An exploration into the toxicity of online Zack Snyder fandom
On Sunday, November 17th, 2019, social media saw an enormous flurry of activity surrounding the hashtag #ReleaseTheSnyderCut. The hashtag began circulating by supporters of director Zack Snyder immediately following the release of Warner Bros. Justice League film — which, as most of the geek culture world is now aware — underwent extensive reshoots and rewrites by Avengers writer-director Joss Whedon when Synder stepped down from the project during post-production due to the tragic death of his daughter in 2017.
After Justice League released to middling reviews and an apathetic reaction from both Snyder loyalists and the general audience alike, effectively pulling the plug on the nascent DC Extended Universe, fans of the director circled the wagons and mobilized. An outspoken Chinese fan named Fiona Zheng created the website ForSnyderCut.com, which declared:
ForSnyderCut’s mission is to share what we love about the vision we’ve seen and bring to light the vision on Justice League that we didn’t see. Our goal is to see the time, care, deliberation, preparation, artistry, and intentions that went into principal photography, principal performances, polished production, and the prior screenplay composed out of a place of passion, joy, excitement, and cooperation; compared to the hurried and desperate efforts rushed out under duress.
That poorly-written, barely comprehensible creed essentially says this: Snyder fans want Warner Bros. to fund the completion and release of the 214-minute cut of Justice League Zack Snyder screened for executives before Whedon came on board and fundamentally altered the entire film with his reshoots and rewrites.
In the weeks and months that followed, Snyder fans tweeted out the hashtag #ReleaseTheSnyderCut as much as they could. They crowd-funded a billboard and bus-stop ad at San Diego Comic-Con. They handed out Snyder Cut flyers and bought digital billboards in Times Square during New York Comic-Con. They raised money for suicide prevention.
Still, up until the two-year anniversary of the heavily-Frankensteined Justice League’s release, the movement to see Snyder’s three plus-hour version remained fringe and the hashtag had primarily been used by fans, individuals with a tertiary connection to the production (like storyboard artist Jay Olivia), and eventually Snyder himself via his account on Vero — an obscure social media platform owned by a billionaire friend of the director who had a walk-on role in Batman V Superman. But on that fateful Sunday, cast members (and mega-celebs) Ben Affleck and Gal Gadot tweeted in support of the movement, causing the hashtag to explode and trend worldwide with hundreds upon thousands of mentions.
While the spike in activity continued to raise awareness for the mythical Director’s cut of Justice League, it also proved to be a double-edged sword, once again casting a massive spotlight on a specific subsection of the Snyder fandom and their relentless aggression and toxicity — ultimately raising the question, would releasing “The SnyderCut” just be rewarding bad behavior?
The Genesis Of Toxicity
“Fandom” has become something of a loaded, complicated term in 2020. Almost every base of fervent supporters of a genre franchise has their share of “bad eggs”and entitled, angry fans. However, ask just about any prominent film critic, YouTube video essayist, or member of the entertainment press which fanbase is far and away the angriest and most virulent, the answer will almost inevitably be “The DCEU fandom.”
And they aren’t talking about people who packed cineplexes to revel in the vibrant underwater spectacle of Aquaman or the glitter-dusted girl power of Birds of Prey. No, they’re referring to a particularly hostile group of superhero movie zealots who, in the disastrous aftermath of the release of Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice, developed the world’s biggest persecution complex when film critics collectively panned the pseudo-sequel to 2013’s Man of Steel as a bleak, dark, ponderous slog — resulting in a dismal aggregate Rotten Tomatoes score of 27%.
This perceived slight ultimately led to the near-deification of Zack Snyder and his filmography, with his fan collective displaying all the earmarks of a quasi-religious sect — following him blindly, hinging on his every word, trying desperately to convert others to their ideology, firmly believing Snyder was a cinematic prophet who could do wrong, thus earning them the nickname “The Snyder Cult.”
The ire generated by the Snyder faithful quickly grew into a delusional narrative which, based on several years of social media activity on platforms like Twitter, Reddit, and Facebook, seems to be comprised of the following tenets:
- Zack Snyder’s superhero films are too complex and laden with heady themes, and thus were unable to be properly digested by “ordinary folk” and “biased” bloggers.
- Disney and Marvel Studios “ruined” comic book movies by conditioning the audience to only accept and praise films when they contain comedy, bright color palettes, “formulaic” plotting, and a lack of real-life stakes.
- Film critics, especially those who work for major media outlets and have their reviews counted in the Rotten Tomatoes score, are all “paid Disney shills,” who engage in quid pro quo with the Mouse House, providing positive reviews in exchange for invites to Hollywood premieres, after parties, celebrity junkets, and other shwag.
- Bloggers, critics, and other industry professionals actively engaged in insulting Zack Snyder and his work, and implemented an all-out smear campaign to sabotage the DCEU films with bad press.
Of course, all of this is easily debunked, hyperbolic nonsense. But the defensiveness, paranoia, jealousy, insecurity, hostility, and entitlement of the worst subsections of Snyder fandom has allowed their simple passion for superhero cinema to metastasize into a cancer that threatens to spread and engulf online spaces. Let’s examine some of the ways the virulent Snyder fandom has tainted their own reputation and poisoned normal discourse over the years.
Social Media Trolling
Snyder fans employ the same tactics utilized by countless troll armies and hate movements such as Gamergate and Comicsgate. Hundreds of accounts — usually emblazoned with avatars pulled from Snyder’s oeuvre like Affleck’s Batman or King Leonidas from 300 with the The Snyder Cut mantra displayed boldly as part of their screen name — slavishly monitor any hashtags or keywords that contain Zack Snyder’s name or ‘Release the Snyder Cut’ 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Once a tweet or post has been identified as speaking ill of “Zaddy” (a favored nickname for the director among the movement that combines Zack and Daddy), supporters will swiftly swarm into the Tweeter’s mentions and dogpile, sea-lion, and engage in bad-faith arguments regarding Snyder’s DC films, usually armed with mocking memes and out-of-context comic book panels to prove how “comics accurate” Snyder’s interpretations of the DC characters are.
While many of the more prolific online harassers within the Snyder fandom have seen their accounts shut down by Twitter admins for various violations of terms of service, new antagonistic accounts pop up daily and some trolls, like Future DCEUWarriorzlife, Louis Centeno, and the FilmGob (who, as of this writing has over 5,100 Twitter followers and 24,300 YouTube subscribers) devote an entire online presence to denigrating Marvel fans and compulsively defaming competing film studios like Disney. FilmGob found himself under intense criticism in 2018 for posting a (now-deleted) anti semitic video content wherein he photoshopped his head onto the body of a Nazi soldier holding a gun to Marvel Studios head Kevin Feige, who is Jewish.
#ReleaseTheSnyderCut zealots also swarm and attack the various social media accounts of Warner Bros. Studios, flooding comment threads with threatening, hostile, and oftentimes vulgar demands to release the 214-minute version of the film. For example, the Twitter account for Warner Bros. upcoming streaming service, HBOMax, is under continuous assault from the pro-Snyder sect regardless if the post on the account is DC-related or not. A recent post for Valentine’s Day which asked fans to vote for their favorite coupling from the classic sitcom Friends received 137 comments, the majority of them claiming Henry Cavill’s Superman and Amy Adams’ Lois Lane as the best couple or outright asking for the Snyder Cut.
In one of the most egregious and disgusting instances, Snyder loyalists even capitalized on the tragic death of NBA star Kobe Bryant, posting numerous memes and demands for the release of the Snyder cut under a Memorial post for Bryant on the main Warner Bros. Twitter account. One comment from @Edward44136157 read: “We love Kobe. So thank you @WBHomeEnt but you are not off the hook. #ReleaseTheSndyerCut! RIP to the greatest Laker of all time. Yes I said it. The greatest!!! That comment was followed by a completely tasteless and irrelevant post from user @CINEMA1880 depicting Zack Snyder spanking Forbes box office reporter Scott Mendeson in a poorly-photoshopped image.
Targeting “The Snakes”
Some of the most venomous attacks by the so-called “Snyder Cult” are aimed directly at Snyder’s fellow industry professionals at Warner Bros., including top-level executives — all of whom Snyder cultists believe were (and still are) involved in a vast conspiracy to destroy his career and get him removed from the DC cinematic universe. Public Enemy #1 among the Snyder supporters is Geoff Johns, the former Chief Creative Officer of DC Entertainment and writer of some of the most revered DC comic books of the modern era, such as Justice Society of America, Green Lantern: Rebirth, Flashpoint, and reboots of Shazam and the Justice League. Prior to transitioning from the publishing world to the film & television arena at DC, Johns was considered to be the foremost authority on how to write and handle the DC comics icons.
After Batman V Superman underperformed at the box office and was savaged by critics, Johns, along with producer Jon Berg, was promoted by former Chairman of Warner Bros. entertainment Kevin Tsujihara to oversee the entire DC film division in Spring 2016. He immediately rubbed Snyder cultists the wrong way by publicly decrying Snyder’s dark, deconstructionist approach to the universe in a July 2017 interview with The Wrap: “Get to the essence of the character and make the movies fun. Just make sure that the characters are the characters with heart, humor, hope, heroics, and optimism at the base,” Johns said.
Following the soap opera saga of Justice League’s post-production, it didn’t take long for the Zaddy crowd to concoct a tin foil hat conspiracy for the ages. These deeply disturbed individuals actually believe that Johns and Tsujihara opportunistically exploited the tragic death of Snyder’s daughter to eliminate Zack from the picture, hire Whedon to “Marvelize” Justice League, and transform the dark and serious DCEU into a candy-coated, joke-riddled Marvel Cinematic Universe version 2.0. This extreme paranoia led to Johns being labelled “The Snake” by Snyder cultists. His social media accounts fell under siege, ultimately leading to Johns only tweeting sporadically after Justice League’s release, before being bullied off the platform altogether in August of 2019.
Johns is not the only “snake” in the crosshairs of Snyder Cut soldiers. Even Patty Jenkins, whose Wonder Woman adaptation was embraced and loved by both Snyder loyalists and the general audience, is not immune from the online abuse. Because Snyder was responsible for casting Gal Gadot and has a story credit on the film (though it was heavily rewritten later by Allan Heinberg and Jenkins herself), many in the pro-Snyder camp feel Jenkins is riding on his coattails, and see the brighter, more humorous ’80s aesthetic of the upcoming sequel Wonder Woman 84 as a downgrade and a betrayal of his “vision.”
In December 2019, both Jenkins and Gadot were attacked for Snyder Cut comments they made while being interviewed at the Sao Paulo Comic Con Experience. When asked about the Snyder Cut, Gadot replied, “I didn’t watch it, no.” “Nobody did,” Jenkins added. Twitter user @vinaldo7 responded to a post with vile misogyny, stating, “Look at how that bitch jumps in ‘no nobody did’…So Momoa is a nobody now huh?” The “Momoa” refers to actor Jason Momoa, who portrays Aquaman in Batman V Superman, Justice League, and his own solo film. He claims to have watched the Snyder Cut, and declared it “ssssiiicccckkkkk.”
Cloverfield, Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes, and War Of The Planet Of The Apes director Matt Reeves is the latest recipient of hatred from cult members, simply for signing on to write and direct a new solo Batman film tentatively titled The Batman. The hostility levied at Reeves is tied directly to Ben Affleck’s decision to step down from directing the picture himself, then abandoning the role entirely due to a combination of unhappiness with the humiliating reaction to Batman V Superman (which spawned the ‘Sad Affleck’ meme), overall dissatisfaction with the Justice League production, and his struggle with alcoholism during this time. In a New York Times feature on the embattled actor-director, Affleck said, “I showed somebody ‘The Batman’ script. They said, ‘I think the script is good. I also think you’ll drink yourself to death if you go through what you just went through again.’”
Reeves coming aboard the project, as well as the casting of Robert Pattinson in the lead role and the subsequent reveal of his Batsuit was met with skepticism and vitriol, with many Snyder Cult accounts promising to boycott the movie due to Affleck’s “removal,” comparing Pattinson’s batsuit to “cheap cosplay,” and stating Ben Affleck is the only true Batman, etc. Once again, the conspiracy theories began to spin out of control, like this one from FilmGob, which claims Affleck was pushed out the door as part of a sinister conspiracy concocted by, who else? Geoff Johns.
And it doesn’t end there. Joss Whedon is constantly bombarded with harassment whenever he posts on Twitter (which is rare these days), with accusations that he purposely sabotaged Justice League not only by riddling it with cheesy quips and the infamous digital mustache erasure on Henry Cavill, but with outright sexism and misogyny, evidenced by Martha Kent mistakenly saying Lois Lane is a “thirsty” reporter, and The Flash comically falling onto Wonder Woman’s chest during an action scene.
Additionally, the legendary Danny Elfman is despised for replacing Junkie XL as composer on Justice League and for jettisoning Hans Zimmer’s Superman themes from the score. Former Warner Bros. film head Kevin Tsujihara, current Warner Bros. Pictures Group Chairman Toby Emmerich, and the acting head of DC productions Walter Hamada are often cited as masterminds in various conspiracy theories designed to eliminate Zack Snyder. And director James Gunn is currently dodging fire for writing and directing a Suicide Squad reboot after being fired from Marvel in 2018 over tasteless jokes tweeted out years ago in the early days of his film career. Along with the typical Snyderbro concerns that the film will be a campy joke-fest, they also harbor the ludicrous notion that he will feed Marvel Studios head Kevin Feige top secret intel on future DC film projects when he returns to direct Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, so they can be stolen and converted to Marvel Cinematic Universe scripts.
Gunn also received a sickening death threat after he left the set of Suicide Squad for a few days. In a Twitter post by Comicbook.com, which revealed the director flew home to say goodbye to his dying dog, Twitter user @Rapharel_2D tweeted out this disgusting reply, “I hope he dies to so we all can say goodbye to dog and owner.”
Emboldening The Bad Behavior
One of the more troubling aspects of the ongoing wave of vile conduct from Snyder cut supporters is the deafening silence coming from Snyder himself. To date, the director has not commented on his feelings regarding Joss Whedon’s work on the film, nor has he recounted the events from his perspective in order to quell the rampant speculation. (In fairness, neither has Whedon.) But more importantly, he has made no public statements whatsoever condemning the toxic online behavior of his fans, even as they engage in the aforementioned mass spamming of Warner Bros. various social media accounts and target critics and detractors of Snyder’s vision for the DC characters.
If anything, toxic Snyder fandom has only become more emboldened by the director’s constant, tantalizing trickle of still images and cryptic Vero posts he utilizes to keep his uncompleted Justice League in the news cycle. On February 14th, the Snyder movement launched another attempt to get the unreleased cut back in the spotlight by celebrating “#214,” referring to the film’s run time of 214 minutes. That day, the director took to Twitter and had an interaction with the official account of Subway restaurants that seemed to be an intentional troll to Warner Bros., Joss Whedon, and the tone of changes present in the theatrical version of Justice League. “It’s #214 and people have been asking me what would be on a Snyder Cut sandwich???” Snyder asked. “The sandwich would be in a league of its own, that’s for sure. We know hope is easy to lose, but if you dig around it’s usually close by. Who has been hoping for the Snyder Cut Sandwich? #214” Subway replied. Snyder then sarcastically added, “Obviously, it’s ALL meat… NO cheese… NO Baloney,” implying that his vision for the Justice League was superior, with more substance and no humor.
While somewhat harmless, tweets like these demonstrate a level of unprofessionalism and only serves to egg on the worst of his fandom’s trolls. It also begs the question, why do this? And for what purpose? Snyder recently spent seven months shooting a zombie action film for Netflix titled Army Of The Dead, but instead of using his social media power to promote that project, he appears content to channel all his energy into enigmatic social media posts about a three-year old film and taking petty digs at the various people involved with its release. It only serves to further perpetuate the most fervent Zaddy defenders’ belief that he is “on their side” — justifying their relentless online barrage on the deluded pretense that he feels the same sense of betrayal and persecution they do, and that a great act of malice was committed against him and his art.
Snyder even directly communicated with one of the most hostile members of the SnyderCut harassment brigade, granting an interview to a writer who contributes pro-Snyder editorials to the heavily Snyder and DC-biased website Comic Book Debate. It was clear Snyder and his public relations staff did no vetting of her social media accounts prior to the interview, as her Twitter timeline is full of vulgarity and racially-charged histrionics aimed at Joss Whedon and other perceived “enemies” of Snyder. In a tweet dated June 15, 2017, the writer replied to another user’s tweet regarding composer Junkie XL leaving the Justice League project to work on Tomb Raider: “I can’t believe I was mad at him……ONLY LATER DID I FIND OUT THEY WERE LIES! FUCK YOU JOSS! WHITE DEVIL ASS” A cursory review of her Twitter threads reveal a continuous stream of aggressive negativity regarding all things critical of Zack Snyder and DCEU films.
The proliferation of clickbait-driven online geek culture film websites are another constant source contributing to the misguided motivations of the Snyder cult, heaping coal upon the fires of outrage by operating as borderline propaganda arms for “the movement.” Many of these independent and corporately operated news aggregates and op-ed factories are even-handed in their coverage of superhero cinema, giving equal weight to Sony/Disney Marvel and Warner Bros. DC product alike.
But a few — like CosmicBook News, We Got This Covered, Screen Rant, Comic Book Debate, Bounding Into Comics, and CBR.com — have been accused of outright manufacturing imaginary film industry stories as well as being Snyder-slanted, spinning news to cast Snyder in a positive light, churning out 500-plus word posts generated off of one simple photo Snyder posted to his Vero account, or publishing antagonistic editorials that posit Snyder’s works as visionary masterpieces and Marvel Studios’ as empty fast food trash. All this serves to further the endless Marvel vs. DC “fan wars,” and keeps the perpetual Snyder Cut discourse engine running in overdrive.
Crusading For Art Vs. Toxic Entitlement And The Realities Of Releasing The Cut
With all of the abhorrent behavior cited above (which, sadly, barely scratches the surface of the toxicity), several questions remain: Does this mythical cut even exist? What would it take to release it? Most importantly, do these “fans” even deserve to see it?
Firstly, the Snyder Cut isn’t a myth — it actually does exist. Snyder himself finally put the endless speculation to rest in a December 4th, 2019 post to his Vero account, which featured a photo of several film canisters labelled “JL Director’s Cut, Running Time: 214,” and large text over the image reading “IS IT REAL? DOES IT EXIST? OF COURSE IT DOES.” Snyder filmed everything he needed to put together the 214-minute cut of the film during principal photography, though it was deemed by Warner Bros. brass to be “unwatchable” (hence the reshoots).
The special effects work, color correction, musical score, and other technical polishes needed to fully complete the film for an official release would cost an estimated $30–40 million, according to a VFX professional who worked for Justice League’s effects house. However, those costs could be lower, in light of composer Junkie XL’s claims in October 2019 that his version of the musical score is fully completed . So yes, the film could be released on blu-ray or to a service like HBOMax. There is also no denying that there is a precedent for fans rallying around an IP and saving it from oblivion — but there is a huge difference between relatively benign letter-writing campaigns that rescued shows like the original Star Trek or pre-social media Internet fan groups organizing to resurrect series like Firefly, Futurama, and Family Guy, and a vociferous, hostile mob demanding a piece of media be released or changed.
We’re already seeing Hollywood executives making significant, last-minute alterations in the wake of negative social media reactions to trailers and other marketing materials — the complete rehaul of the CGI model’s face for Sonic The Hedgehog being a prime example. These organized fan mobs threaten mass boycotts of big studio franchises like the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Star Wars, DC, and other nostalgic genre properties unless full capitulation in regards to stories, characters, and designs catering to their tastes is met. There is a growing sense that, because fans grew up with a property and invested in it emotionally and financially, those fans now own it. Art is seemingly becoming a purchasable commodity, custom ordered like a pizza on Friday night.
Snyder supporters frame the #ReleaseTheSnyderCut campaign as a necessary battle for artistic freedom and expression. But even if the film is released, there is little evidence to suggest their cycle of vitriol and entitled behavior would come to an end. In fact, it could embolden them to make even more demands, such as a release of David Ayer’s edit of 2016’s Suicide Squad (there has been an offshoot of the Snyder movement advocating for this for some time now), the return of Ben Affleck to the Batcave to star in and direct his discarded screenplay, and perhaps even the full reinstatement of Zack Snyder to finish his planned five-film narrative.
Zack Snyder suffered a tragedy that no father should ever have to go through, and there’s no question he took a hit to the soul as an artist as well by seeing so much of his hard work put on the studio shelf. No creator should have to live with their film taken away from them — yet, Snyder is not a special case in this regard, as Hollywood history is riddled with stories of studio meddling and unreleased movies. It’s also difficult to reconcile an investment into the release of the cut with the conduct of a large portion of his following. Why should these individuals be rewarded for throwing what amounts to a four-year temper tantrum that has made so many people’s online experiences a complete nightmare?
As we enter the second decade of the 21st century, the entertainment industry stands upon a dangerous precipice. Seismic changes in the way media is delivered to an audience, as well as the impact an audience can have on creative decisions, have unleashed a new paradigm that raises some serious ethical dilemmas. In all likelihood, the Snyder Cut will be released someday; the demand for exclusive content to lure new subscribers in an ever-expanding and cutthroat streaming service market almost makes it an inevitability. But as the entitlement, anger, delusion, and toxicity from the Cult of Snyder has shown us — it will come at a heavy moral price.