On “Pandering”


M134OpinionIt’s no secret that I hate the word “pandering” as it’s used by the Anti-Moé Brigade. Further than that, however, it’s often a poor word to use in the way it’s used due to its meaning and connotation. The way it’s used makes it really easy to obfuscate one’s meaning, or to say something that one doesn’t mean, and that’s harmful.

At its core, to “pander” to a group means to appeal to that group by giving it things it wants. Any instance of the phrase “panders to” can be changed to “caters to” without the surface meaning changing at all. The word choice, however, is dictated by the underlying meaning. “Pander,” despite meaning the same as other terms, is an exclusively negative term. You never hear “pandering” being used to describe something positively. There are hidden words in the phrase “Show X panders to Demographic Y.” It’s “Show X panders to Demographic Y and I don’t like Demographic Y, so that’s bad,” or “Show X panders to Demographic Y but not my demographic, so that’s bad.”

It’s a meaningless word in the way it’s used. Any show appealing to the wrong fandom is “pandering,” but don’t you dare call the shows that appeal to the right fandom “pandering.” That’s because “pandering” entertainment is always bad, seeing as “pandering” is an exclusively negative term.

Let’s face facts, though: If a show has a lot of elements you like, presented in a way you like, then you’re likely to enjoy the show. This goes for everyone. Naturally, something that appeals to you and caters to your tastes is something you’re more likely to find quality in. On the other side of that, something that does things you don’t like and, by way of doing that, appeals to a section of fandom you don’t like, is something you’re more likely to dislike or find sub-par.

Words like “pandering” obfuscate the discussion. It’s easy to say “This show is pandering,” but, by itself, that doesn’t really mean anything. The connotation is negative, but there’s no reason given for why Show X pandering to Demographic Y is bad. It’s basically just saying “This show caters to a particular subset of fandom,” which is something nobody really needs to be told and anyone can find out on their own.

Again, there are words missing from those instances where “pandering” is used to negatively describe a show. It’s “pandering,” but why is that bad?

Who a show was designed to appeal to should never be an issue when we’re talking about whether a show’s good or bad. The only reason it ever is an issue is because we have a subset of people within the anime fandom who see appealing to the wrong subset of fandom as a negative quality of an anime, the same as having poor animation or a bad story. We lose focus when we start looking at external factors like who the show was made for, or whether or not the show was “designed to sell figures” when trying to judge quality. None of these details, in reality, dictate how good or bad a show is. The only place they do is in the heads of people who have an axe to grind with anime fans they don’t like.

“Is the anime good?”

That’s the only question.


Stay frosty.


8 thoughts on “On “Pandering””

  1. You’ve done an excellent job of summarizing every I despise about the term “Pandering”. It’s nothing more than an insult fans use on other fans for the supposed “crime” of liking something they don’t.

    I don’t get people who use external factors (like experience with fans for instance) to judge something. Judging a creative work on factors that have nothing to do with the work in it of itself comes of as very unfair to me.

    1. Judging works on factors outside of the work is remarkably unfair, and it seems like it’s a tactic that they use when they want to trash something, but can’t come up with legitimate negative points about it.

      In addition, it adds a layer of insularity to their criticism. Like, they’ll say “this show was designed to sell figures,” and all the people whose tastes align with theirs and who already agree with them will nod their heads understand that “that means it’s bad,” but people who are more inclined to like that kind of show are left wondering what’s so bad about selling figures. Stuff like that is the reason why a lot of people don’t take anime critics seriously.

  2. Hey its not my fault that I buy my anime legitimately and the industry “panders” to me. I mean how dare I get more Madoka or Nanoha because because I bought the show and figurines! See AMB, if you bought the shows you like and did it en masse you’d be “pandered” to as well. Remember folks, pandering is only bad because they don’t make the shows you like!

    AMB, you don’t back up your shit with actions and then complain that anime is “shrinking” in variety and only a subset of fans are being pandered. AMB, you are going to give a brain aneurysm!

  3. The thing with saying something is “pandering” is trying to give this impression that the artisans that work on anime want to create some social commentary in anime form but instead are forced into drawing moe girls. Except try thinking that all cogs in the machine want to work on making a moe show. It’s insulting to the artist when it’s thought they’d rather make one thing but instead being forced to work on something they do want to work on.

  4. I actually had this discussion recently with my father, specifically comparing the “Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter” novels with “High School DxD” (my father has been active in fantasy/sci-fi fandom for several decades, so this isn’t as odd a conversation as it might seem). By any definition you could throw out there, both are “pandering” to their audiences. Neither my father, nor myself, fit into the target demographic for either series. We are still capable of enjoying both, though.

    That’s the thing about the “pandering” term, as it gets used by certain critics. It implicitly suggests that nobody outside of that demographic *should* like it. It isn’t factually incorrect to say that these series are pandering…but I think it doesn’t really serve a purpose to say it. It’s lazy shorthand for “I’m not willing to evaluate this honestly because *I* think it is beneath me”. Even if the critic was to say something like “sexual stuff in a cartoon makes me uncomfortable, so I didn’t like it”, at least that would be honest. You could question why they are reviewing it, but at least it would be honest. Hiding behind the “pandering” argument is basically them hiding the true reason why they dislike it, probably because saying what they mean would sound dumb.

    Ultimately, what my dad and I determined was that the people that produced this material clearly wanted to do it that way, and, if you enjoy it, does it matter “who” it was made for?

  5. Your posts never fail to make me smile, Anubis. I have always despised how “pandering” is used, and I can get pretty angry when people use it. I used to feel guilty for liking shows that “pander” to me, but I am realizing more and more everyday that it’s not “pandering” that the Western fanbase is against. They just don’t like it when a show doesn’t cater to THEIR interests. As much as I’ll admit that I thoroughly enjoyed Cowboy Bebop and Redline, I won’t deny that they may have been created to appeal to a more Western audience.

    To me, whether a show was created to appeal to a certain demographic doesn’t matter. Whether the show itself is good or not is what truly matters. If that wasn’t true, then how do you explain the popularity of certain shows targeted towards children with some adults? Obviously those shows weren’t meant for them, but they still enjoy watching them. This is why I don’t believe that these people have a problem with shows being created to appeal to a target demographic. They just refuse to admit that they don’t like shows that put a huge emphasis on moe/fanservice.

  6. There’s really not much I can say except agree. In general, the word “pandering” in my mind just seems pretty stupid, mainly because it tries to find negativity where there isn’t any, and also because it’s mostly just unnecessary hostility. I think that instead of saying that the show is “pandering” to a certain demographic, these people should probably just say that they simply don’t like the show, without any animosity.

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