Discussing Hot-Button Topics.

We all have issues that make us see red, things that have us flying to our keyboards to pen strongly-worded rants at whoever had offended our sensibilities. An interesting thing is that these topics are almost always charged in both directions – you think X appearing in Y manner is something to get worked up over, and someone else might think that you getting worked up over it is something to fly off the handle over! I’m going to share several such issues that bother me within anime (and elsewhere?), and then move on to how you might wish to discuss these issues yourself.

Galilei Donna Grande Rosso

Our knee-jerk reaction to perceived opposition and hot-buttons.

Part 1 – An Example Hot-Button Issue:

Valvrave the Liberator Rape Apologism:

Note, this section will contain some Valvrave the Liberator spoilers, mainly that a certain scene exists in a certain episode.

First, for some context on this, I wrote a blog-post on the scene in question, which is more in the form of a story. Writing that hadn’t been too hard of a decision. My blog, something I care about, why not? But I also shared the post on a big online forum, which you can see here. This had actually been a tough decision. I thought about it for a while, I had some heart palpitations… it’s not really an issue of whether I feared people will react negatively to the piece itself or attack me for it, but that I feared I’ll just get more of what had originally got me worked up.

And for this a slight story on the issue at hand. I woke up that day to watch the episode, watched the episode, and felt bad. It hit me out of nowhere. I checked the online discussion of the episode on twitter and in online fora, which I didn’t comment on at the time and was disgusted, and had to go and lie down for a bit. I’ve seen rape in anime, books, television and movies before, but man, the behaviour of the community truly bothered me. The scene, as I now say, happened once, the community’s treatment of it is a gift that keeps on giving.

Rape apologism, victim blaming, “they died in the Holocaust because they sinned in past lifetimes,” (true statement by some Jewish rabbis, by the by), “there are no social issues” are things that make me sigh, usually, write the comment and commentator off and move on (I’ve been online for many years now, and a human for even more), but there’s something about that scene in Valvrave that really gets me worked up, and I think it’s tied to how people are looking to justify it, to make it not rape. I don’t think this is even about rape in general, but about liking their MC, their “friend” to not have been a rapist.

I think what really gets me is how the show-makers, who had quite despicably done a lot to make this as much of a “non-rape rape” as possible, including having Saki “agree” to it in the middle of the action, as well as how she “wanted to be with Haruto” beforehand which keeps getting brought up. If anything, this just makes the writers on one hand sleazy, and on the other hand mirrors the defenses people trot up with regards to rape apologism “It’s the girl’s fault for going with the dude!”, “She wanted to be his girlfriend, so how could it be rape?” and that sort of rape apologism, and a whole scene constructed as one grand rape apologism exercise just disgust me. There’s no other way for me to put it.

The rape scene hurt, by being surprising and abrupt and awkward, but the rape apologism never subsides, and keeps getting me worked up.

Part 2 – What Happens Next?

Kill la Kill Ryuuko Matoi Senketsu

These are charged topics, they’re almost always political, at least in as much as people tie them to their personalities or they move them to action. They get us, or at least me, worked up. So what do I do when such an issue comes up in anime, or in a discussion?

Depends. I rarely fly off to type a reply, especially since my replies are often quite long, and I know in advance they will be long. I sigh, I get frustrated, I get sad, and then because these things bother me, I usually post something that aims to be a calm reply. For some issues, such as putting down people for enjoying what they do, I am usually much more succinct and impatient, because it comes up too often, is too annoying, and there’s not much to say, really. I think of these things, and I talk them out. I’m more likely to write a long reply if I care about the person I’m conversing with, or when I think other people might read it and get something out of it.

If I get messaged privately by someone I don’t think is going to understand, or ever reach any fruitful agreement on the issue, I may not be so in-depth, if I do it’ll be since I’m frustrated, but the following discussion will likely only lead to more frustration, so I try to nip that in the bud these days. not always successfully, as these issues bother me, which is the point of this write-up.

I pontificate about these issues, as with most issues, because I think people should consider things from multiple angles. In many topics, I often find myself arguing against whatever stance people bring up, because I can observe problems with most stances, and one of my goals is to always get people to think things from additional angles. These are some instances that I have a very clear stance though, and as I replied to ShadowZael in the Valvrave discussion (see comment here), and as had been painfully learnt over many years, and also ties into the whole issue of convincing people (or even forcing your opinion on them) or this whole meta-issue of “hot button issues”, people react negatively when you attack them/their opinions (which they often don’t separate), and if they think you’re just being devil’s advocate they might react even worse.

But the problem with always being a devil’s advocate is even deeper – some opinions aren’t worth being devil’s advocate for, and you are hurting people by their mere advocacy. Advocating rape apologism from a devil’s advocate perspective sounds like a neat thing to do, intellectually, but there are real people and real emotions involved, even when analyzing fictional characters, and you should think about who it puts you with, camp-wise; and camps, like it or not, always exist. There is a very fine line, which is often context-based, between attacking an idea and supporting another. If you say a certain show isn’t good, are you saying it’s bad? Due to the mentality outlined above people often interpret things erroneously, but at a certain point it’s quite easy to cross over yourself (which is why hype creates anti-hype, and anti-hype in turn creates more hype – “X is the worst show” and “X is the best show” being our examples here).

I don’t always do something about these things, though. Sometimes it’s not that the issue that isn’t worth it, but I consider the opinions and those who voice them as unworthy of proper replies, or I don’t have the time, or energy. So someone online said Shinsekai Yori sucks because of “the gay”, I’ll give them a one-line reply at best and move on, it’s unlikely I’m going to change anyone’s opinions, and it’s not like I care about some random bigot online. I don’t even get worked up about these things, just slightly sad/tired, and that might be even worse.

Part 3 – “But dude, I just want to have fun! Don’t get so worked up and kill my buzz!”

Hamatora the Animation

That’s a pretty common response when you attempt to talk to people about these issues, when you take “your issues” and “shove them into someone’s face”, so what do I have to say about that response? As always, it’s not clear-cut, in my case.

That’s a trick question, and I asked it, so I guess I can only blame myself. That position is actually several positions, depending on when and how it gets brought up, so I’ll have to address it as such.

  1. I find an issue problematic so I go into a discussion where people are having fun and tell them they’re morally bankrupt.They may be morally bankrupt, but they might have an issue here, honestly. Not everyone wants to think about everything, and while dispensing knowledge and other stances is a worthy goal, you can’t really force people, and in most cases it’s not your job. Sad, but true. I still think I’m allowed to get worked up about it, just as they are allowed to not get worked up about it, but arguing about that “right” in that context just creates a flame-war that isn’t even about the original topic at that point…
  2. I start a thread, they come in and tell me to stop “overthinking it”.This is the opposite of the first instance, where they’re coming to tell me I’m having WrongBadFun, and rather than tell me to shut up because I have no case are trying for the “softer” approach of “you’re killing my buzz” – No, fuck you. You’re now trying to silence me, and if you don’t like it, go somewhere else. You don’t have to read what I say, you don’t have to agree with it, but you don’t get to come and tell me I don’t get to discuss it – it’s just as dismissive as saying “There’s no issue” and leaving it at that, it’s basically categorical dismissal, of people who obviously care about something, and you’re trying to hurt it. Even if it’s not something they enjoy, still.
  3. Categorical dismissal of anyone trying to discuss any topic because you just watch anime to have fun, in general.Almost not worth the e-ink to write my reply. So you have a certain type of fun, good for you – don’t read people who write stuff that doesn’t interest you, don’t try to get them to stop. This is another case of entitlement where people wish only what they like to exist. Meh.

In other words, often used to dismiss others’ stances, and as such I reject it, it’s an easy way to not engage in a discussion, where the easier and better way would be to just say nothing, rather than to try and shut others up. That said, you may feel obligated by the issues that bother you to go and preach at others, and while I am not saying it’s wrong, it’s also important to respect people’s boundaries, even if they seem problematic to you.

Part 4 – Discussing These Things Productively Can be Done:

Chuunibyou demo Koi ga Shitai! Ren / Chuu2koi Ren

So, what makes discussing these things so darn hard? Part of the issue is that people tend to lose the ability to see nuances, especially with things that matter to them. Either something “sucks” or is “the best”, and if anything is wrong with a work of fiction they love, then we’re attacking it as a whole, and saying it sucks, and saying they suck. Considering how often people actually attack people based on their tastes or along attacking things they like, I am not be entirely surprised that this leads to people being unable to tolerate any attack on what they like. And so discussing these important (at least personally) matters is often thrown under the bus, since we’re caught in defending and attacking the work of art, and the issue itself becomes subservient to that.

So for the final part, I’m going to actually go back to the beginning, and show where these answers had come from, and how you might have some more success when trying to discuss these issues. After reading up to this point you might have picked up on some methods and phrasings I’ve chosen to use as well.

I created a post on a discussion-oriented forum related to anime, and gave them the following text:

We all have issues that we just can’t accept, or have a hard time seeing the other position on, even in anime, and often we don’t really know them until we trip all over them and find ourselves upset and angry at people over the internet. So, let’s try to have a little discussion about it, the questions here are really just to help kick things off, and I strongly urge for people to even share their thoughts in the form of a stream of consciousness as they explore these issues out loud.

  1. What are some of your own hot-button issues that have risen up in anime discussions? And yes, they’re probably issues that are hot-button for you elsewhere.

  2. What are hot-button issues you’ve seen other people truly get worked over? Can you relate the story of how it went down, and how you felt about it?

  3. What do you do when such an issue comes up, for yourself, or for another? How do you discuss it? Do you discuss it?

  4. What do you think of the position “No dude, I’m just here to have fun, don’t get worked up about it”? It might be a bit of a strawman, but you often see such an attitude trotted out, and even if you don’t, treat it as a hypothetical.

Anything else you want to say?

This discussion is very fitting for this specific community, but let’s all take a big breath and try not to antagonize/push and prod people too far here. Let’s make this a thread about airing our thoughts, and listening.

For the sake of your arguments, feel free to ask each other questions. Say how you truly feel/think. Do not adopt an adversarial position just because you disagree with someone’s stance/push to see just how far they think the way they do. This is already a topic where people are talking about stuff they find hard to discuss calmly.
And if you really must attack someone over what they share, perhaps start a new thread for the issue.

These are techniques I picked up in a forum I used to participate in. Couching something in terms of listening, and stories helps. You can disagree with people’s opinions, and think their justifications are flimsy, but it’s hard to argue with someone’s story. Furthermore, asking people to listen. Yes, people are going to air things you disagree with, and people are going to reveal themselves to be people of the sort you might not want to associate with, but people aren’t really going to share how they feel unless they feel safe to do so.

And even if they do share, you might need some basic trust for them to share the first time, to not get jumped over for expressing their feelings and thoughts, and certainly if you plan to do it again. This sort of discussion almost assumes you’re part of a community already, because it requires trust. You need people to actually be willing to listen to what the other has to say, you need people to want to understand the other.

But then there’s the issue we started with – these are “hot button issues”, which make us hot and bothered, and make us want to do something. Well, having a discussion is also doing something, and quite more likely to be fruitful than shouting at one another while neither side is actually willing to listen or concede the other side’s points. I asked and answered, “What do you do with these issues?” – Talk them out with others, being willing to listen? That might be a good place to start.

In case you are interested in seeing how the discussion framed above went, and what are issues other people brought up,  then please check this link, which also contains to several recent anime-related discussions on specific hot-button issues.

6 comments on “Discussing Hot-Button Topics.

  1. lifesongsoa says:

    The problem with trying to talk to people on the internet about “problematic issues” is that “What’s so wrong with that” is often a very valid response that needs to be taken seriously.

    I know that I personally find it infuriating when someone tries to reach me with their social justice while assuming that I don’t care about the same social issues they do. Interestingly enough I just finished an essay on sexism last night that I hope to post sometime tomorrow once I finish editing it.(provided my fellow bloggers let me post such a hot topic at all) I hope you will read it. My perspective is probably a bit different and I would like to hear your thoughts on the matter.

    My own hot button issues are generally the hot button issues of other people that put them in a state where they aren’t willing to listen to me and or be reasonable in general. You won’t see me get worked up about much on my own. Okay, that’s not entirely true, when I start talking about fiction and or freedom of expression I get pretty passionate. I am wary to call them hot button topics though… I am rarely angry even if someone does manage to drag me into a debate and I get aggressive, being aggressive in a debate is just my personality.

    In general I don’t participate in heated debates until I am sure of what I want to say. I usually just sit back and try to read between the lines for most heated debates. I can learn more that way, and can walk away if it gets too stupid.

  2. Artemis says:

    This may sound like a really boring and/or lazy position to take, but I honestly don’t have any ‘hot-button issues’ when it comes to online debate because I very rarely, if ever, engage in any of this type of debate online. I’m not referring to friendly arguments about why x anime is better than y anime and other general differences of opinions, which I don’t have an issue discussing – rather, I’m talking about those ‘seeing red’ kind of topics you write about here such as rape apologism in Valvrave the Liberator. There are things I do get pretty passionate or angry or worked up about while surfing the net of course – I’m not claiming to be some kind of zen master here – but I most often choose not to make myself an active part of them.

    The reason for this is because I now know from experience that, 9 times out of 10, I’ll still be just as worked up (if not more) by the time the argument is over, and that the only thing I would have accomplished is to have added fuel to the fire by putting in my own two cents that comparitively very few people will have cared about/listened to. I’ll admit here and now that I’m a lazy person in general, and it’s just not worth it to me to expend this kind of emotional energy when I know that I’m most likely to come out even angrier than I went in.

    Conversely, I’m much happier to have a debate about ‘red button issues’ in real life. I’ve found that people are, for the most part, far less likely to be dicks when they’re talking to someone face to face, and more open to genuinely listening to other points of view. And perhaps most importantly, misunderstandings seem less frequent as well, since you can actually see each others faces and hear tones of voice. Without these indicators to go by online, the potential to do things such as take comments out of context or fundamentally misunderstand what someone is saying is extremely high.

    I’m not suggesting that intense debate online never accomplishes anything or that it’s an inherently bad thing – simply that it’s very rarely worth it for me personally to engage in, and so by and large, I just don’t.

  3. froggykun says:

    I have to say I’m like Artemis in the sense that the things I read on the Internet don’t necessarily get me riled up to the point of arguing per se, but that said, I do have some private sore spots about certain anime.

    For example, when others point out the sexism/bigotry in certain anime that I love, I feel guilty. I can’t deny that harem and ecchi anime participate in a kind of toxic culture that objectifies women, and by liking them I feel as if I’m passively endorsing that culture. And if someone were to ever call me out on it, I wouldn’t have any rebuttal on it besides maybe saying “Aren’t you discriminatory for not accepting another person equally?” which is, on reflection, an incredibly hypocritical thing to say.

    I think these things should be discussed openly, but not everyone is willing to face that a part of themselves might be discriminatory or narrow-minded, and that’s where a lot of these angry debates spark. It’s hard, but I like what you’re doing. Let’s just hope more people listen.

    • lifesongsoa says:

      Isn’t blaming anime for sexism kind of like the woman who spilled coffee on herself and sued McDonalds because the coffee was hot? Ultimately we shouldn’t hold objects responsible for the things people do with them I think. You have every right to defend yourself against that kind of discrimination and I don’t find it hypocritical to call someone out on it at all.

      The mentality of -we must be losers because we like something that someone else says makes us bad people even though we actually aspire to be good people- bothers me greatly. I don’t understand why anyone would settle for that conclusion.

  4. Murazrai says:

    This article is a food of thought for me. Speaking of the aforementioned rape scene, my personal opinion is that while it is a completely unnecessary scene and there is no doubt that it is rape, it actually makes sense in-universe. The details of that is spoilerific, though.

    As for your question:

    I have yet to have one that warrant a hot button label as you have described, but internally, I find the way Pretty Rhythm Rainbow Live handles drama is basically shoehorning for the sake of it.
    I don’t have details for that. Sorry.
    I generally don’t involve myself in hot button topic discussions because I am very well aware that any slight mistake can be very problematic. I do think of them myself while reading what others think, though.
    They are free to do so themselves as long as they do not force that upon others. However, to me, this is a very shallow and unfulfilled way to enjoy anything, not just anime.

    Let’s just say that being civil, open minded and polite are always the golden rule for any discussion.

  5. […] remember Guy wrote a post a while back discussing “hot-button topics” – issues that people tend to get really heated over. The topic Guy focused on in […]

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