Denialism, and Toy Story 3

Many of my favorite people hold opinions I don’t. They enjoy things I find annoying, and support positions I find misguided.

That’s good. Part of being a grown-up is accepting that others don’t have to share your tastes and beliefs, just as you don’t have to embrace theirs. Surrounding yourself with only like-minded people is narcissism by proxy.

When you zoom out to society as a whole, you want a healthy mix of opinions to generate discussion. Yes, you get a few blowhards and demagogues, but they often foster enjoyable debate. Culture is the result of a never-ending game, and you want good players.

But do you know who’s no help at all? Denialists.

“Denialist” is a term often linked with Holocaust or climate change skeptics, but in a general sense applies to anyone incapable of rational discussion on a given topic. You can’t debate them. Not really.


There are huge gaps in your “fossil record.”


Between which species?


All of them! Pick any two, and there’s a gap between them.

With topics that can be argued from objective facts, you can ultimately feel pretty secure calling a denialist wrong. But what if you’re talking about a subjective experience, like art or literature or movies?

What if you’re talking about Toy Story 3?

Toy Story 3 is so besotted with brand names and product-placement that it stops being about the innocent pleasures of imagination–the usefulness of toys–and strictly celebrates consumerism.

In his widely-panned review of the widely-adored Toy Story 3, Armond White seems to have segued from film critic to film denialist. “Contrarian” feels too small, too polite — he’s not just paddling in the opposite direction of most critics, he’s climbed out of the boat and started grabbing fish with his bare hands.

Criticizing Toy Story 3 for celebrating consumerism is so non-sensical as to be objectively wrong.

Or maybe we’ve all been duped:

[Toy Story 3 is] essentially a bored game that only the brainwashed will buy into. Besides, Transformers 2 already explored the same plot to greater thrill and opulence.


Paul Brunick does a point-by-point dissection of the Toy Story 3 review, revealing its many factual inaccuracies. Never mind what movie is being projected on screen — White is here to catalog how it falls short of his ideals:

What makes Armond’s reviews perversely fascinating is that he is so obviously intelligent, yet this intelligence has been harnessed to the warped imperatives of an increasingly frustrated personality. Where your average critical hack job is just banal, White’s ability to disconnect the dots exerts a kind of bizarro brilliance. Try to take any of his recent reviews as seriously as he insists and you’ll find yourself, like Alice and the Red Queen, running in hermeneutic circles, getting nowhere fast. It makes for mediocre criticism but lurid psychodrama.

Don’t feed the trolls

Since you can’t debate a denialist, shouldn’t you just ignore them?

In forums and message boards, yes. On their own blogs, sure. But when a denialist has a platform that otherwise feels legitimate, are you doing society a disservice by letting the counterfactual opinion sit there uncontested?

Take evolution, per my example above. By attempting to engage with denialists, defenders of science paradoxically lend their opponents legitimacy — particularly if they can portray themselves as persecuted. “Teach the controversy” starts to sound like a reasonable middle ground, drawing in otherwise-reasonable people who want to be perceived as wise and fair.

I don’t have a good answer. I haven’t devised a formula for figuring out when to just ignore it. And thus I spend a few hundred words on a terrible review of an excellent movie.

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