A great sense of digital sadness hit me a few weeks ago when I found out the IMDB message boards were closed down on February 20 of this year. I didn’t know they were closing the forum until after it happened when I went to the site and couldn’t find the discussions. Here is the explanation given by the site:
After in-depth discussion and examination, we have concluded that IMDb’s message boards are no longer providing a positive, useful experience for the vast majority of our more than 250 million monthly users worldwide. The decision to retire a long-standing feature was made only after careful consideration and was based on data and traffic.
I signed up for an IMDB account back in 2004, and I have been posting on the boards there for a long time. It wasn’t a place that I visited every day, but I did go there many times over the course of each year. I would typically visit after watching a movie or finishing a television series to read what other people had written.
Comments about likeable or unlikable characters. Explanations about strange plot twists. Posts about holes in plots that I missed while watching. Comments from “groupies” who know all the ins and outs of a story’s background.
These were the kinds of discussions I would find when visiting the IMDB.com discussion boards. Over time, visiting them became a kind of ritual through which I could bask in a sense of shared pop cultural sentiments. I sometimes found myself pondering what the people on IMDB would say about a television series of movie before I even finished watching it. The IMDB.com discussion boards became the water cooler of all-things that could be watched on a screen. There was no other place on the internet where the world came together to discuss virtually any movie, TV show, actor, or actress like they did on IMDB.
One of the great things about the boards was that you might find the full range of film viewer types, from civilized humans to trolls, from movie buffs to novices. You could read serious commentary, juvenile reactions, or highly entertaining observations. The cream tended to rise to the top, and interesting topics could generate a lot of activity. Just to give some idea of the conversations, I took a look at some of the archived conversations that were taking place within the last few months about the original Godfather movie:
- Who runs the Corleone Family if Vito and Sonny were killed?
- Why Michael failed the Corleone empire.
- Recasting the Godfather
- Could any other actor have played Don Vito besides Brando
- Choreography of the fight and death scenes the weakest part of this film
- Fredo’s hidden depths and talents?
- Michael was never being vindictive. He just thought like a soldier.
Clearly, there was some thought-provoking stuff going on there! You might say these aren’t the most intellectually-challenging posts, but I would argue that they don’t have to be in order to embody the importance of pop cultural consciousness within the masses. As a casual movie/TV watcher, the kinds of topics seen on IMDB were the kinds of topics that I would devour after immersing myself in a film or TV series. In fact, after watching a movie or series, I would almost always visit IMDB to read through posts for insights or to have questions answered that lingered in my mind. There were inevitably people who knew more about a story or who caught something that I did not who frequented the forum. There must have been countless times that I went there and had “Oh yes, now I understand…” moments. I can’t underestimate the power of this in creating deeper meaning and appreciation for films.
A loss for pop culture
IMDB was a place to wax philosophically. To share frustrations. To point out some observation that I had, or to see what unusual observations others may have had. Now, that is all lost. Closing down the IMDB message boards was a bad decision.
Without the IMDB message boards, I have already begun to feel a sort of loss. I feel like I can’t truly get as much satisfaction out of a streaming experience as I used to. Is it the death of pop culture? Not exactly, but pop culture is hurt by it. If culture is defined as the set of beliefs, attitudes, and customs of a common group, then it must be presumed that those are things that can be shared by the group’s members. With the closure of the IMDB message boards, the sharing of ideas is significantly decreased, leading to a loss of culture.