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 ;)