I’ve touched on this topic in bits and pieces in other posts, but I don’t believe I’ve actually delved into it fully. It’s an idea that permeates anime fandom, or really, all communities of media fandoms where people tend to judge one another based on the game or show they like, and people who take such criticisms of their hobbies as personal insults. But is there any merit in either?…
I’ve had this post among my queue during my hiatus, but a recent post by Bobduh on this very same topic inspired me to write about it today.
As Bobduh describes in his post and what should be common knowledge anyway, each one of us is a unique blend of our own personal experiences and environmental factors that determine who we are physically, mentally, and emotionally. So because all of these are different, it’s natural that each of us is different and thus we like different things in our anime and other media. I don’t think anyone can deny the “different people like different things” concept, but the question at hand is, “Should we be judged for who we are based on the things we like?”
We have two sides of people when it comes to this: those who do make these judgements about other people based on what they like, for example, thinking any anime fan that picks SAO or Naruto as their favorite series must not be very bright, and the people who take such judgements of their favorites as an actual attack on them personally. There are flaws in both of these sentiments, so let’s start with the first one.
People’s relationship with the media they like is very complex, as Bobduh also describes in his post, “The experience of engaging with an art object is a kind of alchemy – the work itself has a variety of aesthetic touchstones, the viewer of that work has a variety of emotional touchstones, and the experience created through the intersection of those wires will always be a personal one.” So when you judge someone based on what anime they like or what game they play, you reduce that very complicated relationship between person and media work to “I think this thing is stupid and yet this person loves it, therefore they must be stupid.” This idea is also flawed because it’s based on the assumption that the only reason people like things is because they think they’re exceptionally good, which is true a lot of the time, but not always. A prime example of this is the fact that I think the Pokemon anime is terribly formulaic and repetitive, with very little effort put into most of the episodes. If someone said the show was bad, I would be inclined to agree. Yet, I still watch and enjoy it, not because I think it’s exceptionally good, but because of my personal relationship with Pokemon as a franchise; I love the games and the franchise in general, so seeing the Pokemon world animated, as lame as those animated stories are, is enjoyable to me. Some people watch stupid comedy shows, recognizing that they’re stupid, because it helps them relax and unwind from a tiring day. Some people watch ecchi anime because it’s titillatingly satisfying. Some people watch mindlessly violent shows or play mindlessly violent games because it gives them a nice adrenaline rush and lets them unleash that animal instinct they couldn’t release in real life. Bobduh gives the example in his post of considering Monogatari one of his favorite series even though he thinks poorly of its main character Araragi, reinforcing that one can love something without having to love all of its elements. Again, the unique relationship one person has with the media they like is much more complex than “we like good shows and don’t like bad shows” because people themselves are complex and have various conscious and subconscious reasons for liking what they like.
Ok, so I’ve established that people like things for various reasons and not necessarily because they think they’re notably good pieces of work. But what if they do? What if someone says a specific anime is really good when you think it’s complete crap? Can you call that person stupid now? Well, no, because you’re reducing the sum of an entire human being to equal what anime they prefer, and as we all should know, a human being is much more complex than that.
Which then leads to the other side of it – the people who do identify themselves so strongly with the media they like that they take any attacks on that media as personal insults. And in doing so, they’re doing exactly what I described in the above paragraph, except they’re bringing it on themselves: by being like that, they’re reducing the entirety of who they are to equal the social standing of an anime they like, which isn’t healthy. There’s nothing wrong with liking something so much that you consider it a part of your identity, and yes, it can hurt when other people trash something you love. But the important thing to understand that I think a lot of these people miss, is truly thinking about why they love something so much. One of the reasons I blog is because it gives me opportunities to write about exactly why I do and don’t like things, which forces me to look at them objectively and therefore see why they resonate with me personally. And when criticisms do come along, I can easily think, “Ok, these are this person’s reasons for not liking this anime, which I kind of get, but it’s still not enough to take away from the reasons I like it.” Completely shutting yourself off from criticism of what you like and taking it as a personal attack, takes away from an important part of your relationship with that media work – understanding why you like it when others don’t. Bobduh gives a great word of caution when he says, “Don’t try to prove you’re an interesting person by demanding others respect your media choices. Prove it by being interesting – by digging into that media and finding something worth talking about, or, better yet, by enjoying it because it’s what you enjoy, and then going off and doing something else too. Our preferences and media are meaningful because they can teach us about both ourselves and the world.”
So on that note, is there any merit at all in judging someone by what anime, movies, or games they like? There are stereotypes everywhere, even in anime fandom, and we might be inclined to think that this guy who watches all these moe anime and collects all these moe figures must be some kind of creepy anti-social otaku, or this girl who watches all this yaoi and bishonen anime must be some kind of air-headed fan girl, or this other fan who’s favorite anime is Naruto or Bleach must be some kind of anime n00b who’s too immature to appreciate quality anime. But like with any stereotypes, sometimes there’s truth in them, many times there isn’t, so the right thing to do is give people the benefit of the doubt until you actually know them. I don’t care if people enjoy a movie I think is stupid, or they’re really into a show I find disturbing, or a game I find utterly boring. To me, people’s actions are what count, not their media preferences. If someone watches ecchi or yaoi anime because they like to fantasize about having relationships with the characters, but in real life they’re kind, considerate, good people with respectable morals and values, that’s what counts – what they actually do, how they act on what they believe in, not whatever strange subconscious Freudian feelings make them like a particular anime that I might not agree with.
In the end, it’s silly to judge someone you don’t know based on what animated work they like. Sometimes we can’t help but get preconceived ideas about them if they happen to like something we strongly dislike, or they dislike something we like. Sometimes our assumptions about them turn out to be true and sometimes they don’t, so again, give them the benefit of the doubt…and you may even learn something new and interesting about something you thought you liked or something you thought you disliked. And again, it’s great to be part of a fandom, but it’s even better to be a worldly, well-rounded person that can separate their fandom from their personal identity, especially when it comes to people who happen to have opposing opinions about it. So with that in mind, I’ll close this post with a final quote from Bobduh’s post that I feel sums it up quite well: “The messages of your media, and what it says about your existing preferences, are important things to be aware of and actively investigate, but they do not dictate your value as a human being. Only your actions can do that.”