Continuing World

12 Days of Meditations #11: On taste

If you go to any discussion board on anime, chances are you’ll stumble upon a discussion of taste, or the lack thereof. Anime fans use taste as a way of curating friends–after all, it’s very natural to seek out people who agree with your preferences.

Anime fans also use taste as a way of mocking and demeaning other people.

How does this differ from other kinds of media, then? Admittedly, I haven’t put much thought to this, but if I may hazard a guess, anime as a niche media engenders geek behavior, and one of the most repulsive aspects of it is elitism.

“Filthy casuals!” the 4chan denizen would say. Casual describes a person who is only mildly interested in the hobby. He or she may not have spent as much time and money as the devoted fan. To the elitist anime fan, the so-called casual represents everything that’s wrong with the hobby. With their poor, undeveloped taste, they patronize inferior works and inflate sales figures. And because of their numbers, the industry would undoubtedly cater (or pander, if you want to adopt the dialect) to these people, on the expense of what might be better works. (your face when light novel trash gets a third season while your deep, pretentious shit will never have a sequel, etc etc)

Naturally, this is a problem. When I didn’t know any better, I was an obnoxious fan, and judged people according to their tastes. I would never befriend a Narutard, I would say, and coldly brush off people who proclaimed their love for the big modern shounen works. As I gradually matured, however, I came to learn that taste isn’t really a conscious choice for most people, nor should it be a pissing contest. There is no litmus test for good taste.

I have a friend who’s pretty smart, knowing a lot of science, history, and languages. I would go as far as to call him a sophisticated man, but for some reason he likes to watch a lot of magical girl and slice-of-life anime.

“Why not watch something like Darker Than Black?” I asked him once, trying to recommend the show to him.

“I get enough of that dark shit in real life, why should I bring it over to my hobby?” he said. He then explained that it’s the bright and happy shows that warm his heart and give him the will to carry on another day.

Something clicked in my head, and I never disparaged moe anime ever again. What monster would demean such an earnest answer?

ghostlightning used to say, “we will not like anime because we are not ready for it“. And we will never like some anime, because we will never be ready for them. Our taste, such as it is, will prevent us from appreciating some anime that are by all accounts good. Why, we just don’t like them. Just as I can’t stand mayonnaise or current alternative rock or Key shows. We need a certain perspective to like something, and if we do not have that, our enjoyment could backfire.

It’s hard to watch something that conflicts with your life, or, in my friend’s case, pervades his waking life that he watches anime precisely to escape from it. I think Darker Than Black (the first season at least) is a great show. But its hard-boiled tone and dark mood would put off a whole lot of people, and it’s perfectly valid to criticize the show for that. If I told those people that their taste sucked, then I would be ignoring the context that shaped their own lives. Sadly, this happens too often online, where we could reduce people into what they say. (And even that can be misconstrued, without the nuance of tone.)

The more anime fans I meet, the more I’m convinced that the right show for someone isn’t what you’re thinking for them, and they have to find that for themselves. All we can do is help. I find this wonderful, because it’s a celebration of diversity–that not only the hobby but the people who partake in it themselves could be so different.

So when people proclaim something like, say, Sword Art Online as an excellent show to me, I still try my hardest not to snicker or launch into a tirade on how I think otherwise. I have to help these poor people, I think. But would they appreciate it if I said their taste sucks? Hardly–it surprises me how much we tend to forget that people become defensive if they see you personally attacking them. Many hold our favorite shows like close friends and become upset if someone badmouths them.

Rather, I would enter into a discussion with them, find out what makes them think Sword Art Online is a good anime, and gently steer them into better shows, so that they see and understand for themselves what a good anime should really look like. To educate someone, you must make them want to learn for themselves. Thankfully with anime, it’s pretty easy because you just have to point them to good shows, and their taste will improve. Once they watch enough anime they could look back on their old favorites and say, “I can’t believe I liked that show before!”

(Of course, not everyone is willing to go out of their comfort zone, or challenge their favorites, so you’ll have to respect that, too.)