In which you get to hear me simultaneously rant about the negative aspects of anime communities and espouse “power of friendship” speeches from the 1000+ episodes of mahou shoujo anime that I’ve watched!
In a follow-up to Prinny’s post about subject matter knowledge from last week, I’ve decided now would be as good of a time as any to voice my thoughts on anime cliques – while taking it a step further to talk about those people every community has: critics. Despite the slightly negative connotation both of these terms have, I’d like to make it clear that they are both essential components in every anime community – and hence, not something that should be frowned upon. Of course, for every relatively good clique and critic, there are potentially five to ten not so good ones, as it is far too easy for individuals in communities to fall into nasty habits of self-gratifying behaviour. Is this caused by peer pressure, a desire to steal the spotlight on the stage of the world-wide web, or some combination of the two? These are the types of questions that I hope to raise in this post, as my goal isn’t to dip into a full-blown rant, but rather to offer a firm wake-up call to those who are more interested in critiquing media.
Cliques, Critics and Communities
One thing that I’ve discovered from being a part of a closed-knit anime circle is that there is often a very strong sentiment towards preserving the group’s sacred object. This is usually a show or series that most members regard very highly and in some cases, may be a cornerstone of their collective identity. While it is all the more likely for a bunch of like-minded people to want to congregate, the issue stems from the more hive-minded behaviour which can arise from this communal patting of the back. It’s perfectly fine for a group to have a strong sense of unity and identity – I’d argue it’s a necessary part of being a fan of anime. However, those are the core values that we have to be consciously aware of when there’s anything that potentially offsets the balance. What happens when there’s trouble in paradise?
Let’s take a hypothetical case where a new member enters the group and pronounces that he or she doesn’t think very highly of the group’s most beloved show – providing well-reasoned arguments in the process. Despite that, this newcomer receives a number of hostile-sounding responses from some of the group’s long-time members, admonishing them for their conflicting opinion. In this scenario, the individual may choose to simply carry on with the discussion – undeterred by the intimidation – or falls victim to the group’s pressure. The behaviour ultimately depends on the type of person, as some may enjoy challenging the popular sentiment, while others would rather try and stay on good terms with everyone – especially if they’re interested in creating lasting friendships. However, when the newly admitted member starts feeling as though they have to like everything that the group approves of in order to be accepted, they’ve already become a victim of the clique and their own desire to conform.
Obviously this is a very extreme example, but not an entirely unrealistic one. With anime discussion boards and forums being hot places to socialize, our tendency is to gravitate towards pockets within those communities that are made up of like-minded people. Again, there is nothing inherently wrong with doing this, but when we start altering our own tastes, ideologies and belief systems to appease the group, it becomes a dangerous practice. It’s important to realize that these shifts are often gradual and subconscious, so an individual will likely not even realize that they are slowly amalgamating into the hive-mind – potentially losing their individuality in the process.
Now this doesn’t mean that one should be weary of adopting shared opinions between their friends or peers – rather, they should be conscious about blindly following trends; specifically, pretending to like things they don’t actually like and disliking stuff they actually like. It’s as simple as that. Of course, some cliques are just toxic by nature, in which case it’s probably better to jump ship entirely. Really, the ideal group environment should be one where people are accepting of other’s tastes, aren’t afraid to speak out when there’s something they disagree on, but are able to do so in a civilized manner. Oh, and of course, it should be fun! Talking about your favourite girly cartoons with people who also share the same passion should be fun! So it goes…
Maybe the problem is that there are far too many people in anime communities who are more concerned with their own internet cred, rather than the pursuit of knowledge a good discussion brings, or sharing in the excitement of fan-culture. Certainly, those outspoken individuals who seek attention through negative behaviour tend to be a part of the most closed-minded circles. If there’s someone who constantly replies in an inflammatory manner when their authority is challenged, only wants to participate in discussions about their favourites and above all, believes they are some sort of social elite or critical voice, then you know there’s a bad apple in the bunch.
Unfortunately, many of these aptly-named individuals tend to be so fixated on being critical to the point that they no longer enjoy their so-called hobby. I’d understand if this was their full-time job and hence their only available means of making a hand-to-mouth living. But for an individual with an interest in both media and writing, it seems a bit extreme. Yes, I’m aware that there are piles upon piles of irredeemable, otaku-pandering trash littering each anime season, but it’s essentially the same for every other medium: books, video games, films and especially visual novels – please don’t use the argument that one should be held to a lower standard than the other. That isn’t called having standards, it’s called cherry-picking as a method of authorizing one’s tastes while finding fallacious reasons to cast the hammer on stuff that one can’t fairly critique.
Personally, I try and stay away from these types of people in communities now, since I’ve had a number of bad run-ins in the past. Being someone who has a strong love for film, anime and media in general, it really upsets me to be around “critics” who only watch stuff they (or their clique) hate so they can bash it, get into petty taste wars and present themselves as faux-authorities by writing tons of ill-argued reviews. Is this the type of behaviour of someone with genuine interest or someone that is desperately trying to seek attention so they can get the most likes or up-votes on a popular website? Regardless of your perception, in my view, these people have no love, no passion, for the anime they consume. Said apathy quickly becomes apparent in their writing – and going back to the point Prinny made in his post about knowing the subject matter – extends directly to their lack of interest in concerning themselves with the larger picture of anime production beyond writing: animation, direction, scheduling, societal/historical context – to name a few. They’ve just become drones of the larger community, and want the easy way out to showcase their own warped definitions of “taste” and “objectivity”.
No, the “critics” that I like being around and respect are those that are genuinely passionate about a subject. If there’s something we have in common like a love for cinema and the production of anime, great! For me, partaking in their wealth of knowledge, exchanging thoughts about stuff like directors and learning more about them as a person is more important than any of our personal discrepancies. Even if we don’t share a common interest, if I can tell that someone really loves something and isn’t forceful or obnoxious about it, then there’s a good chance later down the road I may want to check it out. As I mentioned earlier, adopting shared opinions doesn’t have to be a negative practice. In my view, keeping to one’s core values while enjoying something another person introduced you to is what being part of a community should be about. The big difference when you’ve found the right environment is that you’re now the one in control, rather than feeling like you’re forced to conform to be accepted.
In many respects, I feel a large percentage of anime communities have lost sight of what it means to be, well, a community. Likewise, many anime critics (professional or not) have become too wound-up by the temptation of internet notoriety, and have forgotten what caused their initial spark for wanting to devote hours of their time writing about Chinese cartoons. Being a member of a group or critiquing media should ultimately be a give-and-take equation – not some sort of competition to see who has the better taste.