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Palin vs. Potter


During the 2008 Presidential election a rumor started that then GOP VP candidate Sarah Palin had attempted to ban Harry Potter from the local library when she first got elected as mayor of Wasilla, Alaska. As it turned out the rumor was false, - the first Harry Potter book didn't come until 1998.

Still, some kind of poetic justice seemed to be in play when the Palin documentary "The Undefeated" came out last weekend, the same day as "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2," the concluding episode of the Harry Potter film series.

So how did this grudge match turn out? At first glance, Palin's film doesn't seem to be faring well.

In terms of critical response, "The Undefeated" got a 0% rotten rating on the "Rotten Tomatoes" website, with all eleven reviews of the film to date being negative.

"Harry Potter," on the other hand, got a 97% fresh rating, with only 8 of the 242 reviews to date being negative.

As for the all important bottom line - box office - "The Undefeated" took in $65,132 on ten screens. Potter made $187.2 million on 4,375 screens ($542.2 million if you include the foreign grosses).

However, if you look at the per screen average, "Undefeated" looks more respectable. At $6,513 per screen it pales before Potter's $38,671 average. But compare it the earnings of the other film released that week to go up against "Potter," "Winnie the Pooh," which managed only a $3,266 average on 2,405 screens, and it doesn't look so bad.

Which brings us to another measure of a film's success: the degree of viciousness and hostility expressed by the film's fans in their anonymous online comments in response to those who don't agree with them.

Surprisingly, the eight naysayers among the dissenting Tomatoes critics got off relatively easily from the legions of Potter fanboys and girls. Perpetual Tomatoes punching bag Armond White of the "New York Press" did get 231 comments on his review, most of them of the "Armond, you sir are probably the most ignornant [sic] prick of a critic alive" variety, but the overall vitriol seemed forced and there were even some people who thought White might have had a point or two.

The "Undefeated" fans, though, don't retreat, they reload -- as Atlantic Associate Editor Conor Friedersdorf learned to his astonishment and dismay. Friedersdorf wrote a blog item about an opening day midnight showing of "The Undefeated" in Orange County, noting how he was the sole person in the audience for most of the screening (two people came in who couldn't get into "Harry Potter" and another pair came in and made out. Both parties left before the movie ended).

Left leaning publications picked up the story, gloating. But they were quickly overwhelmed by the backlash from the right, which Friedersdorf, himself no lily-livered liberal, describes with mounting incredulity in a subsequent "Atlantic" item entitled "How I Became the Subject of a Conspiracy Theory." He relates how he became the target of vilification on right wing web sites such as Breitbart. One conspiracist named William Collier spun a theory insisting that the public screening Friedersdorf attended was in fact a private one he arranged with the theater. When confronted with an ad printed in LA Times publicizing the screening, Collier claimed that the Times was in on the plot.

But that fanciful bit of libel was tame compared to some of the other smears, lies, insults, and threats to come. Friedersdorf writes:

"On the personal blog of Dan Riehl, a contributor to Breitbart's sites, I came across this lovely headline: ‘Conor "Pee Wee Herman" Friedersdorf Exposes Himself To Female At Palin Film Showing. ... And Saturday at Breitbart's site, Big Hollywood, writer Larry O'Connor speculated that I lecherously approached the two young female moviegoers who I quoted in my original story."

In a seemingly contradictory post on Twitter, however, he notes that another person declared "I hear that Conor Friedersdorf is dickless." So, go figure.

They may need to get their stories straight, but I'd say that when it comes to ad hominem assaults on critics, the Palin fans' inspired ugliness beats out the lame epithets of "douchebag" and "did you see the same movie I did?" that seem the best the Potter people have been able to come up with. But unfortunately for those pushing "The Undefeated," I don't think such intimidation and deceit works as well in the real world of movies as it seems to do in fantasy land of politics.

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