Whatchu Talkin’ ‘Bout

If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the past year, it’s that people can enjoy their entertainment for very different reasons, sometimes to the point that they might get offended if you call it “entertainment.” People have differing values outside of the media they consume, and even those who might view anime or manga for similar reasons can have incompatible preferences in the actual titles they prefer. Conversely, people can enjoy the same things for different reasons.

It sounds pretty simple, doesn’t it? Obvious, even. But the scope makes it difficult to wrap my head around entirely. The card makers over at Wizards of the Coast created basic personality profiles for people who play Magic: The Gathering (Timmy who plays for the experience, Johnny who plays to express himself, and Spike who plays to prove himself), but that doesn’t account for all of the people out there who don’t enjoy Magic: The Gathering for whatever reason. There’s differing perceptions of what it means for something to be “realistic,” and then disagreements as to whether or not realism is a good thing. Whenever someone says, “Stop being so critical and just enjoy what you’re watching,” there’s an implicit value judgment even when it’s meant to avoid such things; in this case, the value is about not having to sour a fun experience.

So basically, it’s pretty complicated and I could give endless examples of diametrically opposed ways of viewing art and entertainment if I wanted to.

Knowing this, I then ask myself, what should I do about it? Is there anything to do? I can’t say I have any right answers, but I’d like to talk about my current feelings on this matter.

I think that there is no one “correct” way to enjoy media. The person who loves world-building is as valid an audience member as the person who loves mechanical detail, as is the person who values character development, the person who wants to see in his media a desire to improve society or even the person who loves seeing hot girls. However, that doesn’t mean that one should not judge the media they consume or avoid looking at things critically, as the last thing I want is for people to feel it unnecessary to express their own values. I think everyone (including myself) should just keep in mind that because people watch anime, read books, play video games, etc. for what can be very different reasons, and so when people discuss these matters, they bring a lot of assumptions and preconceived notions with them. This can be all right, but without proper clarity it ends up being extremely difficult to talk with someone who has very different values in regards to entertainment, as if you had two people stranded on separate islands trying to communicate by shouting (and also the water is shark-infested so don’t even try swimming).

I guess what I’m hoping for is the acknowledgement that people can enjoy what they watch for their own reasons, but to prevent that from just meaning that any and all discussions regarding artistic worth (or whatever) just go out the window, and I think the key to this is being able to express why you like the things that you like.

8 thoughts on “Whatchu Talkin’ ‘Bout

  1. Welcome to anime blogger zen, my friend. Bring everyone along.

    re: the Magic categorizations, the “power player” Timmy perfectly describes how I play card games. But boiled down to their basic descriptions, all three magic fan types remind me of how I enjoy anime, which goes to show me how diverse my investment in the medium is.

    I want to enjoy anime. I want to talk about it. But I also want to express my views on it (hence the blog) and use it to express myself (hence the god damn blog). And meanwhile, I always want to prove something about my viewpoints, or even more than that and everything else, just prove to myself that I can watch a shitload of anime. You wouldn’t believe how much I fret over my “completed” and “on hold” numbers on MAL.

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  2. I think I’d like a way to formally describe and measure taste, not least so that I might better understand my own. Probably impossible.

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    • Formally describing and measuring “taste” immediately runs into a problem: there are two incompatible meanings.

      One use of taste is represented in the article above, that is, different people get different things out of entertainment, so we might say that one person’s “taste” runs towards this while another’s runs towards that (e.g. “character development” versus “seeing hot girls”).

      The other is “taste” in a prescriptive sense, where it is imagined that some universal criterion for quality in entertainment exists. People have tried to pretend that we can distinguish between people of better or worse “taste” for centuries, but the results are laughable. Each age has raised certain artists or works as paragons of “taste”, only for succeeding ages to come to different conclusions.

      In other words, while we might be able to create some sort of matrix, that formally maps out taste in terms of whether one likes plot more than music, or some such (as suggested by the article), generating a measurement of whether one’s preference for any particular plot (or, e.g. plot over music) is BETTER than another’s taste is a waste of time. The next generation will have a different opinion.

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  3. I totally appreciate the sentiment, having learned the same thing over the past 10 years as I’ve waded through various media, from film to music to anime.

    In fact, I’m glad that anime offers the variety it does to provide something for people to enjoy from various perspectives. Hearing what someone liked or disliked from a series often opens my eyes to a new way looking at something that Hadn’t occured to me before.

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  4. This is a good post. The thing I love the most about fiction as a whole is this subjectivity — the way we can all approach the exact same thing in differing ways, due to the difference in our mentalities/history/etc. It makes discussion fascinating, as I get to read so many perspectives and even after years and years someone can come out with a point I hadn’t considered or seen and surprise me.

    I agree that there should also be a sense of distance, though — a way of staying true to your opinion while being able to examine something from a more detached perspective. It’s difficult but rewarding.

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  5. It’s easy to create a thin barrier with this process of “to each their own”. Thats fine and everything, but discussion/criticism does not hurt the industry as much as just accepting entertainment for what it is. It’s nice to have voices from all sides, it creates a diverse community and offers alternatives for those looking for something new.

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  6. I say, each to his/her own… whatever makes one happy, as long as it doesn’t harm anyone else. I used to hide the fact that I watch animes, read mangas, play video games… but not anymore. Bit by bit, I’m starting to come out, and one of these days, I’ll post a review of a wonderful manga ” Monster” and one anime ” Summer Wars ” that i just finished reading and watching.

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  7. I like multi-factor scoring systems for things like this – like the old (and discredited) system of body-type classification. If I’m mostly an endomorph, a bit of a mesomorph, and not at all an endomorph, than I class as a 5-3-0 (each on a scale of 1 to 7).

    So: my anime addiction (since I don’t play Magic: the Gathering) –
    First is Love of cartoons & comics (drawings & moving drawings)
    2nd is interest in Japanese culture
    3rd is membership in anime-based community
    I’d rate myself a 7-5-2 on this scale.

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