Media and Social Commentary – The Shows and the Fans

The following two answers had been given on I sometimes answer questions off of the blog and I think they’d make for good pieces. Specifically here, as following my almost infamous piece on how Mahouka Koukou no Rettousei is an “Ode to Meritocracy” I was asked or accused of condemning fans of the show for liking it. So I think this answer will be useful. The second question looks at a specific example of a show and whether it has subtext, and what it means if it does.

Do you think that, when making an evaluation of a piece of media, you are also (at least in part) making some statement about those people who enjoy that piece of media? e.g. thinking that Mahouka promotes a toxic message – does that mean you made a negative evaluation of it’s fans, on some level? Maybe sometimes somewhat?

Look. We are what we consume. Sometimes we realize what it is and ignore it. Sometimes we realize what it is and embrace it. Sometimes we don’t realize what it is and we’re affected to varying degrees.

Akame ga Kill! anime teaches bad morals

Let’s say an anime comes out that promotes, as actual text, subjugating all the non-whites there are, and that Hitler was right, just as a hypothetical. Let’s say I make the judgment that the show’s message is toxic. Let’s say you enjoy said show.

Do you enjoy it for explosions, or for the romantic sub-plot, or for narrative structure? Cool beans. I’d still like to raise the things I find troubling with the show, but I won’t trot them out into discussions centered around these particular things that do not involve the show’s message.

Let’s say you like the show FOR those messages? Yes, I think that says you’re pretty terrible. But that’s because you support a message I find toxic. I think you’d be a terrible person even if you hated the show, but supported said messages. Most people don’t really fall here, they like the show, as is, and don’t really consider why – it’s entertainment to them. I’m raising my issues with it, and some of the insidious reasons it might feed into their egos which they would do well to consider. I raise it up, what they do with it is up to them. The judgment here is of the messages, not of the show, or the people who watch it per se.

Now, let’s look at another example. People watching actions with dumb action, or physical gags. When I say a show relies on physical gags, or has beautiful action but a lack of actual dramatic tension, I’m saying things about the people who like it – I’m saying they enjoy that sort of thing. I might also say I personally don’t care for these things, but there’s no claim for “objective worth” here. That’s actually one of the reasons people read reviews – if I describe a show for having these things, even if I say I dislike it, you know you do like them, so you’ll watch it for the very same reason.

That’s pretty trivial, but that’s the biggest actual part of what you’ve asked. I certainly make an evaluation on people who like things when I evaluate it, such as pointing out some of the things they might like it for.

Also, about cases of rabid fans such as in Mahouka’s case – the most rabid fans, on whom the criticism is often the most applicable, and even if not, fans that are fanatic in a toxic manner are those who go out of their way to bash anyone who says the show isn’t perfect. And that’s the final part of it – when you identify a 1:1 correlation between a show and yourself, you interpret anything said of the show as if it’s said of yourself. You’re the one who is arguing the show’s messages are your own, and reject the ability to criticize it without criticizing yourself. And then, you’re toxic quite often, regardless of the messages of the show, when interacting with other people.

Do you think there is any social commentary in Akame ga kill?

Yes, no, yes. I’ll explain.

First of all, there’s social commentary in basically every piece of media. Whenever something is presented as “normal”, it’s often steeped with social commentary. There’s no escaping it. It might not be “commentary” as the author trying to actually make a point about anything, but it’s there as “this is our world.”

Akame ga Kill! anime on humans

Then there’s also the “No”, since it’s a fictional world, much of the commentary that is intended, or steeped in, might not be applicable to our world, or is not intended as applicable. And sometimes it’s in-between. Star Trek and especially Deep Space 9 definitely have social commentary on racism, religion, and inclusion, and do so by allegories. But in some works, sometimes, things are ridiculous and don’t really make a point.

Akame ga Kill probably had a bit of everything. The “Women like shopping” bit is on one hand a manga gag, but it’s a sort of “acceptable gag”, which is the sort of social commentary one is so steeped in that they don’t even think of it as one.

“All killers are in truth justice fighters” is probably one that one shouldn’t take so seriously.

Money corrupts, and the rich and the powerful suck the poor dry seems like an almost intentional social commentary. Is it about our world, about the Roman empire the tale seems to somewhat touch on as a historical inspiration, or about all rich people?

Questions: 1) Do you think media contains social commentary? 2) Do you think media should be judged for its messages? 3) Are the fans judged when you judge their media? 4) Should fans feel judged when the media they like is deemed as problematic or harmful? 

One comment on “Media and Social Commentary – The Shows and the Fans

  1. Falconhaxx says:

    1) Do you think media contains social commentary?

    Yes, but not always. In some cases, mostly works that take place in modern times or even the present, it’s limited to “social summary”, i.e. telling the audience what the present world is like, but I would still call that social commentary, because world views differ. And then again, there are examples of shows that have definite social commentary. In anime specifically, shows like Eden of the East are full of social commentary. One could of course say “Oh, it’s just commenting on a world that happens to be similar to ours, it’s not actually talking about our world”, but in my opinion, that would be too coincidental.

    2) Do you think media should be judged for its messages?

    To some extent, yes, but care should be taken to differentiate between the message and its author. If, for instance, a book contains racist messages, should we automatically assume the author is racist? In my opinion, no, but we should judge the book for possibly trying to influence its readers, and maybe we should ask the author why he thought it was a good idea to put racist messages in his book. A better example would be the opposite case: A book that contains messages about peace, love, friendship, etc. In this case, should we praise the author for these messages? Not necessarily, because there’s no guarantee that the messages are sincere, and even if they were, what’s the difference? Insincere in intent or not, a message is a message, and we should judge the piece of media, not its author. That is my opinion.

    I know that’s not exactly what you were asking, but I think it’s important to make this distinction.

    3) Are the fans judged when you judge their media?

    Well, they certainly feel judged, at least based on some comments I’ve read. I think this comes down to what you were talking about when you mentioned people who identify 1:1 with the show. For instance, if I mention that a show promotes a “bad idea” and someone who identifies with the show completely actually has good real life experiences regarding that “bad idea”, I understand why they might feel frustrated or even angry. However, I think this is a good thing, because if the fan responds to me and tells me I’m wrong, we both have the potential to learn that different people may experience this “bad idea” differently.

    But no, even in this case, the fan is not judged. I’m judging the show, the fan is judging the show differently, our judgements clash. That is all. Drawing the connection that constitutes a personal attack is, in my opinion, entirely up to either party. It’s not automatic.

    4) Should fans feel judged when the media they like is deemed as problematic or harmful?

    No and yes. I don’t think any piece of media is 100% harmful, so there is no guarantee that a person who likes the piece of media is actually harmed or problematic in any way. And, of course, there are multiple ways of enjoying media(some people enjoy being horrified or disgusted), so I don’t see any automatic issues with enjoying something that is deemed problematic or harmful. In addition, I also think the people who actually do the judging of the piece of media should take care to differentiate between the piece of media and the audience. Is it really wrong to enjoy something harmful if you don’t act on it? I’m actually not sure about this myself.

    On the other hand, I do think that when a piece of media can be shown to be “problematic or harmful”, it spawns a situation where the viewer, if they enjoy the piece of media anyway, should maybe evaluate why exactly they like the piece of media. Normally, I’m a proponent of the idea that if you like something you don’t really have to prove anything to anyone, but in this case, I think that it’s useful to do a bit of thinking. I think that most situations where a person reads a work of fiction and then does something stupid because they “were inspired” can be avoided by thinking about it and perhaps applying common sense(if applicable). Of course, this only applies to adults. If a show that is aimed at children is deemed to be harmful, that’s a completely different story.

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