Before I properly start this essay, I would like to describe its story, as it certainly doesn't start here.
This text was first written all the way back in 2012, when I was a newcomer in DeviantArt. Back then, I was something of an opinionated young man, but I still lacked a fully comprehensible view of the world. I believed I had a wisdom I actually didn't have - and perhaps I still don't have.
For that reason, the first form of this essay was actually incredibly aggressive against its subject: the Nostalgia Critic, a popular internet figure created and played by Douglas Walker. I was angry at him, and I felt it was about time for me to express my thoughts - I think the "that's it!" point was his reviews on "Full House" and "FernGully: The Last Rainforest". For "Full House", I felt he was nitpicking it just because it launched the careers of the Olsen twins, and for "FernGully", he actually teamed up with the Nostalgia Chick (whatever happened to her?) against such a charming, brave little Australian animated film. I can understand him hating films like "Moulin Rouge!" and "Gladiator": I love such movies, but I can see why they're not unanimous. However... hating "Matilda"? Who the hell would hate that film?
I felt it was time to blow some steam, and as I had a platform in DeviantArt - where the Nostalgia Critic had and still has a considerable fandom - I felt the need to make this essay. In it, I was always explicit that I had nothing against his fans: my contempt was merely towards Douglas Walker, and I had no intention of insulting large groups of people. Curiously, many identified themselves with what I was saying: my text got some favourites, showing that my thoughts had hit a string with some. But there were others who attacked me on sight, as if I had insulted them personally - again, something I was committed not to do. One even used as an argument that the fact Douglas Walker had a wife meant he was mature and responsible... so tuff luck, people who don't want to get married: you are juvenile forever.
In 2014, I deleted the original text and republished it in a heavily modified form: this time softer, but still incisive on how I felt about Douglas Walker's character. To avoid insults, I disabled comments, and it was a terrible idea in terms of dialogue and communication. But then, people who were insulting me were not interested in civil communication. So I toned down my essay, but it was once again attracting publicity both positive and negative, so I deleted it once again, storing a copy in my Sta.sh. And I didn't know what to do with it - not just for the responses it was bringing, but also due to how I felt that wasn't me anymore.
Today, I publish this essay for the third time, but this time, it's drastically different from what it used to be nearly five years ago. I changed. Hell, Walker changed. The world changed, actually. So this essay now reflects this condition: it's meaning is not the same from before.
In my very first year here in DeviantArt, I had a little conversation with another artist about how modern films are not what they used to be. Blockbusters are becoming vapid and contrived, and even the Oscar winning films of today will not be remembered by our grandchildren as the classics of the past are remembered by us. Regardless if "La La Land" had won, or if "Moonlight" was deserving or not, people in the foreseeable future will forget these movies: they just don't have that transcendental impact anymore. In this conversation, he talked to me about the Nostalgia Critic, apparently encouraging me to check him out. I had heard a lot about him, but until that moment, I had never actually seen one of his videos. And I was reluctant about doing it so: until that time, I wasn't really a big fan of that kind of humour. But in the end I decided to give him a shot. I mean, everybody loved the guy, so why not?
Little did I know I was embarking on a roller coast of different emotions. After seeing several of his video reviews through the following months, I had different... phases about what I thought of him. At first, I imagined him to be a funny guy, with moments of genuine critical insight: you could accurately say that at that time, I was as a fan. Then, as I started to know him better, to look at him closer, beyond the gifs and the fandom. Then, I started to dislike some of his attitudes, but I still would think to myself he was not all perfect, since none of us are. Then, I started hating him... hard. I remember I even made arts attacking him. Yes: for a period in time, I was a guy dedicating my time and talents to insult someone else. And I stopped seeing his videos all together, until considerably recently.
It's funny to think that it was nearly the same process that I had with Bill Maher: when I first found out about a media personality; when I liked this media personality; when I started looking for more content from this media personality to see; when I started to notice this media personality had some opinions and mannerisms I didn't like, but that's okay for now; when these opinions and mannerisms started piling up, and up, and up... and then before I realized, I was deluded with this media personality. For all he had in common with me at first that made me appreciate him so much, there were aspects of him I couldn't take.
Today, now that I'm older - and now that Douglas Walker has too matured in many ways - and I see things as they are. It's not that I love the Nostalgia Critic now, but I definitely have some respect for him. I came to understand that there's a difference between his character and himself, and that all those rants were part of an act not to be taken seriously. Plus, he was one of the pioneers in internet observational humour, before so many other YouTube celebrities came to be - the Nostalgia Critic and the Angry Video Game Nerd were among the firsts of their kind. Granted that they inspired some content-creators that I hate, and that a substantial fraction of their fandoms is - as the internet jargon goes - "cancerous" (I'll mention them later). But they also definitely opened the doors to creators I most obviously like, as they made people realize the internet was a new platform for visual entertainment.
The Nostalgia Critic realizes the concept that several movies and shows that we grew up with do not stick with us after we grow up. In our memories, they are great, but seeing them again through adult eyes would be a revealing experience - usually not for the best. In fact, that's how he build his reputation: he was the guy pointing that out. His main focus used to be on films of the 80's and 90's, and his target audiences were those who grew in that era.
However, Douglas seemed to be too much of a mean guy. I could give you many examples, but one that summarizes this issue the best was his review on "Felix the Cat, the Movie": while I admit he was pretty much bullseye about several of its issues, I had the sensation he was like a big man viciously stomping a midget, thinking he's being funny simply by being cruel towards something. Some movies may indeed deserve this sort of aggressive criticism, yes... but in the case of other movies, such as the Felix one, I felt these angry reviews were hypo sufficient: those movies were simply not hateful.
The Nostalgia Critic was a reminder of how some things and values are indeed unique of our childhoods, but once we grow older, we leave them behind. In the same way grown people don't see the necessity of playing with toys anymore, or when they notice how bad that emo band they used to love is, we also must realize that some pivotal moments of our childhoods will simply NOT hold on in our mature lives. Some actually do, but that might be because they have transcendental values that still make us relate to them ("Babe", "Toy Story", countless Nickelodeon cartoons). Other tokens however lack such values, and this is where the Nostalgia Critic operated. But the problem I had with him was the blunt way he conveyed that message: it was an important message, but I felt he was dealing with it wrong, for the sake of a comedy I couldn't embrace.
So let's talk about how I used to perceive the Nostalgia Critic, and what made the young me dislike him so much.
As I said, I used to believe he was overly mean with his subjects. And also, he had this almighty mentality of being unable to judge himself before judging anything else, not living by the standards he was preaching. He once declared Mike Myers to be "too repetitive" in his review of "The Cat in The Hat"... and I thought this would be a hint of how he would not actually see one of his own videos, since he was very repetitive. Plus, I used to believe his reviews were not fully trustworthy because they were firstly attempts at humour, at pointing at a movie and making fun of it. I still believe that observational humour was and is his main objective, but many of his fans - who didn't live through the 90's and didn't see the films he was ranting about back then - may not have perceived them as such: as observational humour, a predecessor to the famed "reaction videos". They would perceive them as actual opinions.
Now, I have always been informed that Douglas Walker and the Nostalgia Critic were different, and that they don't have the same opinions - a Lee Child/Jack Reacher kind of thing. But then, I used to believe such declarations were a device for him to protect himself from fan criticism, as he could always say "hey! It ain't me! It's my silly character!" To me, it meant hiding behind a character to promote his opinions without a backlash. About that, there's actually a name for what I was feeling: confirmation bias. When you strongly believe in something - and in my case, that the Nostalgia Critic was bad - then every piece of received information would confirm that theory, such as this separation of character and performer.
I used to believe that, for some of his videos that were indeed great (his review of "Double Team" is pure brilliance), there were many others in which he was too overblown, full of himself and cruel towards films that weren't worthy of his cruelty. But in my conversations in YouTube, and even in experiences right here DeviantArt, I've seen some very sensitive people who would take any criticism towards Douglas Walker and his character personally... not very different than what used to happen with Roger Ebert. They had this idea that the he spoke "the truth", and that whatever he said was beyond any consideration. He was a paramount reference.
About these reactionaries, we have to analyse things before moving on. By reading comments from his videos, and by seeing the very reality of the internet, his fandom must be between 12 to 25, which is an age when you are not fully formed as a critical thinker, even if you're opinionated. His fans are usually kids, teenagers and young adults - which is precisely why he eventually started focusing also on more recent works that such youngsters could assimilate. And fans at this age tend to be much more emotional about their idols, in not thinking things over, in loving their icons to the bitter end. So that would be the explanation of mine about why some of his fans can be so rabid, angry and prone to defend the Nostalgia Critic like if he was family.
He had for a time quit his videos to do something else, and the given reason was because he thought his show was going stale. His new career didn't work so well - I personally still don't know what it was about. And fans were starting to miss his show, so he came back - apparently adopting an improved approach to what he wanted. I think this must have been his point of change, the moment when he finally had some self-criticism and started to genuinely change for the better. If he was going to come back, he had to come back with something different, as someone less abrasive and more open to newer works.
I imagined Douglas to be like the kind of people who think they are right all of the times, without any room to self-criticism or to think things over - and ironically, I too was being that person when attacking him so viciously. Nevertheless, objectively speaking, I think I was right about that: he was that figure with a strong and imposing opinion, without asking for comprehension. But in his defence, by seeing him today, it's obvious he has observed that: the Nostalgia Critic now is vastly different than what he once was.
Douglas has some genuine film criticism and comedy potentials going for him, and I believed he wasn't perfecting such potentials. But by seeing many of his new videos - including his "Real Thoughts" series in which he explains what he really thinks of movies he had already reviewed as the Nostalgia Critic -, I can say that now he did. This is not to say he is perfect now: he can obviously improve some more, as sometimes, he can let his personality get the best over him, with comedy skits that can go for too long, and misplaced parodies here and there pandering to his audience. But in the same way I changed, he changed as well - maybe because his audience in the mid-2000's aged.
So I can see valour in him. He has proved to be very acculturated in pop culture matters, and to be very observational and meticulous about his subjects, while still wanting to be funny. It will take more than what he's doing now for me to consider myself a fan of his again, to get back on board after all the things I thought of him. But even if the day never comes, I cannot find in myself the contempt I had for him anymore. The guy is a fighter, and an inspiration to many.
So keep improving, Douglas Walker. Everyone has to gain with this - most of all you.