I've been following the hostility and vituperation flying around various websites and message boards over CliffyB's description of MGS4 as "passive entertainment on its way out." The fanboy flame wars burn bright as the online battle is pitched between fans of CliffyB (Western, action-driven, "web 2.0 stuff") vs. fans of Kojima (Japanese, story-driven, old-school stealth and espionage).
How hot can these fights get? To what lengths will devoted fans go to defend the integrity of their entertainment idols? Could two opposing groups of fans actually come to blows over what are essentially artistic differences?
Consider this scenario: Two accomplished artists divide fans along distinct aesthetic lines. Artist A is the classic traditionalist. He operates within a set of highly refined conventions. Realism matters little to him. He is a poet given to broad, even exaggerated presentation, and he is considered a master of this style. He has gained international fame.
Artist B is the American upstart. His brooding, naturalistic style is seen by many as truer to real life. He is muscular, handsome, and physically imposing. Action and movement are his fortes, and he is prone to bursts of great energy and exuberance. He is seen by some Americans as the antidote to Artist A and a sign of the future direction of the art.
Fans of Artists A and B have skirmished before with debates and public assertions of the inferiority of their opponents' hero. So when it is announced that Artist A will make a high-profile appearance in the U.S., fans of Artist B seize the opportunity to confront their enemy on the street outside the venue. A riot ensues as hundreds converge on the area armed with rocks and other weapons. Soon the police and state militia are called in, and the violence escalates.
In the end 25 people are dead and scores wounded. It is the largest number of civilians killed due to military action since the American Revolution.
The year was 1849. The location was the Astor Place Opera House in New York City. And the fight was about two actors - Englishman William Charles Macready and American Edwin Forrest - and their opposing interpretations of Shakespeare. No kidding. On that day in 1849 - on a street in front of a theater - people were willing to fight and die over what were essentially artistic and cultural differences.
Maybe forum flame wars aren't so bad after all. ;-)
For a more complete account of the Astor Place Riot, I recommend these excellent sites, as well as this NPR interview with author Nigel Cliff about his book The Shakespeare Riots: Revenge, Drama and Death in 19th-Century America. The broadside on the right is a photo of an original posted in advance of the event. Click to enlarge.