How To End a Conversation


Icon-AnimeIcon-GamingMany will stand up and proclaim that declaring a work of art sexist, racist, homophobic, transphobic, etc. is a valid criticism of the work, and they’re correct.

Barely.

These are criticisms that, though appearing insightful and reasoned on the surface, have more to do with the critic’s personal inclinations, preferences, and sensibilities than with the work itself.

Writing, art style, animation, character design, music, and voice acting are all examples of qualities that can, to a certain extent, be quantified. That’s not to say that they can be assigned a concrete rating, but rather, in a critical setting, that they can be referenced back to the work and reinforced by the work.

Divergence EveI can, for example, say that the character designs in Divergence Eve clash with the story and themes present in the show. The massive, bouncing breasts on the characters don’t fit at all with the way the story is presented. The hard sci-fi world and the story about unknown extra-universal beasts terrorizing people doesn’t fit with character designs that look more like they belong in an ecchi series.

Armored Core 3Or, for example, I can say that the world portrayed in Armored Core 3 interacts with the story in a way that gives the player a sense of normalcy, despite the dystopian sci-fi world it’s set in and, as a result, when elements of that world begin to come apart at the seams, it’s legitimately strange and jarring to the player.

These are things that take perspective and reason to get a handle on and articulate. It’s one thing to watch Divergence Eve and feel that the character designs don’t work, but it’s another to be able to put that into words. One of the key differences between a raw opinion and criticism is that criticism implies perspective and uses the work being criticized as a reference for criticisms of the work. In addition, one of the primary roles of criticism is to facilitate discussion. Criticism serves as a jumping-off point for dialogue and discussion about art, whether that discussion is based in agreement or disagreement with the critic’s assertions.

When those assertions are based on personal or deeply subjective criteria, however, that role breaks down. When someone says a work is “sexist” or “racist,” it serves no purpose but to disseminate that individual’s own sensibilities. Saying a work is sexist, racist, objectifying, etc. has very little to do with the work itself and has almost everything to do with the individual criticizing the work.

It’s a way of stopping conversation. There’s no arguing with what amounts to “this work offends me,” because, in truth, it probably does offend the person saying that, and any attempt to discuss why certain elements of the work are the way they are, in an effort to being some kind of perspective into the conversation, results in stonewalling at best, and accusations of telling people not to be offended, at worst.

People have the right to be offended at whatever they find offensive. Everyone has their own life experiences and those factor into how they see the world around them, including works of art created by people. People have, however, fallen into the trap of believing that that means “this offends me” is a valid criticism. To a certain extent, this is one result of the cult of personality that criticism has become in anime and gaming. People value “Person X’s” perspective, or “Person Y’s” perspective, rather than valuing perspective.

Portraying finding a work offensive as a criticism of that work is narcissistic. It’s a conversation stopper that puts the critic and his or her sensibilities ahead of the work. It says that the work being criticized, the entire subject of the discussion, is less important than the personal hang-ups of one individual.

That’s not art criticism, that’s complaining. It’s okay to complain, but do not portray it as art criticism, because that’s not what it is.

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2 thoughts on “How To End a Conversation

  1. Well said. I would like to point out that said topics are not ones of universal agreement (ie not everyone agrees that the same things are sexist or racist) and perhaps the most important thing to remember in a review is that the person reading it is not the person writing it. In the end it is no better than simply saying a work is good or funny without discussing reasons.

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