So The Dissolve called it quits today. This is a shame. During its two-year run, it was the go-to place for smart, insightful, hilarious film writing. Its team of writers will go on to do more awesome stuff, to be sure, but it’s still a bummer for those of us who read it regularly.
More than any other place online, it fostered a sense of community among its commenters. I think this wasn’t an accident: the generosity in the commentaries of its editors and writers, the wide range of films they featured, the sense of open discourse they encouraged … these all help generate genuine discussion, debate, and camaraderie. The sense was that we were all in it together, trying to figure out how these things work and what they mean. And they paired it with extensive news round-ups, worthwhile outbound links, deep dives into individual films, and fun, engaging compendiums. I don’t know how it could be done better, at least to my taste. (Oh, and the podcast is great, go listen to it.)
There’s a lot more to be said about the whole situation, and about the economics of online journalism, but I’m not the person to do that. I’m mostly grateful that it existed in the first place, and, spurred on by another commenter, I list a few reasons below.
That’s fitting. The Dissolve served as a platform for some of the most talented critics around — Slate rounds up some highlights — but a big part of my takeaway is the curious community that came out of it, in the internet’s most awesome comment section.
Even right now, people are self-organizing little pockets of discourse and debate; from the start of my involvement, I admired how people created and negotiated different tangents, and how much passion was behind it. I hope things come around full circle, and this work that has meant a lot to people can continue; failing that, I hope that all the freelancers get their due. In the meantime, it’s heartening to see how eager folks are to connect.
The Dissolve filled a niche and was meaningful. I guess it’s up to us now.
My Dissolve Story —
I am an inveterate website lurker. Aside from the occasional, extremely specific forum related to work or activism, I’ve always shied away from commenting at all. Part of this has been a general, not particularly interesting shyness and reluctance to debate (“I don’t really wanna get into a whole thing and shit, I mean, whatever, it’s the internet”); part of it has been just being overwhelmed, as others have said, when confronted with a 738 comment thread I happened upon, even if I did have what seemed a worthwhile insight or funny joke; and part of it has been the feeling that other people are a) so closely linked in their referential discourse and Simpson’s jokes I have to look up that it would be pointless, and b) anything I might have to say has almost certainly been said, far better, by someone else way down in the mix. So I’d read and chuckle and nod approvingly and get annoyed, but generally just assume there wasn’t much of a reason to chime in.
I came to The Dissolve because I like movies, and like Rabin’s writing. I don’t really play video games or watch tv or read comic books, so it was always movies I was there for in the first place. The idea of a great collection of writers focused solely on film was like a present, so I dutifully lurked, as is my wont. But reading through the comments, it became immediately apparent that something else was going on here. The sincerity of the posts, the way people expressed themselves respectfully but still mixed in legitimately hilarious and nerdy jokes (that I got! sometimes!), and the overall genial vibe that pervaded the discussion was different. So eventually, I spoke up about something or other. To my surprise, I felt like I just slid into the conversation, rather than being an ignored outlier or, worse, dismissed. This never happens, not online anyway. I felt like I got to know different voices and different personalities in legitimate, fascinating back-and-forths, and the contributors chimed in, too. It just felt so fucking approachable.
I actually started writing about movies in the last little bit or so simply based on the confidence I found in these discussions. That there’s validity to your viewpoint and you can approach things without tearing them down, but just to engage with them, see how they work, invite others to agree or disagree without it turning into some nasty or cynical endeavor to show how smart you are. That’s been really valuable to me and added a lot to my life. Plus, both Dissolve posts/articles and you folks in the comments have steered me toward all sorts of things I might’ve missed, and encouraged me to take film more seriously. I’m now like reading books about early film history, reading biographies, seeking out one-week runs of restored classics, and so forth.
The entire thing has brought me a lot of joy, and I really appreciate it.