Stop the online film blogging community, I want to get off!


17th September 2013

The image of online film critics has taken a real hit this week. First a prominent writer for WhatCulture! (their exclamation mark, not mine – I'd replace it with a question mark) was revealed as a serial plagiarist and then a writer for JoBlo posted a feature comparing the breasts of two underage actresses. Join me as I despairingly ask: isn't anyone taking this seriously? Where are all the grown ups?

I've always liked to think that film bloggers are a lovely bunch of well-meaning, right-thinking, intellectual people with a shared interest of all things movies, and for most of them – certainly those I've met – that's the case. But recently, I've discovered a dark side of the online film community that almost makes me ashamed by association. Earlier this year I was appalled to see how many dirtbag commenters were dwelling below the pagefolds of some of my favourite film websites, harbouring grotesque, misogynistic opinions. This week I finally found a website that encourages their abhorrent, pre-pubescent behaviour.

JoBlo – a (formerly) respected film website that's been online for 15 years – has several offshoots, including one for horror movies, one for movie posters and one specifically for sexist assholes. MovieHotties.com – and I'm not hot-linking it – exists basically to post photos of attractive actresses (still shots, pap shots, nip-slips etc) and drool over their body-parts. I'll hazard a guess and say it's exclusively the domain of wankers.

Obviously I am not naïve and am fully aware that 99.9% of the internet is tailor-made to appeal to potential masturbators. But yesterday's post on MovieHotties.com literally made me feel dirty for reading it. The feature was effectively a 'who's hottest' competition between actresses Chloe Moretz and Abigail Breslin. Moretz is 16 years old. Breslin is 17 years old. The age of consent in California is 18 years old. My 'Pete Townshend alarm' was ringing off the hook just from looking at the article.

The post was breathtaking in its creepiness. The author, 'Droz', set out his skeeze manifesto early on by acknowledging that the actresses were both underage: "Young is the key word with these two, obviously. That's okay. Think of this as like a hottie recruiting mission." He then went on to compare Moretz and Breslin to one another in various categories, including one named 'Such pleasant features…' which alluded to their teenage breasts. Which were then discussed in detail. I've honestly never read such a scuzzy feature on a supposedly professional website – and I include the Daily Mail in that.

Despite my better judgement, I scrolled to the user comments expecting a user uprising at such a repellent article – disgusting, even for a sexist piece of shit website like MovieHotties.com. Let's just say I had to scroll much further than I would have liked before I found someone who was offended by the feature's content. Another eye-opener.

I've all but given up hope of finding an engaging userbase in the film community – and I include my own commenters in this statement – but it's still galling to see these perverted knee-rubbers in the wild. Even the wonderful EmpireOnline.com has the same problem: Helen O'Hara's excellent takedown of Riddick's needless misogyny was validated immediately by the first comment, who got to the part when she mentioned Katee Sackhoff's topless scene and raced straight to the comments section to tell everyone how excited he was.

JoBlo have deleted the feature, but have not explained how something so repugnant could be published in the first place, nor have they issued an apology. The site still remains, with its sidebar 'Boobies Of The Day'. Someone is accountable for this depraved filth, and perhaps even worse, they're responsible for making me feel like a Mary Whitehouse/Chris Tookey-esque prude. Film bloggers need to have accountability for the content they produce and publish; the 'Droz's of the world (who lists "the smell of a woman's hair" as one of his 'likes' in his bio) should not be given a platform for their perversions.

Ironically, the JoBlo scandal was brought to my attention by Devin Faraci, another film blogger with whom I've taken issue of late. To cut a long and petty story short, Faraci took umbrage with a feature on TotalFilm.com written by our very own Matt, and so virile was his dislike for the article and its author, he publically ridiculed Matt via his Twitter feed and suggested he be fired. As more people sprang to Matt's defence, Faraci's arguments got uglier and less focused. Eventually, he stormed off in a huff after I dared reveal I didn't know what he looked like, my only visual clue to his appearance being his avatar of a dog wearing a little hat. (He has since changed it to a picture of Vin Diesel).

I still consider Devin Faraci to be a good writer – I just no longer respect him as a person. And although he went about expressing his opinions in a boorish, entitled, obnoxious and misguided manner, I do largely agree with his point: that online film criticism should strive to be more than ad-serving clickbait – that 'churnalism' (copyright Luke Whiston) is by proxy damaging the reputation of hard-working proper online journalists.

One of the many reasons why Faraci's rant was misguided was because there are way worse offenders in that regard than TotalFilm.com. For example: WhatCulture.com – formerly Obsessed With Film – take listicles to their page-churning extreme, making you click 11 times to read one 'Top 10' article. Regardless of the content (in WhatCulture's case it is usually a nerd-baiting list of flaws designed to soak up every hate-click), it's an approach I despise – a more unfriendly user experience you will not find. At least TotalFilm.com's galleries provide a smooth viewing experience.

I've long disliked WhatCulture for these reasons (and others) but they popped up on my radar again this week when their Associate Editor Shaun Munro – a man with whom I'm more familiar than most (more on him later) – was exposed as being a serial plagiarist. This Tumblr post by user 'srmxy' details how Munro selfishly trawls the writers' workshop on Cracked's website, half-inching ideas for features – and the content within – and posting them on WhatCulture.com before they've even been approved for publication on Cracked. That's fairly scummy behaviour, even for the writer of '10 Actresses Who Desperately Need To Go Nude'.

I have long suspected Shaun Munro of plagiarising TheShiznit.co.uk – or at least stealing ideas and repackaging them with the odd 'if' and 'but' reworded so as to avoid detection – and with good reason. A long time ago, I worked for a small mail order videogames company named Special Reserve and I moderated their chat forums. The site ran a daily giveaway where user submissions – reviews, discussion points etc – could win a videogame. This is where I met 'Shaneo' aka Shaun Munro. The first few times he was caught copying someone else's work he was banned. But when he kept coming back, under different usernames, with fake names and addresses, still plagiarising from other sources to try and win a game, I realised he was actually a conniving little shit. And although this was over 10 years ago, and he's weaselled his way into an impressive-sounding editorial position at WhatCulture, he's still not changed his spots.

Here's a feature on product placement I wrote in 2006. Now, here's a feature on product placement written by Shaun Munro in September 2012. The topic is fairly broad and I am not claiming ownership of the concept, but there is no mistaking the manner in which Munro has essentially copied parts of my work and attempted to pass it off as his own.

Here's my entry on the product placement in Spider-Man:

"Sam Raimi is, by all accounts, a very cool guy; he's still making movies the way he wants to do it and stays close to his indie roots (he's one of the only people out there who'll give the mighty Bruce Campbell work). But in taking the Spider-Man gig with Sony Pictures, he introduced himself to the concept of making movies that exist to make money.

"Cue a completely gratuitous shot of Peter Parker firing his web at a Dr. Pepper can, and a scene in which Spidey himself lands on a moving Carlsberg truck (conveniently shot at an angle where the logo gains maximum exposure). A director with true artistic integrity would balk at such a obtrusion, but Raimi folded. What makes it worse is the fact that Sony lobbied for the new 12A age rating to be introduced, so they were basically selling beer to kids. Which, as we know, is probably immoral or something."
Now here's Shaun's entry on the product placement in Spider-Man:

"Similarly, while Sam Raimi is thought of as a Hollywood filmmaker still retaining the core indie sensibility that he demonstrated on films like The Evil Dead, his take on Spider-Man wasn’t without its material excesses; if the blatant Dr. Pepper close-up during Peter Parker's (Tobey Maguire) first web-slinging demo wasn’t bad enough, Raimi then has this large Carlsberg logo plastered on a lorry which Spidey oh-so-conveniently lands next to.

"That it serves as an exclaimation [sic] point for the action sort of makes it worse; Spidey swings through the streets, not blighted but [sic] such capitalist concerns, and then this landing, something of an impactful money shot, is tainted by the giant logo taking up a good portion of the screen. The blocking and direction of the scene, which angles the lorry towards the camera for maximum advertising effect – without pissing us off entirely, at least – feels only more crass when you realise that this is the film which helped introduce the 12A rating, so Sony were effectively selling beer while bringing more kids into the theatre. Stay classy, Sony."
Spot the difference. It's fairly obvious to everyone that Munro's writing is far from original. He's taken the bulk of my text and rewritten it in his own words, without ever having to have one of his own ideas. This is just one example, and given the rate he churns features out over at WhatCulture.com, I'm sure I could find more if I was so inclined. (Here's a feature from another WC writer that looks familiar if you've already read this feature). Frankly I didn't think I'd stumble on a bigger wanker than our friend 'Droz', but I was wrong.

The actions of one man are not representative of his employer, and there's every chance that Shaun Munro's editor at WhatCulture had no idea where his writers were getting their ideas from (prior to being informed by 'srmxy', that is). But knowing what I know about how WhatCulture operate, I am dubious to say the least. A straw poll regarding working for WhatCulture on Twitter this morning yielded several writers bemoaning bad business practices; Paul Martinovic exposed the editor's bare-faced cheek at advertising a paid writing position on a jobs website that was nonetheless entirely unpaid, and that's just the tip of the iceberg.

I have first-hand experience in dealing with their editors on a variety of matters which I won't go into here, and 'shabby' is the word I always come back to. Their reputation in the industry is not a good one.

All of which is extremely depressing to say the least, because WhatCulture are – from the looks of their traffic figures – one of the fastest-growing entertainment sites in the UK. I'm sure outside of the website the people that run it are perfectly lovely, but it's the utter lack of scruples that bothers me. There are two ways to run a website; the right way, with hard work, quality control and reciprocal appreciation; and the fast way, by screwing writers and churning out low-quality articles conceived and designed to squeeze as many clicks as possible from the reader.

Singling out specific offenders in this field makes me very uncomfortable, because I dislike mixing the professional and the personal – doing so would surely make me as bad as Devin Faraci. However, I hold my profession and my passion very dearly and cannot stand to see online film journalism sullied by those who are clearly abusing it for their own ends. I have worked too long and too hard trying to make a name for myself in this arena only to be tarred with the same brush as a bunch of unscrupulous arseholes. This sort of behaviour harms all online journalists, whether we realise it or not.

Am I overreacting in taking offence to other site's failings? I don't think so. No one at The Guardian loses any credibility when some letch at the Daily Mail accuses a 14-year-old girl of "flaunting her curves" because print media has clear demarcation between publications. Yet online media is still not afforded that luxury: we're all lumped in the same pigeonhole and eyed with suspicion. Granted, most of that suspicion is due to the fact I run a website called 'The Shiznit' so maybe that's my bad.

A lack of scruples is one thing, a lack of standards is entirely another. Every day, I'll click a link to a film review or feature on a website and have to stop reading after the first paragraph because the standard of writing is so terrible. This is not snobbery; I'm talking legitimately unreadable writing – nonsensical copy with bad grammar, poor spelling and inaccurate reporting that's obviously not been within a thousand miles of a sub-editor who gives a shit. Yet, like WhatCulture, like JoBlo, somewhere there is an editor not taking responsibility for the rubbish they publish on their website.

Perhaps above all else – the perverts ogling young women for clicks, the boorish bullies with two faces, the devious plagiarists too lazy to come up with their own feature ideas, the webmasters who chop up their features to maximise their ad revenue – this inability to take care in one's work and one's conduct is what disgusts me the most. There are established print journalists being fired every week because of the threat that online journalism poses. You are doing them and everyone a disservice by failing to adhere to even the most basic of standards.

Seriously. Where's your fucking self respect?

Follow us on Twitter @The_Shiznit for more fun features, film reviews and occasional commentary on what the best type of crisps are.
We are using Patreon to cover our hosting fees. So please consider chucking a few digital pennies our way by clicking on this link. Thanks!

Share This