Why A Star is Born and Venom Aren’t Really in Competition

Little Monsters have gone full Russian Troll, but maybe they should relax.

Photograph by Clay Enos.

While we live with a constant swarm of cultural and political division, fake news, online outrage, and questions over whether a society built on barely restrained capitalism is truly viable for much longer, at least we always have the refuge of the cinema to get away with from it all, if only for a while. A place where we can block out the outside world for a few hours, and where we can worry less about what’s real and what’s fake and let our imaginations run wild and the vision of filmmakers lead us towards greater truths about ourselves and the world we live in.

Hahaha, oh my God, just kidding. It’s 2018 and the box office storyline of the weekend is being illuminated by fake reviews spread by rabid Lady Gaga fans on Twitter trying to dissuade folks from seeing a CGI-packed superhero movie put out by Sony and based on a Marvel Comics character from Spider-Man titles.

Yes, both A Star Is Born and Venom finally debut in cinemas this Friday night, and while the titles would appear to have very, very different target audiences, BuzzFeed News reports that rabid Gaga fans, aka Little Monsters, have purposely created Twitter bots trying to bait people (particularly, for some reason, Republicans and Midwestern mothers) into seeing their hero in her first lead role in a film.

“Just got back from seeing #Venom in theatre .. so disappointed,” read one tweet. “Lots of democrat nonsense, pushing LGBT agenda down throat too. Disgusted. I can’t believe I am saying this but I might have to take the kids to see #AStarIsBorn tomorrow to make up for the terrible night. Very sad..”

“My grandson hated it & called [Venom] the worst movie ever,” read another. “My good friend sarah suggested that I should watch this ‘A Star is Born’ movie which has Lady Gaga, so yeah I’m excited for that.”

In a world where both the fact that moths are attracted to light given off by lamps and the idea of throwing used car batteries into the ocean have become humorous memes in the past ten days, it wouldn’t be a stretch to believe this has all been done with some humor (and no doubt, some users likely are participating in it or mimicking the format purely for the ‘lols’), but while BuzzFeed News spokes to some users who said they were merely trolling, others claimed it was all part of coordinated effort to actually steer people to line up for Star in lieu of Venom.

“It’s us Gaga fans creating fake IDs to trash the Venom premiere,” said one. “They both are getting released on the same day, so we want more audience for A Star Is Born.”

This isn’t exactly surprising. Long before Russian trolls were on the scene, dedicated pop-star fans found power in mass campaign designed to take advantage of social media and its algorithms to bring attention to their faves. It started with campaigns to get certain hashtags trending, often encouraged by the musicians and their record labels. But once the fan armies realized they had power in numbers, they found other ways to express it, often resulting in coordinated attacks (of sorts) against a star’s perceived rivals (think the time Taylor Swift’s social media accounts were flooded with snake emojis before she reappropriated the symbol herself).

By 2018 Twitter standards, we guess, it’s all relatively harmless, but isn’t it all just a little bit exhausting? For one thing, there’s more than enough actual controversy to discuss on Twitter without having to confront fake ones. For another, this has peaked on the day in which we learned that actual Russian trolls may have actually ginned up or overamplified a large portion of the perceived backlash against Star Wars: The Last Jedi (the Russians have tried to take both democracy and Star Wars from America, and frankly, it’s not like we have much left after that). It’s also just sort of sad to think that people can’t enjoy the culture that they happen to like in 2018 without also being invested in its commercial performance (what stage of late capitalism is this?). Even if you’re not particularly shaken by that idea, while these movies do share a release date, it’s not exactly like they’re in competition with each other for anything other than bragging rights that would last a single week.

This is pretty clear case of safe counterprogramming in which the studios of both films are sure their film can succeed financially despite a shared release date. In fact, it’s pretty reminiscent of a week in June 2006 where the big-budget Superman Returns opened against The Devil Wears Prada. Superman (which actually got stellar reviews at the time) opened at number one with $52.5 million to Prada‘s $27 million, but one of those films remains a footnote in superhero movie history whose star is now on a CW show, and the other netted its star an eventual Oscar nomination and is still referenced on Twitter ad nauseam 12 years later.

Like Superman and Prada, Star and Venom are two very different movies with two very different opening- weekend audiences and two very different paths to ultimate success. One is counting on a front-loaded opening weekend to prove it can sustain a planned franchise, while the other is clearly hoping for awards season glory with sustained interest and viewership over several months.

Not that we expect all of the Little Monsters to get that. We fully expect to read some history come Oscar nominee announcement time in the vein of “Rabid Gaga Fans Drive Glenn Close Off Twitter After Flooding Her With Skull Emojis.” If they’re doing this to Venom, lord only knows what they’ll end up doing to poor Glenn.

Related: The Unsung Heroes of A Star is Born Are the Drag Queens