A number of years ago I was in an online conversation with a friend who refused to be critical of anime. While others argued that this didn’t make sense because every person has to prioritize likes and dislikes to some degree, my friend rebutted that it was not their own role to pass judgment or to push their own taste on others. Rather, what they preferred to do was to match a show with what someone was looking for, a librarian’s approach rather than that of a critic.
While in the end this was only one person with a very particular way of viewing media, I find that it encapsulates an unspoken (or perhaps sometimes unconscious) disagreement among fans within all sorts of popular media, from games to anime to comics as to how people should view and engage with media. This philosophical disagreement can in some sense be described as “modern,” the idea of aiming progressively towards an ideal, vs. “postmodern,” the idea that there are essentially multiple truths.
I will give two examples. The first comes from the popular site Anime News Network, and the other comes from the Super Smash Bros. online community.
Anime News Network is a general anime and manga site with news, an encyclopedia, and reviews. As is typical of a review site, its writers will often talk about a specific work, list their likes and dislikes, what they might find interesting or problematic about a series, and then give letter ratings. On the forums, this inevitably leads to some strong disagreement, where people respond as if they are being personally attacked by the review, while calling the reviewer out for bias.
I’ve seen the argument that ANN forum posters do not understand what it means to a review a series, and that they should not be so close to their anime that they would feel personally offended by a harsh review, but the more I think about it the less I think it’s that simple. Rather, what happens is a difference in how engagement with anime is perceived. The reviewer will tend to state their opinion in a manner to try and convince the audience that, as a reviewer, their thoughts have significance, and while the idea that a review is an opinion is thought to be implied, it’s a tendency of “good” English writing to state things somewhat authoritatively. This results in the sense that the goal of reviews, and what anime fans should be doing, is progressively refining their tastes. The more they watch, the more discerning they should become.
However, many forum-goers see things differently. While they often look towards the review for validation and thus see the reviewer as someone of importance (and indeed when the reviewer and the posters’ opinions align they tend to express positive feelings), there’s also a strong sense that a lot of these anime fans are not trying to become more critical, to develop better taste in anime. Rather, they’re trying to find the anime that suits them on some mental or emotional level, and because some reviews will criticize some social aspect of a work (portrayal of women, for example), this becomes a point of contention because from their perspective it can seem as if the reviewer is trying to invalidate the work and its readers, when it really comes down to a difference in philosophy. From the reviewer’s side, the forum posters might appear to be people with no taste, who don’t understand what reviews are generally meant to do. It’s like two different conversations are happening.
In the case of the fandom surrounding competitive Super Smash Bros., since 2008 there has been an on-going tension between fans of different iterations of the franchise. Amidst frequent arguing over the years, there have been proposals for fans of the different games to unite under one banner and respect and support each other, but almost without fail someone will ask the following:
“Why should I support a game I don’t like/is terrible? What’s in it for me?”
This way of thinking views the Super Smash Bros. games not as different takes on a core idea with varied gameplay experiences, but a series where one game in particular is the best and the others should live up to its example. This assumes that there is one right way to make a competitive Smash game, and that, the further away you get from that approach, the less competitive and interesting a game becomes. More importantly, however, this mindset assumes, rather than bringing in more people of different tastes and opinions, it is better to cull other games in order to further refine the ideal competitive environment.
Relative to the idea of unity across the Smash franchise, it is assumed that supporting “lesser” games is insincere, thus compromising one’s own tastes and, for some fans, going against their “objectively” derived conclusion that their game is simply the best. In contrast, basis for unity, the reason why it is touted as a goal for the competitive Smash Bros. community, comes from a different place. The idea is that, not only does the idea of a fun, competitive game vary from person to person and that those with whom you disagree might see something that you don’t, but that there should also be mutual empathy. Rather than focusing on which game is the best and why fans of the others simply aren’t seeing things correctly, this unity in a sense prioritizes people and their hard work over the games, which implies that, while playing the right games are important, it’s a very individual and subjective choice.
I don’t know if these differences are simply a matter of personality, or upbringing, or just the manner in which people are exposed to their hobbies and interests, but that’s less important to me than having people be aware of these varied mindsets when talking to others. Even though we might all be called “fans” of the same things, even within specific categories there are dissimilarities as to what we consider to be fundamentally important. If you’re an anime fan, what’s more important, the anime or the fan? If you’re a gamer what’s more important, the game, or the er (this is a less effective play on words)? This is not a black or white situation, as different people might even value different aspects of particular media. For example, someone might truly believe that books are in the eye of the beholder, but that music should be held up to higher standards. While this might seem to be hypocritical, I think it’s quite possible for it to be a positive thing, as it potentially allows people to see the other perspective more clearly. Each side, although they might have different goals or motivations, aren’t automatically invalidated.
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