You know the feeling. You're hanging about, maybe chatting with your friends about the latest episode of Monster Musume, when your ears just barely pick up someone offering an opinion on something you like. They don't like it. You feel your blood start to heat up, suddenly you can't focus on the conversation you're having with your friends, and every cell in your body is commanding you to storm over to that poor ignorant bastard for the sake of defending the show he's so casually dismissed. Then you stop. You think for a moment. "That's just his opinion," you say to yourself. "No need to get so worked up about it. Sheesh, self. You almost became one of those people. Get a grip."
We know better than this, we really do. We know it's silly and stupid and dumb to get bent out of shape just because someone's opinion about something we like is different than ours. We've seen people rabidly defend one particular show to the point that it turns everyone within shouting distance into a mortal enemy of the very thing they're trying to promote. So we know better, but just knowing better doesn't mean that we can quit cold turkey the habit of snapping at anyone who offers anything like a valid critique of our favorite show. It's often an instinctive reaction, despite our better selves pleading with the hotheaded internet debater within all of us.
To some extent, I think we all understand why we do this and why we can't just let things go, even after trying to train ourselves to do so. Heaven knows I've worked on this a lot myself, and yet I still find myself wanting to bite as soon as a contrary opinion rears its ugly head.
In fact, it happened just yesterday. I was scrolling my way through Twitter, in a pretty good mood, and then suddenly I found myself clicking on someone's opinion on the recently-ended Gatchaman Crowds insight. Now, insight's been a fairly divisive show in my little corner of the anime fandom—although I've mostly stayed out of the debates due to lack of time and passion. However, when I saw those opinions yesterday, I found myself chomping at the bit, ready to go out and distribute divine justice. Fortunately, time inhibited me from making the poor decision to indulge my passing annoyance, but in my fuming I wandered into a sort of mental forest of pondering out why this poor soul could be so wrong about the show I figured was the best of the summer season.
The answer? Well, "different taste" is one, certainly—but it's also one I've been over ad naseaum time and time again. Then there's "people identifying themselves by their media choices," an option I've likewise seen discussed to the point of exhaustion. So, what's left? All we can do is go deeper, and I'm not just messing around with memes here. We all have different taste, it's true. And some of us struggle to seperate our identities from the things we like.
I think it has to do with ideologies.
To use a less fancy word, it's about beliefs, but I think "beliefs" are often things we carry without doing much with them, while "ideologies" are things that actually affect the way we act and react. We know what we believe, but understanding our own ideologies, the underlying ways we view the world that affect the way we relate to it, is much more difficult. And yes, I recognize that "ideologies" carries an unavoidably political tone to it—but that's fine, isn't it? After all, what are politics but the ways through which we negotiate our individual ideologies?
But getting back to anime and getting mad about someone's opinion on something you like. Or, perhaps it would be more correct to say "getting made about someone's opinion on something that's important to you." This is a meaningful distinction, I think, because I don't think we really get as upset over things we just like. For example, I like Kill Me Baby a lot. It's one of my all-time favorite anime. But when I see people criticizing Kill Me Baby for being unfunny or repetitive or whatever, it doesn't generate much of an emotional response from me. It's easy enough to just assume that the other person just doesn't have the same sense of humor that I do, even if I wish they did for the sake of sharing some laughs together.
However, when someone offers a measured critique of Gatchaman Crowds insight (or, god forbid, AKB0048), no matter how thoughtful or rational, I generally start to feel a bit...emotionally aggressive. There's something different about shows that are important to me, something that makes oppositional opinions sting far more than they otherwise would or should. In my case, I know it's not because I've built my identity around my media choices, so why is it still happenning?
If you take a look at the above graphic, you'll see an illustration of what's called Social Penetration Theory (if you want the details, the Wikipedia page is a solid start). The basic idea is that human relationships develop as we reveal more of ourselves to others. As you see, right in the middle of the concentric circles is one called "basic assumptions." In other words, those are our ideologies—the fundamental ways we assume the world works. And they dwell in a pretty deeply seated place in our overall identity as human beings. (I'll admit I hand-picked this graphic from a variety of choices, as it is the one that illustrates my point best.)
So, the final piece of the puzzle is that "things that are important to us" are most often things that relate to our ideologies and the ways in which we understand the world. Because Gatchaman Crowds insight seems to me an intuitive and sensible way to see the world (by way of agreeing with the way I see the world), substantive criticisms against it also appear as criticisms of the way I understand the world. I...don't like that very much. So, it makes sense that my emotional reaction would be a defensive, angry one. Because people taking shots at things representative of my personal ideologies have bypassed all those layers surrounding my "basic assumptions." It's the curse of finding things that are important to you.
What a pain, huh? Who would have thought that simply liking things because they match up with the way you see the world would make you susceptible to the annoyance of feeling unhappy when people have Opinions on things you care about? But that's alright. I think it's still good and important to like things. And I think understanding, even a little bit more (hopefully this post has been helpful in that regard), what it is about ourselves that causes us to react the way we do allows us to take a few steps to understanding why others react the way they do.
The cool thing is that this doesn't just apply to anime! The same thing happens elsewhere in our lives—whether it be about books, movies, TV shows, or music. And if we can recognize why things mean something to us, we'll be better equipped to handle the situation of other people's conflicting ideologies a little bit better.
Isaac eases his compulsive need to write about anime on his blog, Mage in a Barrel. He also contributes to the Fandom Post and hangs out on Tumblr. You can follow him on Twitter at @iblessall or on Facebook.