The Summer that Hype Died


I have not felt hype for a movie, anime, comic or video game the same way for a while. I have not since 2016. And after three years of trying to sort out my bitter disappointment and blind hatred I wanted to sit down and talk about hype culture, social media, and why I have not been able to be properly excited for a while now.

Before we dive in head first, let me say one thing. Mentally, I’m okay. It isn’t that I can’t get excited about things in media anymore. There’s still small things that have gotten me excited: new movie trailers, new comic book runs, new video games; there have been things that have managed to get me on the edge of my seat but that feeling is now almost immediately tempered due to either a strange sense of ennui or a fear that the hype will die like it did in 2016.

Before we talk about the summer that killed my hype, we need to discuss what was going on in 2016.

In 2016, I found myself unemployed for an extended period of time. Politically, the world was a mess. I was deeply involved with an emotionally abusive partner and had been coping with a very toxic friendship that had gone on for years. I had a paramor that I adored but would have to deal with pining over from a great distance and I had very little going for me in other regards. I was depressed, I was down on myself and I was probably at one of my lowest points emotionally, physically and spiritually.

It was a mess politically, too, considering the rise of a certain Mango Mussolini and damn Nazis returning like that isn’t a big deal.

2016 was a mess and then a little anime popped up and ruined damn near everything. That’s right kids, we’re going to talk about ice-skating, the death of criticism and the hype train.

No, I am not yet tired of my tsundere relationship with Yuri on Ice.

This anime. Gosh darnit this anime. The long of short of the plot is that Yuri is an anxiety-ridden ice skater who falls in love with the incredibly Russian ice skater, Victor; has a rival who is Russian and also way too damn good also named Yuri but different because Russia and thus conflict and love and romance and an utter lack of tension.

The anime is fine. And my feelings on it have cooled but no, we’re back in 2016. Let’s talk indignation.

This show was recommended to me by a close friend and they were PUMPED about this. Hooked from the opening before anyone spoke a line. I remember getting told to watch the series in a few frantic messages. And I had strong feelings for this friend so I was happy to oblige. They assumed it would make me feel better considering that I had melted into my sofa since I was unemployed and had nothing else going for me. I was told how amazing this show was and how much I’d love it even though there was only one episode out so far. So I watched the show after listening to it be praised for several minutes by someone I trusted dearly. We sat on a call together so my reactions could be recorded and occasionally, I was asked if I was enjoying the show or if I liked a scene or character.

On a first initial viewing: it was fine. Immediately, it gave me serious Gravitation vibes, a series that I love and adore but have seen before. It was fine. There were absolutely things I liked: Victor seemed to be pulled from all of my pretty boy dreams, Russian Yuri is amazing and is everything I want out of a rival and Yuri is…well, he’s doing his best. At first glance, I liked the show but it was nothing to write home about. And when I expressed a cooler response that wasn’t emphatic love or intense hatred, I was greeted by something rather cold. I was not willing to join the hype train. It would be one thing if the show gained no greater impact but no, no, I was wrong.

Everyone was talking about this anime.

Now, you’ve heard me mention before how much I despise the death of discourse. I think anime, comic books, television shows and more get better by being able to have conversations about them. And when I expressed my opinions about the show, I was met with mostly vitriol. That turned mild ambivalence into full on hatred.

But it did something else important: it made me feel broken.

Mind you, dear reader, I have been on the edge of my seat watching movie trailers. I have left films trembling with excitement. I am not one that usually has level-headed responses to things. Now, that does not mean that I cannot analyze things critically, it just means that I am one who gets excited by things I like.

But Yuri on Ice didn’t do anything for me that other anime hadn’t done better. I was much happier watching Free! or Gravitation or reading a Fumi Yoshinaga novel. The anime was fine and that answer to the internet and to those close to me who knew of the show was not an acceptable answer.

People wanted to claim this was the first, the best, the only and for me, an old anime fan, it just wasn’t. If I wanted to watch a show about a plain-looking kid with anxiety try and court an attractive Russian lamp, I’d write fanfiction. And while I’m happy to embrace the argument of old boy’s love being especially problematic, that does not erase its existence. Sure, Gravitation in hindsight is very problematic but if you want to talk about setting the tone for most idol animes to begin with, you have to look at Shuichi Shindou.

I felt like something bad had happened to me. Like something in my brain broke. And as I rewatched the show over and over again to try and find what in Kami-sama’s name I was missing, it only plunged me further into depression. This show was supposed to clear my acne, cure my depression, give me life and all it did was make me hate ice skating, anime and myself.

What followed was a summer that made me feel like I was defective in some way even though there was one anime that managed to make me feel everything I was apparently supposed to feel watching YoI. It was Hitorijime My Hero. But folks didn’t seem to want to talk about that one so I was left to deal with my love of the series in relative silence. And that was just fine by me.

In the fall of that year, a game I wanted to play more than anything came out: Pokemon Moon. Longtime readers will remember my very strong feelings about that game and the franchise but it was something that me and the squad were all looking forward to. And considering that some of us were down and out, the prospect of going on an adventure together was very alluring. But the game was a huge disappointment. It was too easy, the new mechanics made me angry, the story entirely lacked bite and while I adored Rowlet the rest of the game just left me wanting.

At least that time I felt a little less broken because others had expressed similar feelings to mine. But by the end of the fall, I felt hollow. I felt like something terrible had happened. That being down on my luck ruined something in me, had taken something from me, had broken me.

Fortunately, my tormented ended towards the end of the year but the lasting effects of The Summer of 2016 still linger. Now when asked about what I’m watching, what I’m reading or what I’m into I tend to give very stunted answers. I’m not willing to be vulnerable with those in that way that I don’t trust or know. Close friends get to hear me gush about movies I like or characters I’m fond of but in more normal conversation, you’re likely to hear a very blunt “It’s fine.” from me.

That summer was a pain, and thinking about it and reliving for the sake of this blog post exhausted me. But I wanted to talk about the summer that broke my mind, my heart and my expectations. Remember, you can love something and not think it’s perfect and there’s no reason to be cruel to someone who does not see things your way. At the end of the day, human connection is why I fell into fandom: not arguing falsely over an anime that had a more disappointing season two than Wolf’s Rain.

The Media Life, Unexamined

“There is no sin except stupidity.”  ― Oscar Wilde, The Critic as Artist.pngIt started with a rather backhanded comment about movies after what was a days long dive into why I come off so ambivalent about everything in the office. I was commenting on the rape allegory in Maleficent and an acquaintance said proudly:

“I didn’t read that subtext.”

Subtext. SUBTEXT?

I was outraged. I flat out replied “I had a bloody nose from how aggressively that movie punched me in the face with it.” and it led to a conversation that when I think about it, still brings bile up my throat.

I want to talk about being critical and the epidemic (yes, epidemic) of non-critical thinking when it comes to media.

I’ve had run ins with folks more than once about how I feel about movies, television and more. I normally say “It’s fine.” as a shield. It’s an insurance policy that means “I do not actually want to talk about this movie because any conversation about it more than just ‘pew pew pew action, hot actress’ will fall apart faster than a Kardashian marriage and I’m not here for that.”

I’m fortunate enough to be surrounded by brilliant and critical people in my life. When we leave movies, we discuss agendas, biases, hidden messages and more. We also talk canon and how this piece lives up to its name ( Because every movie now is just based on something. Originality, be damned.). So I come off as intensely ambivalent to the untrained eye. And that is just not true. I have wildly strong opinions and the receipts to back them up. If I say:

Avengers: Age of Ultron is a farce because of the way it neuters Ultron’s storyline for the sake of a decades’ old grudge against Hank Pym as a character.

I know what the hell I am talking about. And back in my day of being a fan (when the buffalo roamed), being critical was a major asset. We broke down plot and story and motivations. And that never meant I didn’t enjoy something. The things I love the most, I am the most critical of.

Which brings us to the oh so common phrase of: “Just turn off your brain.”

I’m going to say the strongest statement ever on this blog in 5 years…turning off your brain is how we got Trump as president. Turning off your brain is how we have 5, yes 5, Transformers movies. Turning off your brain is why we have the casual racism, sexism and homophobia in film  to this very day because no one, no one has the audacity or courage to challenge their media and demand more.

I’m an English major, writer and longtime fan. It is my job to be critical of everything I see. I spent conservatively 4 years learning how to train my brain to be aware of what the things I consume are trying to tell me. Comics have always been political and people who say they shouldn’t be or aren’t are wrong and I hate them. Media has always been political, everything is political. Everything, every choice, every aspect of what we do, buy and see is trying to sell you something, even if it’s just an idea. And turning off your brain means you don’t see that and thus you are likely to fall victim to vapid thinking that is damaging to you as a person (i.e. internalized sexism and casual racism) and thus existence as a whole. Critiquing media has given us better representation (most of the time) and forced us to look at the status quo of our current media landscape and demand better.

The people who know me, know my heart and soul know that I am enthusiastic and passionate about media. I have strong opinions and I love what I love and hate what I hate. But in this modern media and culture landscape only emphatic zeal is accepted and nuance goes to die, I must look horribly negative. To an uncritical mind, I must seem like I hate everything. And vice versa, I don’t understand how you can “turn off your brain” and not be critical. I don’t think of it as a stretch to consider a movie what it is, a piece of art. We don’t shame people who critique art pieces. But for some reason, I’m a bad person for demanding more out of my movies. I’m a curmudgeon for wanting complex storytelling. Oh, the hobgoblin I am. How dare I want something from a film or a television series. Shame on me. Shame the non-believer.

Here is where I’ll pause for folks saying:

“Well, if you over-analyze a movie/television show/anime/comic book/manga, you ruin it.”

Sure, it’s why I stopped watching CinemaSins. If you do nitpick on stupid things, you will ruin a movie. I have zero questions about how Captain America and squad got from Scotland to Wakana in zero time at all in Infinity War; I do, however, have questions about how Black Widow can take down Proxima Midnight because I have read at least one comic book in my life. I’ve never been one to over-analyze and it’s never done just to be “that person” (which is only included because I had someone accuse of being a contrarian). If I don’t like something, it’s for a reason. I always give something a chance. And again, having one negative thing to say about a thing doesn’t mean I don’t like it. I rip to shreds the things I love because I have to. I am obligated to as a consumer of media. And if something influences me, I have to be doubly critical of that thing because it then becomes baggage that I carry with me everywhere I go. I carry the media I take consume in a little bag with me and that bag leeches out bias into the things I write, I say and I do. I internalized misogyny for years because of the media I was ingesting. I accepted the casual racism in movies in everything I did. I dealt with how religion is depicted in media. And I don’t ever want to go back to not being aware of the messages being forced down my throat. 

All of this is exhausting. I miss conversation. I miss discourse. I miss and  do welcome thoughtful conversation.

 

The Burden of Knowledge

“Burdens are for shoulders strong enough to carry them.”   ― Margaret Mitchell  Gone with the Wind.png

It was after discussing Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them: The Crimes of Grindelwald with a few mutuals that I realized something: I was the only one in the room bothered by a few things that the trailer brought up and made me even more angry than usual at Jo Rowling.

This post is going to be a little self-indulgent and may even come off as a little narcissistic but I want to talk about critical conversations about media when you’re the only person in the room concerned about it.

I’ll preface this by saying I am a well-intending idiot. I’m proud of my education but when it comes to the people I choose to spend my time with, I am the dumb one. Amber can talk circles around me in a dialogue, I am nothing as far as trivia goes in comparison to Victoria and Carlos.

I’m proud of my education and proud of my level of intellect but I am far from remarkable as far as I see it.

That being said, I’m also willing to cope to the remarkable amount of privilege that I have with my ability to be pedantic about comic books.

All of that aside, let’s get back to the topic.

My issues with Jo Rowling’s recent romp are numerous and the most recent trailer only pushed me over the edge with disappointment for Good Ol’ Auntie Jo. Choosing to make Nagini an Asian woman now held in animagus and bondage is vile and a perpetuation of the submissive Asian trope on a Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 level and continuing to allow Johnny Depp to be in anything is a vile cash-grab. Additionally, the continual teasing of “finally getting a gay Dumbledore” have proven to be mostly a queer-baiting PR stunt. I had plenty of new reasons to be disappointed with this movie on top of the foundation of reasons I had to be disappointed with this movie.

And when pressed about my issues and explaining that I was tired of the mystical Native American trope and a world where it’s the 1920s and racism isn’t real but discrimination against non-magic users is a thing, I realized something. I was the only person who seemed to care about these issues.

I was the only person in the room that seemed concerned about perpetuating damaging stereotypes and authentic representation.

And that bothered me.

Time and time again I’ve been told that I’m too critical of media. That I should just turn off my brain.

Let’s kill that in its crib immediately.

I am an English major, literary student, research scholar, writer, reader and more.

My brain is hard-wired to be critical of the messages I see via the media I consume.

Turning off my brain is not something I think I’m capable of. I was even dissecting casual movies like The Hitman’s Bodyguard because yes there was stuff to dissect in that raging garbage fire of a movie.

Keep in mind, I am a huge nerd. Well, not huge. I’m a very petite nerd. I have YEARS of canon knowledge and trivia. I am also an avid reader who tries to fill the void of existential dread with books and literary criticism. I know my references. And I’m passionate about knowledge and learning more.

And considering that literally every piece of media is trying to push an agenda, it’s vitally important to be aware of what comics, movies, television and more are trying to sell you.

Besides, being critical is sort of my thing. Never in a contrarian sort of way but being more “aware” and “critical” of the media around if has helped me carve out a niche that I’m quite proud of.

Let’s take a moment to remember that being critical doesn’t mean hating everything. Which brings us to the other part of the uncomfortable conversation I had:

Well, do you like anything?

Dear reader, I love many things. That doesn’t mean that anything is perfect. I love John Constantine as a character but he is a tire fire and I am empathetic to anyone who wants to punch him in the neck. I love most comic books but I also absolutely understand that the Marvel movies are just a scheme to funnel cash into Disney’s gaping monopoly. I tear apart the things I love because that’s what a critical reader and viewer does. Nothing is perfect, everything has flaws, everything has an agenda.

And there are times I can be highly critical of a piece of media while still mostly enjoying it. Deadpool 2 is a mostly forgettable superhero sequel with huge problems like another shocking instance of Girlfriend in the Fridge but for the most part, I really laughed during that film.

There are other times, however, where a story’s issues are too distracting like with Black Panther where I was so overcome with disgust at the misuse of words and verbage actual militant African-Americans used that I struggle to get through the second half of the film without a stomach ache.  

And again, I’m surrounded by folks who echo similar feelings to mine. We may not all share the same opinions but Amber and I left Black Panther and talked about race relations for literally about an hour. I walk out of a movie and immediately have a call with Carlos. I get to talk with the other writers of FanGirl Nation and chat about tropes and more. I am surrounded by brilliant human beings who are just as critical, if not more so, than I am and I am a better person for it.

I do sometimes wish I could “turn off my brain” and come down and talk about a movie for just what it is. Increasingly, critical reading and watching is a rarity, kept in niche communities. I do wish I could talk about feminism in movies more and political themes in pop culture more but many just want to “turn off their brains” and enjoy their media.

I sometimes wish I wasn’t aware of how grossly sexist, racist, transphobic, homophobic and harmful popular media can be.

But I am.

And with that heavy burden I will continue to call those things out for as long as I am able.

Falling Out of Love (with WebComics)

“All my love gone for nothing. Days of my love, years of my love.” ― Sophocles, Electra

I fell in love with webcomics as a medium in college. I had a pretty steady schedule which left plenty of room to check in on the comics that updated regularly and a steady WiFi connection that did not discriminate. That means that there are some comics that I have literally been reading for over a decade. I say this because it brings me no joy to admit that there are comics that I have absolutely fallen out of love with. I am passionate about this artistic style and some of the creators have been integral to finding form to the things I feel inside but some are in their slow death and to better understand how we got to where we are and how things used to be.

I don’t do this because I really just enjoy being negative. I don’t do this because I just really hate small creators. I do this because I do genuinely love the medium of comics and especially the kind for web. I love the creators that pour their hearts into this medium. I admire them. I consider myself lowly in comparison to them.

I’ll start with a comic that I started reading in more years ago than I care to admit: Go Get a Roomie. This comic done by Chlove centers around the titular Roomie (yes, that’s her name because she’s a bit of a wanderer who is everyone’s roommate at one point in time) and her misadventures through free-love and freeloading. I fell in love with the free-spirited Roomie and her friends including a dom named Ramona and her twink brother, Richard and the ultimate foil to joyous Roomie: Lillian. When this comic was just a slice-of-life day to day adventures in regional beers and taking home a different person each day, I loved it. But then the series too a more narrative turn and now in pure predictable fashion, the comic now centers around Roomie and Lillian in a relationship. Now, I have no issue with this from an LGBTQ standpoint (I hate that I have mention this) but I have a problem with it from the cinnamon roll vs. promiscuous person trope. It’s the exact same problem I had with Yuri On Ice which went out of its way to mention how innocent and pure Yuri is to his clear lecher of husband, Victor. Roomie has been around, it’s part of her character and while it is somewhat nice to see someone change for a partner, it’s just a trope I’m tired of. Additionally, it puts most of the owness on Lillian to be more like Roomie rather than having to reign in anyone else. Lillian starts off as a listless amorphic blob who barely leaves the house: sure, her arc of doing more than sleeping has been fascinating but it all just seems out of left field considering that these are all changes that happened in the comic in just the past few years. I love GGaR for its dedication to authentic diversity and mostly strong storytelling but I’m bored of the tropes, quickness to fall into a more traditional love story and occasional preaching from the author.

Next on the list are the collective comics of Giselle and the rest of the folks who work on such works as Menage a 3 and Dangerously Chloe. I found this comics in the second half of my college career and was sold on them being a little raunchy. Ma3 billed itself as an HBO-style rom-com and it was. Love triangle after love triangle and that was fine for many years. The comic is working towards its ending but with its out of nowhere wrestling plot arc for a character who is literally only known for her bust, I am tired of keeping up with its updates. Dangerously Chloe has a similar problem where we have strayed so far from the original plot of man meets succubus that I am simply wishing for the sweet release of death.

We now reach the comic I take the most ire with. We’ve reached the ultimate comic I have absolutely fallen out of love with. Each update further confirms that I dislike the current direction and only further alienates me from a narrative I began nearly a decade ago: Sister Claire.

Sister Claire started as a comic about a nun who through shady God dealings gets pregnant. The comic references a ton of other media in homage and in blatant ripoffs and at first was a mostly light-hearted romp of magical lands and a questionably hot version of God. What the comic is now…oh boy. Now the comic centers around a quest for a magical deus ex-machina, more anachronisms than a Tarantino movie. But what really irks me is the shift in comic from when it was done by one creator, Yamino, to now two creators with Yamino’s wife, Ash. Ash has seemed to take over the writing of the comic thus the shift from kind of magical romp to anachronisms and heavy-handed guilt narratives about LGBT themes. The homage and rip offs in Sister Claire have also caused some controversy. Famously, there’s a scene with some strange mecha that is somehow related to a holy war and the words to speak the robot to bring it back from its sleep are “Cast into the name of God, ye not guilty.” If that sounds familiar, congratulations, you’ve watched Big O. And so did many of the fans of the comic. And many of us said so. And Yamino was defensive! She said it was a Crusaders’ chant, which, sure. It was. But it was also in Big O and instead of just being humble and accepting that she was caught in a small rip-off, she caused conflama. Yamino has also straight up steals a character from Rose of Versailles in the form of Lady Oscar who is so indistinguishable from her anime “inspiration” that people forget that Oscar is not an original creator at all. And wait, you may be saying, but Sister Claire is so diverse with its lesbian couple at the helm and cast full of queer people. Sure, that’s fantastic. I’m happy to have diverse characters and diverse creators: you know what else makes me happy? Strong storytelling. Being full of queer characters does not an automatically good story make.

This was a negative post and I’m sure by now, many of you are asking: well, why don’t you just stop reading these comics if they cause you such strife?

Good question, astute straw-man. I have put time, energy and money behind almost all of these comics between donations and Kickstarter campaigns, I have invested in these works. Because of that investment, it’s even more personal and tragic to watch them fall from grace. It’s never easy to admit that a relationship is over so I will continue to check in on these stories just because I want to know how it ends. I want to see how we end this saga. I want to know what the final moment where either I break from weak storytelling and leave the series or how it so graciously redeems itself.

Only time will tell.

A Blog Post About Jokes About Jokes

“The longer and more carefully we look at a funny story, the sadder it becomes.” ― Nikolai Gogol.png

When I first started following Deadpool as a character in the 2000s, he was really a interesting but far from the only character doing what he did. 4th wall breaks were somewhat common in comics and She-Hulk was much better at breaking the 4th wall than Wade Wilson ever was. It may have been my love of manga and anime which is full of meta humor and puns that made me sour on the whole thing faster than the average American, but I’m frankly quite tired of meta-humor. Here’s why I dislike meta humor and some practical examples of how it actively usually hurts the narrative its in.

Let’s take a moment to discuss some vocabulary, because once I get started, I will not be slowed down. Meta-humor as currently defined is humor at the expense of the subject. For instance, Scream calling out all the logical fallacies in other horror movies makes it metacritical and metatextual while still being at the time subversive. To subvert or be subversive is to undercut or defy the expectations of a medium or genre. For instance, Rick and Morty subverts the sci-fi genre by being mostly bleak and entirely nihilistic. Meta-humor like this has been popularized for decades and is a vital part of the postmodern culture we live in: thanks, late-capitalism. Meta humor is said to be funny at all because it’s calling out the tropes we know and hate now because they are so overdone. A 4th Wall Break (an instance where a show or piece of media admits it isn’t real and breaks the wall between performance and audience) is rare in theater and was rare in other pieces of media but got more popular with comic books. This is different from being an anti-joke or even surrealist as the goal with these is to defy expectations by being either entirely serious and completely doing something out of the norm. Think of the Lobster Telephone done by Dali. Again, to give credit where credit is due,  the earlier runs of She-Hulk was full of 4th wall breaks but let’s be honest; when you think of a 4th wall break currently, you think of Deadpool.

Deadpool as a movie franchise is interesting, really the character is a hard sell if you aren’t super into comic books. Wade Wilson is a character who cannot die and essentially has gone crazy due to his mutation and is in no way a cheap rip-off of Deathstroke. That being said, the whole idea around his particular version of meta humor is actually pretty strange, Wade Wilson knows he’s a comic book character and knows he isn’t real but most of that is chalked up more to mental illness or lazy writing than it is to anything else. The movies ignore that aspect of canon keep him as every teenage edgelord who thinks he’s funny and too good for the humor of the common folk. This worked in the first movie that came out just after the first big wave of superhero movies. It was funny to have a character comment on the logical fallacies in superhero films. It was great to have jokes lobbed at the film’s own expense, it was, at first incredibly refreshing. By the time we reach Deadpool 2, it’s simply tired. The superhero movie bubble has started to burst and since Avengers: Infinity War had ripped the hearts out of most fans, his humor was just tired. It was no longer new, refreshing or subversion: it was a chore and that movie was mostly a slog for me except for a few scenes that genuinely almost made me spit out my overpriced cola in the theater. Because by the second time Deadpool is commenting on Cable’s weirdly limited time travel abilities or the fact that there are still very few people of color in comic book movies despite there being several people of color in comic books: it just feels like it’s exposing a plot hole. That is a problem.

A 4th wall joke is funny the first time, the second time may even be insightful but the third or fourth is just tired and if anything can take you out of the film. It’s no longer subversive once the trope has already been subverted. Think of the last post we did on the Trope Trope: once being subversive of tropes is established, it then becomes a trope.

It’s especially difficult when a large company tries to comment on the tropes they established. Disney has recently gotten very meta about Disney and it’s infuriating. I grew up with Disney movies and while I didn’t notice many of these errors as a kid, I certainly don’t bat an eye at them much now as an adult. It doesn’t bother me that Beauty and the Beast was full of plot holes: it was a beautiful movie. It doesn’t matter to me that Cinderella isn’t “feminist” enough, she was engaging and the animation on the older movie is gorgeous. But the newer Disney movies have been determined to comment on the tropes that made the movies famous. Don’t like Disney princesses falling in love? Frozen is here to comment on that and then cop to Anna falling in love with her new disposable boyfriend. Disappointed that Belle didn’t fight back more? Beauty and the Beast (2017) is here to make her extra “feminist” and actively weaken her character with an invention subplot that goes nowhere and a total lack of performance or chemistry from Emma Watson. Tired of all those pesky cookie-cutter princesses? Here’s Moana with a character (in the form of Maui who is supposed to be our secondary protagonist) who is literally every teenage edgelord of a kid to undercut the serious moments to the movie’s detriment.

It’s just exhausting. The reason why it’s such a cheap shot is because rather than, you know, fixing the narrative issues; writers assume that calling it out acts as a blanket to cover them instead of just being better. So when Deadpool calls out Cable having a crappy motivation as an antagonist, guess what. I’m aware of how crappy his motivations are. When the new trailer for Wreck-It Ralph makes a jab at how horribly Disney treats its princesses, I’m not laughing. I’m just hyper-aware of how terribly they are all treated and how repetitive it is. When you intentionally poke a hole in the curtain, it becomes easier to see all the other holes in it. Do you know what would be actually subversive? Doing the right thing. In this age of cynicism and senseless cash-grabs, what would really be shocking and subversive would be to just write well. It’d be subversive to have a princess with two loving parents and a stable home life. It’d be subversive to have a gay character who is complex but not magical, a martyr or a token. Sincerity in this cynical postmodern age would be more unique and special at this stage and I can’t believe I have to say that now.

 

Sympathy vs. Empathy

“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view... Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.” ― Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird.png

If there was one concept I could just magically teach people when it comes to the matter of how to be more critical readers and more skilled writers, it would be understanding the difference between sympathy and empathy. And it’s a lesson that it took me a while to learn as a writer and reader, myself. There are apparently very few sage teachers in such a discipline. The two words are used pretty interchangeably in common speech but they are not the same at all and understanding that key difference makes for richer reading experiences, better movie watching and a better understanding of the real people around you.

Let’s firstly go over some basic vocabulary.

  • Sympathy
    • The fact or power of sharing the feelings of another, especially in sorrow or trouble; fellow feeling, compassion, or commiseration.
  • Empathy
    • The psychological identification with or vicarious experiencing of the feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of another.

These definitions seem very similar, hence this little discussion. We’re going to boil things down here: sympathy is understanding a feeling while empathy is feeling that experience as well. I can sympathize with a person and not empathize with them and vice versa. I can sympathize with Erik Killmonger in Black Panther with his feelings of anger after the loss of his father, but I cannot use his grief to rationalize him being genocidal. I can empathize with Edward Elric from Fullmetal Alchemist, his use of pragmatism and cynicism to cope with the loss of his mother is almost exactly how I dealt with the loss of my own father and I could even sympathize with his decision making, even when it was less than ideal.

By now, you may be asking: well, why does it matter if these two words seem so similar?

It goes back to the theme of this year’s blog posts: framing.

Framing gives form and shape to empathy and can influence, force or even create sympathy.

Let’s take an example that I’ve beaten nearly to death: Thanos in Avengers: Infinity War.

Thanos’ motivations seem so rational, so easy to understand, his pain so real. Because Josh Brolin is an amazing actor and there’s fantastic writing behind his portrayal of The Mad Titan. And that is a huge problem. Thanos’ point of view is insane but clever writing made him seem like the most rational character in the damn film. That feeling of looking down the road and seeing only one crazy choice is one many feel now and for some reason in our hellscape of a current world: The Mad Titan’s plan doesn’t seem so mad. And that is bad.

Here’s one of the most interesting parts of this discussion: for the most part, it’s entirely subjective, too. I have the background of the average anime antagonist, so it’s easy for me to empathize with them and thus sympathize with them. It’s harder for me to wrap my head around characters that are more outgoing or optimistic; their motivations are foreign to me and thus, it’s difficult to build a sympathetic bridge to understanding them. Your world view changes how you feel about characters and narratives and it absolutely can change and grow over time. Characters that I looked to with great admiration when I was younger suddenly seem entirely too impulsive and egotistical now as an adult.

One of my favorite things is looking at a movie from my admittedly jaded worldview and listening to a friend who didn’t see or feel the same thing that I did during a movie. I may gloss over an issues that is morally repugnant to others. I may take immense umbridge with a scene that others think is fine. Our experiences shape how we view narrative but there is where writers and creators also have to be careful: writing is a powerful tool and a good story line and likable characters can turn evil into something not so deplorable.

I’ve used this example before but he really illustrates the point: Richmond Valentine from Kingsman: The Secret Service. Valentine’s motivations are straight up genocide but Samuel L. Jackson is so charismatic and his plan almost doesn’t seem like it’s so bad: hell, he seems logical and rational with his plan to wipe out a majority of the population and let the cream of the crop reign over a newly mostly emptied world.

That’s a problem.

Anime historically had a problem with making bad ideas sound great, Death Note despite being one of my favorite series has a major sympathy and empathy problem. If you were anything like me: too smart for your own good, cynical and bitter and angry at the entire world; Light’s plan of wiping people out using a magical murder diary sounds excellent. I was proudly Team Kira during most of my high school years. The work however does all it can to show that Light is the bad guy. We almost immediately meet L who calls Light exactly what he is: a murderer. And that shift in framing greatly dampens how easy it is to empathize with Light’s murder plan but by the time it tries to establish Light as a bad guy, many have already gotten on board with his delusional idea.

Let’s use a really tricky example and one that actually touches my personal life: Tony Stark.

Stark as a hero is complex. He’s the first to say he isn’t actually heroic but his story is more universal than I think many give credit for. His descent into substance abuse and excess is not too uncommon for many who lose their parents and have the world in their hands. While we all may not be billionaires many of us who lost the thing that keeps them grounded are playboys and are addicted to something be it a substance or to a person. But many can see themselves in Stark, even if their pasts are not as dark or extreme as his. He’s charismatic even when he isn’t likable and there are rationalizations even when he makes the most reckless decision (another good comparison on that front is Peter Quill but I dislike the Lord of Stars so I rather not talk about him). And we see this come all to a head during Age of Ultron the hot hot mess that it is. Stark’s choices are the reason we have Ultron in the MCU (which is a whole other can of worms but back to sympathy I go) and he’s made bad choice after bad choice in the comics. But dammit it’s easy to let him off the hook because we can either  personally understand how grief affects judgement and decision making or we are willing to give him a pass because he’s just so damn smooth.

This liberal dosing out of passes is especially problematic when more troublesome matters in media are perpetuated. Comic books still have a major issue with trivializing trauma and exploiting the death of women as a plot point (looking at you, Deadpool 2), modern romance movies often end up being a series of stalking or downright blatant examples of harassment (looking at literally most of the romances Chris Pratt has been a part of film-wise [we’re touching on that, don’t worry]) and television continues to perpetuate a casual level of misogyny that is just gross (looking at you, Big Bang Theory, you loathsome toad).  But oh, those likable characters. It makes it so easy to gloss over their nonsense.

Speaking of Mr. Pratt…I want to use this time to explain just how much I can’t stand the movie Passengers and how we ultimately are held hostage by not only Chris Pratt but how passable movies and tricky writers can manipulate you into caring. If you haven’t seen Passengers, there’s a spoiler warning here. So long and short is Pratt plays a guy who is on an interstellar cruise from Earth to find a new planet. He’s in a stasis pod and suddenly, he is woken up years (hundreds of years) before he is set to. He is alone. No one else is awake on this cruise ship version of the S.S. Enterprise. He has a weird robot bartender friend but no other companion. All his physical needs are met by the ship and the ship’s robots but no one else to talk to. He spots a woman (played by Jennifer Lawrence at maybe her laziest) who is still asleep as she should be. Pratt wakes her up. He destroys her pod and wakes her from her beauty nap but he doesn’t  tell her that he did it. When Lawrence comes to, she asks what happened. Pratt lies. They spend blissful time together and try to solve the “mystery” as to why they woke up. And in the end, it is revealed that it wasn’t an accident that woke Lawrence and damned her to frightful mortality, it was Pratt and his selfish loneliness. She forgives him because movie has to movie and I left fuming at this. Pratt’s character ruins any chance Lawrence has at making it to the planet they are spiraling in space towards. His act removes her agency and choice but because Chris Pratt is such a nice guy and we spend so much time with him and we watch him struggle with being alone: it’s okay that he damned a woman to die because his sassy queer robot from wasn’t enough companionship for him.

That’s where sympathy fails us as an audience. Pratt is the villain of this narrative and any other re-telling of the story is irksome and troublesome. Sympathy bypasses the logic centers of the brain and allows characters to murder, rape, assault and more under the guise of romance or charm.

It’s why I much rather have an empathetic character. One that I can absolutely feel for but still can disagree with. I love Light’s world view in Death Note but I can agree that the way he wants to craft his new world is awful. I can admit that Samuel L. Jackson is the second best part of Kingsman but still say that his plan is terrible and also genocidal. I can feel Edward Elric’s loss and not let him off the hook for being abusive to those who care about it.

Empathy is just as subjective as sympathy but it brings with it the wisdom of hindsight. I get where Bruce Wayne is coming from as far as using trauma and grief to be the best version of one’s self and knowing that feeling from my own personal life means that when Bruce Wayne is a garbage fire of a human that I can recognize it even faster because during those times I was also likely a garbage fire of a human.

Strive for empathy in your critical watchings and writings. Strive to understand motivations while also being able to admit something is troublesome. Call out troublesome things in media: things only get better the more we express being tired of stalking as romance and the girlfriend in the fridge. Be critical of everything you ingest media-wise and hold your characters accountable, even the ones you didn’t create yourself.

 

The Ethics of Being Sponsored

The networks have to answer to their sponsors. That's the difficult thing you learn. Jean Smart.pngLast time we talked about Patreon, patronage and how and when an artist owes something to those who keep their lights on. Today we’re going to talk about sponsorships, trust and forced positivity but with the ethical dubiousness of money behind it.

This actually started innocently enough. I was watching a GameTheorists video on Valerian and the City of One Thousand Planets. As a hipster sci-fi person, I was excited to talk about Valerian considering that I’m probably 1 of 5 Americans that read the comic and knew that it basically inspired all of modern sci-fi. Everyone has borrowed from it, Star WarsStar Trek, basically everyone owes their sci-fi start to Valerian. And when I started the video, I was happy to see MatPat bring up all those points and comment on them. And then he mentioned he was sponsored by the movie Valerian. My heart sank. Suddenly, all the ethos of what he was saying was colored with the evil tint of greed. Even in his most recent video that was blatantly sponsored by Disney, it still felt hollow because the premise and title were interesting. Now to know that he’s only doing it because he got paid somehow left me feeling betrayed and crestfallen.

And MatPat isn’t the only Youtuber I’ve noticed that will “critique” or “comment” on a film only after being paid to do so. Andre “The Black Nerd” has more than once reviewed movies and done special promotions with several companies and even theaters that often seem to make all the movies he sees a little less bad. And while I have no issues with CinemaSins being sponsored by BlueApron and NatureBox (because those sponsorships are usually unintrusive to the content) and I quietly tolerate Lindsay Ellis flaunting her Patreon (her being sponsored is also often not intrusive to her content). But where I take issue is when being paid for something makes you think something is better than what it is and all under the guise of more valid criticism.

But it’s also important to comment on the type of “critic”, critic or Youtuber. It’s usually the non-instrusive ones that get the more lucrative deals. MatPat’s pretty unoffensive to most and he’s easy to work with and has a wide audience. He’s kind, sort of funny and he’s positive. He isn’t a CinemaSins or Nostalgia Critic who made their mark by being cynical, curt and vulgar (I don’t say any of these things negatively, I love these channels.).

In my first forced positivity post, I mentioned The Talking Dead, a show hosted by Chris Hardwick about the very popular TV show and sometimes maligned comic book The Walking Dead. The talk show after the show is paid for by AMC (the people behind the zombie TV show) and because of that, almost every episode has to say how great The Walking Dead is.  When I lamented this fact, Carlos rather bluntly said: “Well, yeah. Can’t talk bad about a show that pays you to put on a show.” And really, that was an understood for me. I understood the why but that didn’t mean I had to be happy about it.

And it frustrates me even more when I have to watch a personality I love change and adapt to being more “user-friendly”. Chris Hardwick, if you can hear me, come back to us. You have sold your soul for money. You too, Kevin Smith. We need you. We need voices of dissonance in our community once more.

Being paid to say nice things isn’t new. I work in advertising. I create paid sponsor content. I live in a world where you have to casually segway a brand sponsorship into an informative video or write an article that’s really meant to sell you something. I learned and perfected how to craft a message, find an image and hone down an audience. I know that being paid to say nice things is not a new and marvel concept. But in traditional advertising, a spade is a spade. An ad’s an ad. It’s clear when something is sponsored. But when marketing is insidious (and even I as a marketer am not fond/proud of) are when ads hide. We’ve all seen a tutorial that’s at the end tacked on that it was paid for by Samsung.  And the idea of a paid sponsorship that’s a hidden one or content that’s really an ad has been a struggle for social media platforms and users. And if the FDA and FCC lawsuits have been any indicator: the idea of being #sponsored on social media is a slippery slope.

It started with the whole influx of “influencer” marketing. “Celebrities” would gush about a product of God knows what-origin and then their legions of followers would then also support the product of God knows what-origin. What isn’t shown or talked about is how much the makers of the product pay to have this glowing endorsement or why it does such great things for a celebrity’s whose only job is to be beautiful and thin and stand there under ring lights that make everyone look better.  And when a normal consumer wishes to complain, sue or even try to dismiss some of the claims of how charcoal water can cure cancer or something, the company simply says “The celebrity was not paid to say those things and you didn’t have to buy our product.” despite how often it’s shown in Instagram feeds and Twitter timelines. The celebrity doesn’t take any responsibility for any damage done by the product they were so proudly sharing. Remember, they won’t paid to do this. They just received 5 cases of kale cleanse. That isn’t payment, right?

And it’s funny that all of this is happening now. I’m from an era where shoehorned in sponsorships paid the bills and I think it’s that cynicism and skepticism that so fundamentally turns me off on paid sponsored content. We are surrounded by ads and I say that as a person who makes those ads possible. So it’s seductive to see something that looks like think piece, feels like a social commentary but then is later revealed to be something sponsored by a TV show or soda company and why that’s so insidious and horrifying. What is news anymore? What is an ad anymore? Is it all just an ad?

I’m with a majority of watchers and users of things: transparent advertising makes me very happy. When an ad’s an ad, that’s fine. And now with the rise of #ad and #sponsored, things are getting a little more transparent and it’s easier to see the man behind the wizard. And while I understand not wanting to piss in your own stew pot, criticism and loving antagonism made fandoms, communities and the world. The positivity for hire is exhausting and its at times seedy nature makes it even more tiresome and dishonest. Let’s be honest about when an ad’s an ad. Let’s call a spade a spade. And let’s keep criticism free of the shackles of currency.

 

 

A Fan Need Not Always Be Positive

The trouble with most of us is that we would rather be ruined by praise than saved by criticism. Norman Vincent Peale.png

We’ve talked about fandoms, criticism, cynicism and hype so today let’s wrap up the discussion with a little chat about forced positivity, totem culture and why criticism again does not negate enjoyment.

In all honesty, I thought I was finished with this topic. I got my feelings out of my system. I was done talking about how delicate modern fandom is. Oh, I was wrong. I was so so wrong. It started with a friendly little talk about Harry Potter. I was talking about the popular magical franchise with my coworkers. We’re all sorted into different houses. We have different opinions of the movies versus the books. And then I mentioned that I felt the series was still a bit tired. I brought up points that it despite what the novels do well still continue to perpetuate biblical-esque oversimplifications of good and evil. I said that it continues to shun a diverse cast to focus more on the homogenous main cast. I said that while I loved the movies and read most of the books that it still was like so many other young adults novels, slinging a storied narrative with unilaterally good and unilaterally evil characters except for Snape but we don’t talk about Snape. And after listing the valid complaints that I had, my coworker went on to say rather simply:

Well, I still like it. It sounds like you’re a hater.

Dear reader, how I clutched my pearls.

Me? A hater?

Now, I’ve always prided myself on being the type of fan that never hates something senselessly. I always give something at least 3 episodes (if it’s a tv show or anime), the first 3 chapters (in the case of manga and comic books or novels) and at least the first 30 minutes or so of a movie. I always give something a chance. I research voice actors, writers, directors, intention and all. If I’m going to comment on anything: positive or negative, I try my best to speak to the topic with some ethos.

A hater to me has always been someone who needlessly is critical to the point of being obtuse. And since I pride myself on being an informed fan hurt my ego to the core. And it brought up a more important question. Even though I said I liked this series, can I apparently have no negative opinions on it? When did liking a thing mean that is has to be perfect in every way?

In the last post I mentioned more than once that the shows I care about the most I am the most critical of. I can see the cracks in Fullmetal Alchemist even though that anime got me through one of the most difficult times in my life. I can admit that Axis Powers:Hetalia is a silly totem anime to had but it kept me and my friends close during a time when we were all so far away. I can admit that. But Harry Potter is one especially that seems almost too big to discuss. So many people have had their lives changed by a story about wizards, magic and a world that provided a home away from home for so many. Even in my darkest of hours, Hogwarts was a place that I could escape to when my own home was just as bad as the Dursleys. But just because I enjoy something, doesn’t mean that I can’t see its flaws. Unfortunately, this totem culture with Harry Potter and other media artifacts are frustrating. I love deep conversations and you can’t have a conversation when someone cannot or will not see their beloved body of work complexly. But because so many escaped with Harry Potter, coped with Harry Potter, made friends, families and memories with Harry Potter but that does not mean that it’s perfect: even if it was immensely important to you personally.

Now, here’s where I put some of my own personal flaws on the board. I admit that just because I find totem culture exhausting, that does not give me the right to be disrespectful and I’m willing to admit that if there’s a series I don’t like (looking at you, Yuri on Ice and Attack on Titan) that my opinions can be harsh, unyielding and overbearing. So, call a spade a spade, if I’m mean, I’m mean. However, if I have valid criticisms and present them well, it’s just as rude to be dismissive just because a piece of media means a lot to you.

Speaking of valid criticism, let’s talk about forced positivity. I’ve talked a few times about Internet critics and the juggernauts of fan culture and their either hyperbolic hatred of all things (Looking at you, CinemaSins and Nostalgia Chick) or their emphatic love of all things (Looking at you, Kevin Smith and Chris Hardwick). I take particular umbrage with Chris Hardwick. I’ve been a fan of his since he was the only true nerd on G4 and his particular brand of nerd comedy and at the time obscure references to Neon Genesis Evangelion and Doctor Who were welcomed to a nerd like me who ended up making similar references only to find them falling flat upon my usual familial audience. And then he became popular. Suddenly Nerdist wasn’t just a blog or a screenname: it was a brand. And now as he partners with The Walking Dead and other big studio productions, Chris Hardwick suddenly could not comment on anything negative about the shows he mentioned or reviewed for fear of alienating fans and advertisers. And while sure, plenty of things are better than ever before when it comes to movies, comics, books and games but certainly something can be not as good. Certainly, some of these properties have flaws. Nope, not if you watch The Talking Dead, a show Hardwick hosts with help from AMC. So of course, each episode of The Walking Dead is a monolithic wonder. Each one perfect, special and magical. Even the episode where it’s literally just an hour of walking in the woods. Or even a more recent movie like Suicide Squad. Anyone who loves comics, movies or comic book movies can admit that at best this movie had flaws and at worst was an acid-spitting neon death trap but if you hear from Kevin Smith (the unappointed patron saint of nerd culture) it was a damn masterpiece. I’d like to know which movie he saw. The film I saw was far from a masterpiece. I think the idea of forced positivity is actually quite interesting and many Youtubers have discussed it as well as more than one very well-written article on the subject. There is a feeling that you must if you are online, be positive. And for many of us that struggle with mental illness, faking happiness or joy for a property or product just doesn’t help. If you show me an anime while I’m not in a great head space, it’s unfair then to say that it’s my fault for just not enjoying it or not enjoying it to your level.

But I have some ideas of where totem culture and being too defensive came from. Fan culture has a history of being far from kind. While the outside world was mean to nerds, geeks and fans for years, we also became quite mean to each other. The early years of fan culture created strong ships and massive canons to guard those ships. I have lost plenty of ships, destroyed headcanons and even changed my opinions on shows by weathering the storm of early fan culture. But not every fan took that struggle as a positive. Some took those constant fan battles and bullying and it has made them defensive and afraid of criticism. I’ve heard this time and time again:

Don’t attack my ship.

It’s an admittance of weakness. It’s saying that you don’t want to engage in war. It’s saying you much rather sail the seas of fan culture without incident. You take down your canons, your masts and sail on.

But what so many of those who say “don’t attack my ship” miss out on is the ability to harden your fleet. Sure, sometimes a ship get destroyed. Canons are wrecked. Dreams are dashed upon the cold hard rocks of fandoms, true canon and battles over OTPs. I lost so many ships, Internet and forum battles and came out of that a hardened, knowledge and worldly fan. I resisted the urge to simply revel in echo chambers and I have surrounded myself with people that not only most of the time disagree with me but people who I actually share little in common with.

From that proving ground, I was able to discuss what I like effectively, criticize without cruelty and discuss without hurting others. And while I can respect that some saw a battleground of lost fan ships and decided it was best not to participate in the war, I encourage every fan to at least try and have a discussion about a series or property they like a lot. Some of the best conversations I’ve ever had have been effectively fruitless. I can’t always get someone to see my side and I can’t always get someone to change my mind. That however doesn’t mean I wasn’t thankful for the conversation.

Stay kind, fandom. Stay open. Have conversations. Embrace other opinions. And most importantly, have fun.

Cynic, Critic, Fan

-I much prefer the sharpest criticism of a single intelligent man to the thoughtless approval of the masses.- Johannes Kepler.png

I have been called “critical” more than once and that statement always strikes me as a bit strange. Criticism to me has never been a negative thing on its own. Everything has its problems, even great things are imperfect and yet issues do not always negate enjoyment. There are plenty of movies that I admit are terrible but I like a lot. But as someone who writes, reads and enjoys many things; I am very aware of issues like cliches, plot holes and I’m remarkably sensitive to poor representation, historical anachronisms and inaccuracies.

I’m very much from the camp of “nothing is original”. I’m not easily swayed by claims of “this series was the first to do”-isms. Everything has a root in something, almost everything is a rip off of something and there’s a beautiful fine line between homage and plagiarism.

Let’s take a property I like a lot as an example. Axis Powers: Hetalia is a series I like quite a bit about personified anthropomorphic countries and all of their adventures and misadventures through history and major social movements. Hetalia is not the first series a humanize and personify nations. Scandinavia and the World came way before Hetalia and even before the two of them was Afghanistan (a delightfully dark little web comic about the titular character and her friends in the Middle East). But Hetalia did something that the others didn’t, it gave the characters/countries more personality and greater quirks. France wasn’t just France, he’s Francis Bonnefoy. He’s a Cancer and he has a weird talking bird named Pierre. Prussia isn’t just Prussia, his name is Gilbert and he has a brother, Ludwig: who is Germany, and also has a weird talking bird named Gilbird (I wish I was kidding). So I can’t say Hetalia was the most original of ideas but it took the concept and suspended my disbelief far enough to give it credit for being a newer take on an old idea.

Besides, most movies are based on the same like 5 Shakespeare plays. And being someone who reads and writes a lot, I am now a pretty tough sell. I’ve wondered many times if I should take a break from from reading and writing so that I can just “enjoy” some things. But it’s difficult to enjoy a series when cliches fly around and everyone still thinks the series is the most original, splendid and glorious.

In the last post, we talked about discourse and I love that about my friends and fellow fans. We have several amazing conversations about varying theories, headcanons and facts. We also have radically different opinions at times over things and our criticisms and critiques of different properties help us have rich and insightful conversations about, well everything. Friends and I have discussed socioeconomic conditions in The Great Gatsby, light and dark imagery in Naruto and plenty of talks about comic book movies (so many comic book movies). But these conversations do more than just show what we liked and didn’t like about a series, it shows our level of passion for the work. The more heavily criticized a property, the more beloved.

One of the first instances of this probably came from my issues with movies like The Dark Knight and X-Men: First Class. I was violently against these movies and their flagrant disregard of canon and my open criticism of the movies was because I was passionate about Batman and X-Men. If you ever hear or see me get up in arms about something, it’s because I care.

At the same time, being able to cite a criticism doesn’t mean that I don’t like something. As mentioned with Hetalia, the series has plenty of problems but that doesn’t stop me from having fun with it. C’mon, guys. I’m a comic book fan. I have to deal with a lot of unnecessary things and cliches.

Here’s a good place to talk about the difference between criticism, trolling and nit-picking. Channels like CinemaSins have made an entire market essentially destroying films. Their motto of “no movie is without sin” takes the idea of criticism to a new level. Often times, their comments are made without any consideration to the canon of the series or to the storylines themselves and by merely pointing out that the mirror isn’t tilted just so in a scene does not improve the work or the movie, it just ruins the shot for everyone and makes me very very angry when I can’t enjoy movies because now all I see are their tiny flaws. Criticism should be made with valid information and with love. Using words as a weapon has never gotten anyone very far and I wish people wouldn’t do that.Criticism is meant to be constructive, not destructive and if it ever is, it’s no longer criticism: it’s bullying.

But back to unilateral support. I never did understand this (here’s a helpful video to explain why to the critical mind, unanimity sounds a little fishy). Even in the most critically-acclaimed of series, there has to be someone who disagrees and I would certainly hope that anyone who disagrees even with overwhelming support would be accepted and welcomed with open arms. Disagreeing with a popular opinion, a villain does not make. Unilateral support is actually something I noticed more in my stint marathoning reality TV shows. Many of the subplots of the shows involved a person making an unpopular choice and saying that anyone that opposed them wasn’t a friend. I bring this up because this seems to be a problem with more than just comics: discourse and criticism seems to be something all around that has been a prickly topic as criticism has become nothing more than a reason to reinforce echo chambers and drown out any dissenters.

If you aren’t with me, you’re my enemy

I’m always a little suspicious of fandoms where everyone agrees. Just in one fandom, everyone should have different opinions, even if everyone likes it. Everyone should view things differently. Everyone should have their own ideas. I suppose I blame the echo chambers I mentioned last post. But why did we get to a place of criticism being a personal attack? Well, think about fandoms. We built these communities. We found friends. We all like this one precious thing and any outside voice that corrupts it, makes it less good, hurts us personally. Go back to my earlier statement: I was critical of these movies because I loved these properties. Because I was passionate, because I cared, because I liked them I didn’t enjoy seeing them treated in such a way. And experiences with people who take criticism lightly and use their words to just destroy instead of correct has left fans especially weary of negative comments. For so long, being a nerd has not been a positive attribute and when we found the internet, we found acceptance: an acceptance that so many longed for.

But that isn’t the root of fandom; echo chambers have never been the root of what we love. Fandoms start with conversations, with loving arguments, with differences in opinion. It starts with changing IM profiles to your Lantern Corps color and to talking at odd hours about who plays the better Batman. Fandoms start with discussing subtitles or dubbing. Talking voice actors. Trying to figure out what was censorship and what was just poor translation. Our community was founded by dissenters, unpopular opinions and obscure knowledge. Our community is made strong by comments, discussion and diversity. Never forget that.

That was a lot, huh?

With all of this being said, I’d like to wrap things up with this. Nothing escapes criticism. Criticism does not negate passion and finding concerns and voicing them does not make you literally the worst person in the world. Be kind to each other and other’s opinions.

The Death of Discourse

It was impossible to get a conversation going, everybody was talking too much. Yogi Berra (1).png

It may surprise many of you, but I’m not a very young fangirl. I’ve been a fan for many years. I was one of the many old fanfiction girls of Quizilla (RIP) and one of the pillars of the old deviantArt community (RIP). But in coming from a fan community that was young and burgeoning, I’ve noticed one thing in my years: recently, discourse has died.

Now, this is a very fangirly post. Probably my most fangirly post. And there’s gonna be a lot (A LOT) of fandom and fan terms used and I will try to explain them as I use them if you don’t know what they mean. And if you have any questions, please please please feel free to ask me!

So one of the things I have always loved and treasured about being an otaku and fangirl was conversation. I loved being able to sit and talk theories, and discuss OTPs (one true pairings) and headcanons (the main canon and pairings you feel about) and even just canons (what is canonical [true] to the work). We spent hour upon hour in forums, chat rooms, email, IM chats talking about how we felt and our opinions and the latest on the last episode or the most recent fan sub.

But most importantly, we had discussions. You see, my dear readership, there’s been a plague in the recent world of fan communities: a lack of conversation.

Now, here’s where things get personal. Really personal and these are my opinions. You are welcome to disagree with me: I welcome it.

I’m from an older generation of fangirl. A bygone era of shipping manifestos (a ship as in a relationship and a shipping manifesto [please see this awesome example from one of my favorite Tumblr artists ( more of his work here)]) and rabid discussions about who was canon and who wasn’t canon. How things transpired and what was all hogwash and tomfoolery. I love shipping manifestos for a very simple reason: even if I don’t agree, I have to recognize that someone put a lot of effort into rationalizing and using facts and research to explain their case. If someone is willing to prove with facts the strength of their case, I have to respect them: even if I don’t feel the same way. And if anything, that just made me love my fandoms even more.

Here’s also a good point to tell you that as I say I came into the early Internet, I’m also a golden age fangirl in both comics and anime. This period is about from the late 90s to the mid 2000s (depending on who you talk to) so some of my favorite comic books, anime and properties are from that era including but not limited to:

Fullmetal Alchemist

InuYasha

Cowboy Bebop

Lupin III

Harry Potter

X-Men

Batman: The Animated Series

Case Closed

Death Note

Neon Genesis Evangelion

Trigun

Code Geass

Bleach

Naruto

One Piece

Sailor Moon

Justice League: The Animated Series

(I’m gonna stop listing now because this could go on for like literally ever and there’s an okay list here)

There’s actually another post written into this about the “burden of greatness” that’s been briefly discussed with me and a few friends about dealing with such AMAZING representations of popular media, but that’s a topic for another day.

Now, let’s fast-forward a bit to late 2000s. Lots of new anime are out, lots of new comic properties and lots of new social networking websites but one thing was suddenly missing: conversation. With shows Soul Eater, Sword Art Online, Attack on Titan and Keikaishi suddenly, any comment against the “greatness” of these series was seen as a direct attack.

I’ve said plenty of times that I really dislike Attack on TitanI find it shallow, poorly drawn and a discount Neon Genesis Evangelion but say that to a fan of the show and they’ll make it sound like that was the first, the first, series to ever do what it’s trying to do and commenting to the contrary was a personal attack on their character and humanity and must be squashed like so many humans under poorly animated Titan feet. But it’s not the first series to do that. Shoot, Evangelion isn’t the first show to do what it did: but I will argue that it’s one of the best in creating actual fear and paranoia around a vague yet menacing creature of questionable origin. But what I never could expect the lack of conversation around it. My criticism was met with violent reaction, unmatched hostility and a lot of negative comments. My mantra when it comes to criticism is to always have a reason. I try to sit through three episodes of just about anything and if I’m not sold by episode 3, I abandon the series and admit that it wasn’t for me. If I’m going to comment, I’m going to do so with some knowledge of what I’m talking about.

And I’ve come to notice this trend with a few things: I’m also one of the first people to say that Frozen is a tiny bit overrated (very overrated) and the backlash, oh the backlash. It didn’t matter that I had seen the film and had legitimate criticisms of it, what mattered was that my opinion didn’t match the overwhelming hegemony saying that the movie was literally the best thing ever.

I have had people stop talking to me because my opinion doesn’t match theirs about an anime or a TV show. Now, I really want you to sit and think about that. I am a lifelong otaku. I am a dedicated fangirl, cosplayer and panelist but at the end of the day there is no cartoon from the US or Japan that is stopping me from talking to real human beings about real things and the fact that actual friendships have been ended over what basically amounts to an animated cash grab is the most disappointing aspect of this whole “death of discourse” issue.

It comes down to the idea that to be friends or fans, you must unilaterally agree and that just isn’t true. I have plenty of friends that I share wildly different opinions from. It’s one of the reasons I love talking to my friends. We can have different headcanons, like different properties. Discuss the differences that we saw even in the same series. Talk about voice actors, subs vs. dubs, anime vs. manga and our conversations are so much richer for our differences. How very boring it would be to have friends that all saw things the exact same way I did and even more so, I love being able to view another person’s passion. I love being able to see my friends show me their love of the series and sometimes, just sometimes, even change my mind. And that does bring up a good point, just because I don’t like something doesn’t mean I’m not respectful as long as that same respect is afforded to me. I’m very aware that my tastes in anime and manga and lots of things can lean towards being a little obscure, a little hipster and a little rigid but again: conversation does not have to mean overwhelming support.

So what killed discourse? Echo chambers.

Online it’s very easy to find people who only mimic your voice and don’t challenge it. Tumblr is probably one of the biggest offenders of the echo chamber model but there are others, rest assured, it’s so easy to tune out any opposition and use the strength of the masses to overwhelm any dissenters. How sad is that? I’ve mentioned many times that overwhelming response can take something from ambivalence to anger. When it’s impossible to have any opinion due to the herds of fans that keep any criticism, even valid ones, out to continue to promote the greatness of the work from within.

I think it’s tragic to see conversation die. The early Internet had its problems, but we had community and conversation and if you know me, you know that I welcome conversation. I love it. So if you’d like to start one, I’d love to hear it.

In the next post, we’ll discuss being critical, a cynic and why criticism still matters.