Anti-intellectual sentiments are rife in popular media today. Many people have a strong aversion to discussing the media we enjoy in a critical light. If you want to talk about obscure or indie shows, you’re being pretentious. If you want to thoroughly analyze the subtext of a work, you’re accused of looking too deep into it. God help you if want to actually talk about representation and social justice in the anime you enjoy; you’ll be branded as one of the accursed SJWs.
Point being, I know there is a lot of hostility out there. I’ve dealt with no shortage of angry morons who mistakenly believe that incessant whining will change my opinions somehow. Who get suspiciously defensive when you talk about controversial topics in anime. Or who hate it when their observations of a show are challenged by others.
Personally, I get a kick out of listening or reading other people’s analysis. I love lengthy video essays that dig into anime topics, even when they challenge my own beliefs. Yes, a video like LadyIneia’s analysis of sexism in My Hero Academia stings because I love that show, but that actually inspires me. It makes me want to contrast these different opinions against my own passion for this series.
Idiots may be plentiful, but so are the people who relish opportunities to analyze media and think about their deeper meanings. People who love seeking out deep shows like Legend of the Galactic Heroes, Neon Genesis Evangelion, Penguindrum, Revolutionary Girl Utena, or Serial Experiments Lain. Shows that risk dragging viewers into rabbit holes of fan analyses that go back years. Or people who take on more mainstream anime, to discuss the hidden depths tucked away beneath their accessible layers.
Yet, a fondness for viewing anime through an analytical lens carries risks of its own. Just like how anti-intellectualism kills conversations by refusing any critical thinking towards media, so too has an obsession with intellectualism its own pitfalls.
The most common example I noticed is people presuming that there may only be a single answer to any question. When we have enjoyed one of these refined anime and deliberated on their meaning, it can be tempting to presume that our interpretations are the right conclusions. Especially if those ideas are collaborated by a community of others. A community perhaps revolving around an influencer, like a popular YouTuber.
Where some would hear a differing opinion and contrast it against their own—perhaps adjusting their understanding of the topic based on this new viewpoint—there are those who defend theirs and only their interpretation. Any who don’t understand the anime in that same way must be misinterpreting the series somehow.
This is just as narrow-minded as anti-intellectualism. There is very rarely a singular way to look at a work of art. Even when an author outright states every single meaning, wily intellectuals toss out “death of the author” and raise their own ideas anyway. This is important, because people from different origins can look at a work through a wholly different lens. Collecting all these different views in one definitive opinion is impossible. Yet, it’s important that we endeavor to keep listening and learning from them anyway.
Imagine how many different interpretations there might be about a deeply divisive anime like Legends of the Galactic Heroes. You could analyze that show for months and still not have the final answer on the morality of its characters or the ideal political systems for its world. Nobody has the definitive answers, and LoGH is far from the only series like that.
Even more blatant is the presumption that anyone who doesn’t like an anime must’ve failed to understand it properly. It discredits the possibility that a show may just not resonate with literally everyone, by putting the blame for that on the viewer themselves. They must be missing the symbolism, they must be biased against my anime, they must be bigoted.
To this day, the most hilarious criticism I have received are insinuations that I must have a “shounen bias”. Or accusations that I must be incapable of emotions. To some, it’s impossible to conceive that anyone might have seen a show, picked up on its deeper meanings, and still didn’t like it. It’s deep, so it must therefore automatically be good! If you didn’t like it, then you must be dumb, or a sociopath. Go watch your braindead shounen anime, you psycho!
It’s petty and, honestly, self-defeating. If you dismiss anyone who is critical of a show, other them for liking the wrong anime, or get upset when your interpretation of the symbolism is challenged, that’s just a smarmier alternative to anti-intellectualism. It shows a similar dismissive attitude towards the opinions of others and an unwillingness to risk having to adjust one’s existing opinions.
Those are some harsh words, I realize. And I am at least a little angry. When idiots come to this website and post hateful comments, that doesn’t bother me. Depending on their usage of slurs, I literally won’t even notice before my spam filter instantly casts their “feedback” into the shadow realm. We can all laugh at their narrow-mindedness; their refusal to accept any critical engagement with any anime whatsoever.
It makes me sad, then, when I see smart, passionate people be just as narrow-minded. When I am accused of not understanding a show just because I didn’t like it. When Twitter users argue over what boxes I can be fit into so that my opinions can be freely dismissed. Or when people post a snippy comment disagreeing with me, only to then refuse any attempt of mine to have a productive conversation about it.
You can’t beat anti-intellectualism by mimicking its methods. If we want to discuss anime on a deeper level and inspire others to do so as well, then its pivotal that we are also critical of our own opinions. If you ever disagree with anything I write, let me know. I’d be glad to have a chat about it.