Psychological science has demonstrated time and again that humans aren't rational beings. We feel first, think and act later. That's why we do things that don't make logical sense like smoking when we know it's bad for our health, procrastinating on our work even though it'll make things harder later on, and avoiding difficult conversations which end up prolonging our stress.
Sometimes our emotions lead us to do things that conflict with our beliefs. We might think we're generous people but then we avoid beggars on the street. That's where cognitive dissonance comes in. Our mind strives for consistency between our beliefs and actions. When there's an inconsistency ("I'm a good person but I didn't give money to that poor person"), our mind either changes our behavior ("I'll volunteer at a soup chicken") or modifies our beliefs ("If I gave that beggar money, they'd just spend it on beer or drugs"). These types of mental gymnastics happens all the time without any conscious awareness.
What does this have to do with Batfleck outrage? Cognitive dissonance helps us understand what's been going on inside the minds of fans after their initial anger has worn off. Here's an example:
Belief 1: I love Batman.
Belief 2: I hate Ben Affleck.
Dissonance: Ben Affleck is the new Batman!
We want to be consistent and these two beliefs just don't mesh with each other. To reduce our conflict, we might change the first belief and say "Affleck will never be my Batman" or "This isn't a serious Batman movie with Zack Snyder at the helm." Others will change their second belief – "Ben Affleck isn't that bad" or "Far worse actors have played Batman". Again, this is a stealthy process that happens without us even realizing it.
I wish the conversation about our new Batman was more civil, but with the way most of the internet works (no face time), that’s not going to happen. Knowing what we do about cognitive dissonance, Cap. Steve Rogers is right — people will get used to this news and see the movie anyway.
At the end of the day, it's good that people are reacting so strongly. Emotional reactions mean people care about Batman and are invested in the franchise. The moment fans stop caring is when a franchise dies (Exhibit C: George Clooney's Batman & Robin). Will Batman VS. Superman go down the path of Batman & Robin or Batman Begins? It’s just too early to tell.
November 21st 2013 Update: Listen to Geek Therapist Josué Cardona and I discuss Ben Affleck and Nerd Rage on the Geek Therapy Podcast.
December 22nd 2014 Update: Watch the Nerd Nite version of this article.