The Pitfalls of Politics in Criticism

I’m acquainted with several gamers and anime fans who’ve described themselves as “apolitical,” which I’ve taken to mean less that they don’t have an opinion on political issues, and more that they simply don’t wish to discuss politics. Honestly, I don’t blame them, especially when it comes to politics in the anime and games they consume.

There’s a clamour to remove “politics” from criticism and, honestly, I’d like to be in complete disagreement with it. Differences in political perspectives are a great jumping-off point for an engaging discussion. The reason I can’t completely disagree with this call is because anime and gaming critics have shown that they can’t be trusted to handle politics in their reviews and criticism responsibly.

What we see is that many critics will insert their political ideology into a work of criticism as though it is a generally-accepted statement, like saying the grass is green. No room is left for discussion, and if a reader attempts to have one, he or she is met with dismissal at best, and derision or outright hostility at worst. As a result, this kind of criticism holds little to no value to those who disagree with the critic politically.

If these points were brought up to encourage discussion, there would be no need to discourage dissent by shouting down people who disagree. Discussion thrives off of those who have differing perspectives. Otherwise, what results is a group of people agreeing with each other. Nobody gains perspective or learns anything.

Far too often, media criticism is used in a self-aggrandizing manner to promote the critic’s own political agenda. This gets even more heated when it comes to identity politics. Feminist viewpoints in media criticism are expected to go unquestioned and uncontested, and those who dare break that rule are shouted down. Worse is when someone criticizes a critic who happens to be a woman. Discussion and legitimate concerns be damned. No matter what the actual content of the criticism is, if someone criticizes a woman, it’s because she’s a woman.

This kind of attitude creates an environment where the dominant political leaning is allowed to lean as far as it wants to whichever side it falls on, and vilify anyone who leans even slightly to the other side, or simply looks as though they do. Left-leaning environments vilify those who appear to lean right, feminist-leaning environments vilify those with apparent MRA leanings, and so on. A constructive debate cannot be had because this kind of environment is enforced through the silencing and ostracism of those whose social and political leanings don’t fall in line with the prevailing ideology, and justified through the idea of creating a non-hostile environment for those who hold the prevailing ideology. Discussion be damned.

So, while straight-up calling for no “politics” in criticism is a bit overzealous, until politics in media criticism is no longer used to disseminate a critic’s political ideology while shouting down alternate perspectives that would result in actual discussion taking place, I’m on-board with the call. The way it is now, it’s an abuse of power. Critics should incorporate politics into criticism to encourage discussion, rather than push their perspective while stonewalling the perspectives of others.

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2 Replies to “The Pitfalls of Politics in Criticism”

  1. I think you may be approaching this a bit too idealistically. The very nature of politics doesn’t really facilitate the kind of open discussion you seek.

    Everyone huddles around in echo chambers, unwilling to leave their comfort zone and instead blindly firing mortar rounds at those distant fools who disagree with them. I think a part of that is just human nature.

    The realm of politics, especially as applied to the internet, need to change long before they can be reasonably integrated into criticism of art and media. As such in the current climate, politics have no place in that discussion.

    Not until the babies can learn to behave themselves.

    1. This is true. Politics have come to a point where, for the most part, the people most willing to talk about politics are the people least likely to listen to other viewpoints and, to a certain extent, this is a result of the kind of mentality I’m talking about. The opinion leaders have abused their power, opting to create environments where challenging the prevailing political viewpoint (As a matter of fact, the creation of environments with a prevailing political viewpoint could be seen as problematic) is verboten, rather than encouraging the people who look up to them to determine their own perspective.

      That being said, there are people out there whose goal is to gain perspective by taking on many differing viewpoints and sorting them out through discussion. Those are the people who should be bringing politics into media discussion because they’re most likely to handle it responsibly and make sure everyone willing to discuss the issues leaves the discussion enriched and satisfied by it.

      Take those people and empower them to become the new critics. This addresses the problem twofold. 1: It creates the environment where real discussion can take place, and 2: It exposes just how anti-discussion the current media criticism climate is, at least when it comes to anime and games.

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