Defining yourself as a fan

Credit to linked pixiv user

Wherever there’s works of art there will always be praise and criticism, in varying amounts depending on the work in question, anime being no different of course. It’s perfectly normal to feel good when you see that others share in the love you have for a particular anime, and to feel a sting when you find others who passionately dislike it. If you consider yourself a “fan” of an anime, or of any media work really, how much does your fandom define who you are, to the extent that it becomes personal if someone bashes that fandom…

A recent post by Bobduh over on Wrong Every Time elaborates on this idea about the dangers of labeling ourselves as hardcore fans of something, to be specific, making our dedication to a work by someone else a defining trait of who we are. His “easy” response to that is:

I think defining yourself as a fan of a show is a terrible idea, and a form of identity politics that leads to generally uncritical us-versus-them attitudes. If you define a part of yourself as your love of and attachment to a show, a common next step is to define any criticism of that show as a criticism of you personally, and to respond accordingly. Your identity should be more than what you consume, and defining yourself according to any arbitrary, external text, group, or belief generally leads to arbitrary conflict.

I don’t agree with that statement fully, but what I do agree with is that you shouldn’t make your attachment to a work of media, whether it’s an anime, movie, book, TV series, or whatever, so much a part of your identity that you interpret any attack on that work as an attack on you personally. I know it sounds like a silly thing to do, but anyone who’s been on their fair share of social network sites where fans congregate has likely encountered this type of “dedicated” fan who doesn’t even realize they’re acting in a childish way. I actually have a personal anecdote that relates back to this. I’ve mentioned on the blog before that I was a huge Pokemon fan in my last two years of middle school (before I got into anime), but unfortunately I went to a private school with snobby kids who were in a rush to grow up and do typical teenager things, and would condemn anything that was seemingly “for kids” like Pokemon. To make a long story short, one girl in particular would always make snooty comments when I was present about how Pokemon was stupid and only for little kids and how older people who like Pokemon have no life, and whenever I’d tell her to stop making fun of me, she would say “I’m not making fun of you, I’m making fun of Pokemon.”

Of course, being only 12-13 years old at the time, I wasn’t mature enough to not let her comments bother me. But once I got older and met fellow teenagers/adults who loved Pokemon, and later on, anime, as much as I did, I stopped caring about what other people said; to be specific, I didn’t let people hating on my favorite things affect my self image, and I certainly ceased interpreting it as any kind of personal insult.

But while I do agree with Bobduh’s idea that it’s unhealthy to define yourself solely by your hobbies and the media you consume and, as he puts it better, “you really shouldn’t take it personally when people criticize shows you like, and you really do need to accept that the things which may seem valuable to you are not necessarily valuable according to any general metric,” I don’t think it’s bad to consider yourself a dedicated fan of something, as long as you understand this. Perhaps what he means by it being a terrible idea to define yourself as a fan of something is that it’s a terrible idea for the definition of “you” to be that fandom (and basically nothing else). If that’s the case, then yes, I agree that you should broaden your worldview beyond the fictional realm of a fandom. As I mentioned in a past post, there’s a number of other things I’m interested in and enjoy doing besides anime, and I suppose all of those things together, coupled with own my set of morals, values, views on social issues, etc., define who I am. And when you have so many things in the world that excite you and you can see the “big picture” of things, some anonymous person saying that they think the moe anime you like is crap doesn’t even faze you.

While Bobduh suggests that labeling yourself as a fan isn’t a good idea, he admits that it’s something we can’t help but do. As he says “…the instincts that lead people to fandom – art’s ability to inspire, to illuminate, to challenge, to foster self-understanding and emotional connection – are why we make art. People become fans because art works.” When a work of art really resonates with you, it’s hard not to want to seek out like-minded people who also love it and can revel it its greatness with you. But again, that particular work shouldn’t be the only thing that has meaning to you such that any jab at it results in a feeling of personal injury, and you completely close your mind to any flaws in that work or your fandom. But even so, it’s hard not to feel a tad hurt when we encounter hateful remarks and harsh criticisms of something we love. Even as an adult, I’ve felt a little hurt at anime clubs or other RL meetups I’ve been to when people start hating on an anime I love. However, I definitely don’t take it personally or let it get me angry, especially if they bring up valid criticisms. The most I’ll think is “These people have different tastes than me and I probably wouldn’t get along with them if we hung out”…but that’s about it. I believe the right way to deal with this situation is to first remember that the person isn’t criticizing you personally – unless they say something like “Anyone who likes this anime is a dumbass,” in which case they’re obviously some kind of ignorant hater who should be ignored. Then you should consider if the criticism does bring up logical points, and if it does, well, then as Bobduh said, “good – that means those works at least got a reaction out of them, and maybe that can inspire an actual conversation. Because my own understanding doesn’t have to end at defending the works I love – art is a platform for engagement, not a defense against it.”

In the end, I think it’s great to consider yourself a fan of something, to let a work of art, no matter what medium it stems from, bring you pleasure and the ability to connect with other fans. But a fan shouldn’t be all you are and you shouldn’t shut your mind off to any criticism of that work or take them as a personal insult. As Bobduh suggests at the end of his post, just because an anime resonated well with you, unless someone else shares your exact same life experiences, artistic priorities, etc., their experience of that work is going to be different, for better or worse, and that’s fine. Our appreciation of art is defined my our own personal experiences after all, but it shouldn’t be all that defines us either ;)

16 Comments… read them or add your own.

  1. Kal says:

    I consider myself a fan, and I do not see anything wrong with that :)

    But yes, as with everything, there are extremes. There are extreme fans, and extreme haters. I personally have always believed in keeping a balance. The ying and yang I guess. Everything with moderation. Even being a fan has to be taken in moderation.

    I have also learned that people do have different tastes, and like different things. So even if someone does not like something I may like, it’s fine. It’s something that some people have trouble learning though. People also express themselves differently, so even if I meet one of those extreme fans, or extreme haters, I do not take it personally, and I probably just go and start pushing some of their buttons just to see how they blow up :) I guess I do have a little evil streak in that sense :P

    But I agree with you. I see absolutely nothing negative in being a fan or something. As long as it taken with balance, and not to extremes. Taking anything to the extremes is not good for you, and that applies to all aspects of life.

    • Yumeka says:

      Yes, too much of anything isn’t good – I’m learning that more and more as I go through life XD Even something fun like being a fan can turn negative if taken to too much extremes.

      That’s funny about your “evil streak.” If I encounter blatant haters I usually just ignore them. However, if their criticism is intelligent and civilized, I may try to engage in conversation. Even if it’s a bit unpleasant, I find that I can understand the work I like more if I have to defend it against an intelligent person who doesn’t like it.

  2. I’ve been seeing the whole “stop identifying as a fan” sentiment gaining more and more ground lately, and that bothers me, and it all seems to stem from the bad behaviour of a few people who identify as fans of media (“Anime fans” or “otaku” in the anime community, “gamers” in the gaming community). It’s like people are taking the nuclear option and choosing instead to just completely disengage from fandom (I’d like to note that few of them actually disengage from fandom. Most of the time, they just limit the people they engage with to people who agree with them.). It’s playing on easy mode to me. Some of us are out here trying to be better fans of media and encourage people to be better fans of media and the sentiment that fandom is always bad dismisses all of the work that those people do to facilitate a fandom that’s welcoming to people.

    It’s really a magical thing when fans of media get together and are able to have a discussion and broaden each others’ understanding and enjoyment of media through that discussion. The idea that identifying as a fan of something is a bad thing flies right in the face of this, saying that being able to have these enlightening discussions about media isn’t worth making the effort to improve fandom, and that it’s less important than making sure (by any means necessary) that some thin-skinned people don’t get their feelings hurt by people who take fandom too far.

    I do agree that it’s bad when someone’s identity is only being a fan of something, but very few people like that exist, and the ones that do have much bigger problems than being mean to people about media.

    • Yumeka says:

      I agree with your points. I’ve noticed in the anime fandom especially that some fans – the “anti-moe brigade” as you like to call them – are determined to separate anime fans into “those who like mature, intelligent, artistic anime” and “those who like moe (crap)” Just because there are some creepy otaku in Japan or elsewhere (of course there’s creepy people in every fandom) they’re probably afraid that their self-image will be smeared if they call themselves “anime fans” or “otaku” along the same lines as those otaku, so they’d rather just take on the attitude of “we don’t watch that type of anime and are nothing like the type of fan that does.” Since anime is such a vast medium that encompasses hundreds of different series, by sticking with just people who like and feel about anime the same way as them, they miss out a lot and do little to raise awareness of what anime can truly be.

      As you said, being a fan is a magical thing and saying it’s bad just because a few people take it too far is wrong. But I feel that being a true fan also means trying to understand other people’s views on the thing you’re a fan of, even if you don’t agree with them, rather than shutting them out entirely or taking them as a personal insult.

  3. Shikon says:

    This was an interesting read. When I was in middle school and even elementary I watched anime and whenever something negative was said about the medium I’d jump all over them (not physically rofl). I think much of that was due to the fact that I only saw the good things in anime, so to me (at least at that time) it didn’t have any negative aspects.

    I’ve always thought of myself as a fan of anime in general (specifically with my favorite series) and I’ve heard plenty of criticism regarding the medium and different series. Of course the way I look at it and respond to it now that I’m older are much different than when I was younger. When I watch an anime now, I can see both the positive aspects and the negatives, so when I hear criticism I try to look at it from they’re point of view. Even when criticism doesn’t make sense I just chalk it up to personal preference, I mean, we can’t ALL love the same things after-all.

    I see nothing wrong with calling yourself a fan of anything imo. As long as it doesn’t define who you are (and you don’t take personal insult to criticism), I think it’s natural to call yourself a fan of something which you feel strongly about =)

    • Yumeka says:

      My anime fandom really started to take off in high school, and like you, I only saw the good things in the anime I watched and perhaps wasn’t mature enough to really analyze them and see their flaws. As I got older I grew to understand that anime, like everything else, isn’t perfect and there are tons of bad series out there. But getting older also made me better appreciate the things that were good and series that resonated with me when others didn’t. And I not only learned to accept criticism and not let haters bother me, but I began offering my own criticisms of certain anime here on the blog XD

  4. Muse says:

    I agree with pretty much all of this. There’s nothing wrong with being a fan, but there is a line that everyone has to draw for themselves before it gets too personal. This seems to happen more with younger fans than with older ones, but what I’ve noticed is that when someone really, really likes something, they feel the need to exonerate it at THE BEST THING OVER OMG IT HAS NO FLAWS. And I think it’s important to recognize that your favorite thing may have flaws, but that doesn’t make you “wrong” for liking it.

    The reverse is true as well. People need to be careful of making blanket assumptions based on a particularly vocal section of any given fanbase. SAO is a great example, since people love to rail on it and its fans. I don’t care for it myself, but I keep my comments to how I feel about the show and do not step over the line into generalizing the fanbase. So they enjoy something I don’t. Who cares? More close to home, I’ve been seeing a lot of generalizing of the Attack on Titan fanbase recently, with people who don’t like it saying that those who do are anime newbies who don’t know what good writing is or yaoi fangirls “ruining” the series by choosing to interpret the male characters in a certain way. I’m head-over-heels in love with the series, but I readily admit that its very flawed. There’s a difference between criticizing the show and criticizing the fans.

    Of course there’s always the other option: just don’t participate. Fandom and fan culture isn’t for everyone. There’s not much point in being the wet blanket that tells people that they’re enjoying something the “wrong” way. But this is the Internet, so we’ll always have a few of those.

    • Yumeka says:

      That’s a very good way of putting it – that your favorite thing has to have some flaws but it doesn’t make you any more wrong for liking it. If people adopt that attitude they’ll be less likely to let flaming comments get to them or take an attack on their favorite thing personally.

      I also agree that it’s one thing to criticize a work and a totally different thing to criticize its fans. Fans are people and unless you know a whole lot of them personally (chances are you don’t if you don’t like the thing that they like) it’s really ignorant to make grand assumptions that “all fans of ___ are like this.”

      I sometimes describe the anime and other works I like with flattering adjectives like “awesome” or “amazing,” but I don’t think I’ve ever said something was “the best thing ever” or that “it has no flaws.” As much as I can squeal about the things I love I know that nothing is perfect and just because something resonates well with me, I know for sure that there are others out there it doesn’t resonate with, and that’s fine =P I might not get along with those people if our tastes in media are different, but that doesn’t mean either of us is wrong.

  5. Overlord-G says:

    I honestly tried to be as unbiased as humanly possible when a person bashed a show I really enjoyed, however, I let my passion get carried away and caused ruckuses. Thankfully none of them led to major hatred or disdain for one another.

    This week, there’s been a debacle about the unexpected amount of fanservice in Sakura Trick’s premiere episode. Some didn’t make much of it, others saw it as a distraction. I stood my ground and tried my best not to let the side who were upset by the fanservice get to how much I enjoyed the episode but part of me did cringe a little as to why it was a big deal. I get why some made a big deal out of it but it still irked me a little. Thankfully, again, no blood was shed.

    As for shows I dislike, like Nisemonogatari, I can greatly dislike the shows but I will not bash the people who did like it. I’ll simply stand my ground as to why I disliked said show.

    In the end, all I can do is continue avoiding bloodshed, continue liking what I like and when there is a show I disliked, keep my criticisms constructive.

    • Yumeka says:

      That’s good that even though you liked something (like Sakura Trick) or disliked something (Nise) you can understand where fans who feel the opposite way are coming from and you didn’t give way to hating on other fans. All we can do is stand our ground on why we personally liked or didn’t like something, but not go overboard as to bash other people’s fandoms or start up flaming wars.

  6. chikorita157 says:

    I have covered some topics about fans and the fandom in the past, especially the Anime Fandumb. To me, I think it’s okay for someone to be a fan of a show that I don’t like. I won’t bash them because of that. However, there is always going to be some bad parts of the fandom (hence the fandumb) that will berate fans and saying their taste in Anime is crap because they like shows with cute girls for example. As you mentioned, people should ignore these fans.

    On the other hand, I don’t think any show is completely flawless. People will always have different feelings for each show. For that, its better to take the criticism with a grain of salt and not let it bother one… One may not agree with it, but one shouldn’t shut it out completely.

  7. Yumeka says:

    When I see a lot of praise for an anime I didn’t like, I might offer my opinion as to why I disagree (in a civilized way of course) but usually I’ll just ignore it and be like “hey, guess something in it just resonated with them and not with me because they’re a different person than me.” And if I see criticism of an anime I do like, I’ll try to defend it but never with the attitude that the person is wrong for disliking it (unless they have actual facts about the anime that are wrong).

    In the end, if we all just keep in mind that no show is flawless, people have varying tastes in anime, and no one’s wrong for liking a certain anime or disliking another, I think we’d all get along better ;)

  8. Mikoto says:

    I admit, I could be a fanboy for certain series and franchises, but I tend to put aside that fanboyism when it comes down to a critical standpoint (K-ON! is totally not the best slice-of-life show ever). When someone brings up a criticism about a series I enjoy, granted if it’s reasonably true to some regard, I’ll just leave it at that.
    I tend to give the benefit of the doubt to fans of series I dislike as well. I can’t stand it when people look down on anime fans who enjoy and watch Naruto, for instance. I stopped caring for the series long ago and noticed some folks of the fanbase can be as bad as I think the story has gotten, but it absolutely steams me up whenever I see people getting belittled just because they enjoy that anime. Not all fans are childish, and honestly if it’s they’re favorite series than they’re not any less of an anime fan for liking it. Criticism is nice and dandy, but elitism is never good.

    • Yumeka says:

      Excellent points. I can be fangirly about a lot of things but I also know when to put that aside and really examine an anime from a somewhat objective perspective. Bobduh mentions in his post that the anime we tend to blubber about and can’t really explain why we love so much, are the ones that simply have a certain “something” that resonates with us personally that we might not be able to totally justify, but it’s okay. That’s part of being a fan after all ;)

      Heh, I’m someone who still likes Naruto, though casually. I only watch the anime minus filler episodes and I stay away from the fanbase. But when you have a series like Naruto that’s extremely popular among a wide variety of fans, it’s even more wrong to try and group them all together into one “Naru-tard” fanbase and make generalizations about them. If you don’t like a fandom, just leave them alone and focus on your own fandom =P

  9. Adziu says:

    The trouble with the Internet is that so much attention soon falls on personal expression of taste, and when people disagree, things often descend to attempts at exploiting insecurity. People enjoy making these things personal. I don’t think the solution is to shy away from putting yourself out there, but having thick enough skin to shrug off criticism and clarity of expression to put over your point of view. Also to know when to walk away because a person is just belligerent for the sake of it.

    • Yumeka says:

      Yeah, I’ve encountered some people who I know have a lot of good, intelligent things to say but don’t because they don’t want to deal with opposing opinions, or just plain ignorant opinions. While nobody HAS to express themselves online if they don’t want to, I think the Internet needs all the intelligent, dignified discussions it can get. So as you said, it’s good to have “thick enough skin to shrug off criticism” and, if someone’s just being a jerk, just walk away from them and don’t let them deter you.

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