981, at which time the policy was changed and I began reviewing all the movies in town.
Also, and this is nitpicking I suppose, it wasn't possible to have given the film zero stars out of 5 since I used (and Jeff still uses) the 4-star rating system.
Then there is the film's reputation. Is "Caddyshack" really "widely acknowledged as one of the best comedy movies ever"? Depends on your definition of "widely."
The commenter could have cited some research, but since he didn't, I will:
"Caddyshack" ranks at 76 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, a Web site (www.rottentomatoes.com) that collects movie reviews and turns them into statistics. So 76 percent is pretty good — although it's a bit suspect since eight of the 29 positive reviews on the site say "No review available."
More significantly, however, "Caddyshack" came in at No. 71 on the American Film Institute's list of the 100 funniest American movies of all time (www.afi.com).
On the other hand, Leonard Maltin gives it only 2 stars (out of 4) in his perennial "Movie Guide" and Roger Ebert gave it 2 1/2 stars (out of 4) when he reviewed it in 1980.
Which brings us to the final complaint, that yours truly has "no idea what funny is." Well, let's just say that of all the subjective aspects of reviewing movies, knowing what funny is, is perhaps the most difficult.
What's funny to me may not be funny to Mr. Anonymous and vice-versa. But he's entitled to his opinion. As am I.
Still, for what it's worth, of the 70 titles on the AFI list that go before "Caddyshack," I found much to appreciate. In fact, I probably agree with 67 of the top 70 as to their worthiness on that list, if not necessarily their placement.
No. 1 is "Some Like it Hot." Hard to argue with that. And among the rest are some of my all-time favorites: "Dr. Strangelove," "Duck Soup," "A Night at the Opera," "Young Frankenstein," "The General," "His Girl Friday," "Arsenic and Old Lace," "Raising Arizona," "Groundhog Day," "A Shot in the Dark," "What's Up, Doc?" And I'm high on most of the others.
So, among this sterling laugh-out-loud company, where, in my humble estimation, would "Caddyshack" fall? Well, 71st is OK.
Although, now that I think about it, I'm not sure it should be above "Monkey Business." Or "The Freshman." Or "Silver Streak." Or "The Court Jester."
Oh, never mind. We'll agree to disagree.
And I'm sure Mr. Anonymous will do his research next time.
Just as I will try to learn what funny is.