Rotten Tomatoes and the cultural divide between critics and audiences

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Comedian Dave Chappelle’s Netflix special, The closest, garnered praise from the public and social media, while drawing contempt from media critics and professional critics for his jokes about LGBTQ and trans communities. Critics have even gone so far as to call the stand-up special a “betrayal” on Chappelle’s part.

But how far does this gap extend between what appears to be the approval of the mass public and the universal disapproval of criticism? Rotten Tomatoes, the movie review aggregation site that averages movie, TV, and streaming visual media reviews, has become the latest tool to measure this.

Rotten Tomatoes has a user rating system, which it measures against media reviews. It helps show how paid critics approach their art, as opposed to a casual audience. It is also becoming a cultural club that proves a disconnection between the awakened media and the general public, exhausted by cancellations and public wrestling sessions in the name of “progress”, racial or otherwise.

Currently Chappelle’s The closest The critics score on Rotten Tomatoes is 43%, which earns it the dreaded green splash. However, it hits an overwhelming 96 percent on the audience meter. On the flip side, Disney Plus’s new documentary about Dr.Anthony Fauci, which explores the personal side of the controversial character, has a certified approval rating of 91% from critics and just 2% from audiences.

Does Rotten Tomatoes signal a new interpersonal way of probing the cultural and media divide? It could. This type of deviation first became a problem with Star Wars: The Last Jedi, which has been hailed by critics and to the limit despised by the public. The same happened with Captain Marvel, which led Rotten Tomatoes to implement a verification system to prevent a troll tactic called “review bombing,” where critics coordinate and bomb a media or movie with the sole purpose of lowering the rating.

However, Rotten Tomatoes only implemented this system for theatrical releases, which means there’s no way of knowing if those commenting on or rating Chappelle and Fauci have even seen the special. A 2% approval rating among the public is almost unheard of, so the documentary Fauci is likely the victim of a political bombing. The Chappelle special is more interesting, as Chappelle himself and the stand-up comedy on Netflix as a genre attract a niche audience.

Instead of comparing Chappelle’s special to Fauci, perhaps a better comparison is with the critically acclaimed special Nanette of the awake actress Hannah Gadsby. Nanette has achieved a perfect critical score of 100 percent certified fresh. And it’s no wonder: it was practically created in a laboratory to New Yorker writers of cartoon legends and awakened social justice warriors who believe stand-up comedy is really about solving the personal and societal issues of intersectionality. Nanette only obtained an audience rating of 27%.

So there is a clear divide between what the media thinks of the public should appreciate and what the audience chooses to enjoy. Rotten Tomatoes is an imperfect system for measuring this type of division, but it also cannot be broadly amortized. Perhaps this is just another vehicle for confirming the priorities of a mass audience in intimate contexts using flawed and actionable metrics. Or maybe it’s something deeper, and Dave Chappelle and the public know something that the gatekeepers of the mass media don’t.

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