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.

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