Controversy Draws Attention, But Don’t be a Jerk

Continuing from my entry a couple of days ago about a list of “controversial anime opinions“, which had been popular on reddit and my blog, it might be useful to talk a bit about controversies, discussion, and the relationships between these things.

Duty Calls - xkcd strip - First, controversy attracts attention, people just love to see what’s controversial. Controversy also sparks discussion, because we love to weigh in on things we believe strongly about. This is somewhat related to when people attack things we love and we interpret it as an attack on ourselves. Furthermore, discussion sparks discussion, and attracts more attention – we see people excited about something, saying things we agree or disagree with, and we pitch in. That’s also why popular posts on reddit tend to only get more popular, and not just because we’re too lazy to keep looking after spending time on them, though that certainly helps.

Someone in the reddit thread which spawned my list said “In this thread –  Reasonably popular opinions being portrayed as unpopular controversial opinions”, and this statement contains so much that needs unpacking, and that is useful to unpack when discussing controversies, and garnering attention, and also when discussing fandoms in general. First, you don’t need controversy to spark discussion, you need the appearance of controversy. People don’t actually need there to be anything controversial as much as they come to be excited, and to have discussion with other people.

More than that, there is the dark side to much of this – controversial opinions are often controversial because they lack nuance – many would rise up against hearing their favourite X is shit, but would agree with an argument which presents some pitfalls it has – the difference is how much weight they ascribe to these things. In this, you might find it to be that it is not controversies themselves which draw attention, but polemics – statements that are presented in a highly divisive manner, which are “calls to action” from supporters and dissenters – who might be agreeing if things had been presented in a more nuanced way. Of course, the more nuanced and lengthy it is, the more you risk losing people’s attention.

There is a side to that comment I also disagree with – that a popular opinion can’t be controversial – if 50% of the population believes that football is better than basketball, and 50% believes that basketball is better than football, then these are both controversial opinions, which are popular. But that doesn’t mean that the “controversy” part of the statement or the presentation of it as such is a big draw – you hear someone saying something about something you are excited about, and that gets you motivated to pitch in and defend in – you hear from another “Fan” that your fandom is attacked from without – even if it’s not, and that gets your fervor up. You don’t really need to have controversy, but just the appearance of such.

There’s something about attacks from without to help you define yourself as part of the group, to mark the boundaries of a group, and let us not talk about when there is controversy, such as when fans of say, Sword Art Online clash with “anti-fans” – and I’m sad “anti-fans” is actually a thing, honestly. The quote I quoted is right about some things – check my points #4-5 in my list, basic “Many (other) fans are jerks.” – everyone agrees, but everyone thinks it applies to everyone else – non-controversial since everyone agrees it’s true, but everyone also thinks others are at fault – often, the appearance of controversy is just there to actually unite people about a scarecrow, which doesn’t exist, or make us feel secure and safe as “enlightened” while we don’t really judge ourselves as well as we should.

Penny Arcade's Greater Dickward Theory

Don’t be a jerkward.

And now, let’s talk about presentation and being a jerk – that thread had quite a few comments that were downvoted out of attention – on reddit, the most upvoted comments get to the top, and the ones people disagree with strongly enough are more or less “buried” out of sight. Well, Reddit is not the best place for controversial opinions, which is why I never posted my Spirited Away piece there – controversial opinions, especially negative ones, tend to get buried before they are even allowed on the front page where more people could read them. My Sword Art Online piece almost didn’t make it either, for being a popular show on a show many liked to hate, but apparently it was the first positive review/discussion of the show on the subreddit that wasn’t massively buried by downvotes.

Wait, so what does that have to do with the downvoted opinions? Some were downvoted for being controversial (in a thread asking for such, it’s true), but mostly for being hate-screeds, or unexplained “X show is great/terrible” doesn’t really sell us, and even if we agree, it’s a boring opinion, and not really fitting as much of a discussion starter. The other part is that these people were often jerks “X is shit, and anyone who likes it is retarded.” – even if I agree with you that X is shit and that most people like it, is there truly any reason to act like that, aside from being a jerkward? This is because people often confuse controversial with confrontational. Being confrontational these days is controversial all on its own, but it doesn’t make your opinion itself controversial. It’s the same as people thinking that having cuss words, blood and sex makes a show mature – when I argue most such works are actually aimed at teenagers.

So, controversy, or the appearance of controversy, draws attention, and presentation is a large factor in this. Here are some bloggers who use a confrontational tone, or a controversial tone, to present their arguments, and have quite a reading for this, and whom I appreciate – Film Critic Hulk‘s review and analysis of movies, Baka-Raptor‘s anime/games/anime-culture rants, which often have me in stitches, and Snark’s sadly defunct Taikutsu Remedy, a blog about the lack of “manliness!” in today’s anime world/media. What separates them from other popular and less savoury trolls is that you can tell they are excited, and want whatever they are sometimes ranting about to succeed. Their tone is often somewhat humorous, and that’s a large part of their charm – even if you disagree with them, you might be laughing a lot and thus you will keep reading. The upside is that people will get to read their opinions, even if they disagree, but the downside is that the laughter may cause some people to miss the actual points made.

It still beats the bitter people who are controversial and thus believe they must be extremely and non-jokingly confrontational, who come off as bitter and try to stifle others’ excitement wherever they see it. They still get a bunch of attention, because, well, controversy draws attention, confrontations do as well. You can get quite the following of like-minded people if you’re consistently a jerk, and even more if you give off signs that show you’re actually enthusiastic – because enthusiasm is one of the most attractive things. But still, try not to be a real jerk, and some humor never hurt – both to soften the criticism and draw more attention.

My post on reddit? Aside from the sheer length of it, it helped that many people could find things they agreed with, to help it become so popular – people like thinking they’re part of a crowd, people like to think that others agree with them, and that they get to be special. And it helped that I wasn’t rude about it.

Questions of the day – How do you feel about controversy as an attention-drawer? How do you feel about people who are controversial on purpose? Do you think the appearance of controversy is more important than the actual heart of it?

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