The Death of Discourse

It was impossible to get a conversation going, everybody was talking too much. Yogi Berra (1).png

It may surprise many of you, but I’m not a very young fangirl. I’ve been a fan for many years. I was one of the many old fanfiction girls of Quizilla (RIP) and one of the pillars of the old deviantArt community (RIP). But in coming from a fan community that was young and burgeoning, I’ve noticed one thing in my years: recently, discourse has died.

Now, this is a very fangirly post. Probably my most fangirly post. And there’s gonna be a lot (A LOT) of fandom and fan terms used and I will try to explain them as I use them if you don’t know what they mean. And if you have any questions, please please please feel free to ask me!

So one of the things I have always loved and treasured about being an otaku and fangirl was conversation. I loved being able to sit and talk theories, and discuss OTPs (one true pairings) and headcanons (the main canon and pairings you feel about) and even just canons (what is canonical [true] to the work). We spent hour upon hour in forums, chat rooms, email, IM chats talking about how we felt and our opinions and the latest on the last episode or the most recent fan sub.

But most importantly, we had discussions. You see, my dear readership, there’s been a plague in the recent world of fan communities: a lack of conversation.

Now, here’s where things get personal. Really personal and these are my opinions. You are welcome to disagree with me: I welcome it.

I’m from an older generation of fangirl. A bygone era of shipping manifestos (a ship as in a relationship and a shipping manifesto [please see this awesome example from one of my favorite Tumblr artists ( more of his work here)]) and rabid discussions about who was canon and who wasn’t canon. How things transpired and what was all hogwash and tomfoolery. I love shipping manifestos for a very simple reason: even if I don’t agree, I have to recognize that someone put a lot of effort into rationalizing and using facts and research to explain their case. If someone is willing to prove with facts the strength of their case, I have to respect them: even if I don’t feel the same way. And if anything, that just made me love my fandoms even more.

Here’s also a good point to tell you that as I say I came into the early Internet, I’m also a golden age fangirl in both comics and anime. This period is about from the late 90s to the mid 2000s (depending on who you talk to) so some of my favorite comic books, anime and properties are from that era including but not limited to:

Fullmetal Alchemist

InuYasha

Cowboy Bebop

Lupin III

Harry Potter

X-Men

Batman: The Animated Series

Case Closed

Death Note

Neon Genesis Evangelion

Trigun

Code Geass

Bleach

Naruto

One Piece

Sailor Moon

Justice League: The Animated Series

(I’m gonna stop listing now because this could go on for like literally ever and there’s an okay list here)

There’s actually another post written into this about the “burden of greatness” that’s been briefly discussed with me and a few friends about dealing with such AMAZING representations of popular media, but that’s a topic for another day.

Now, let’s fast-forward a bit to late 2000s. Lots of new anime are out, lots of new comic properties and lots of new social networking websites but one thing was suddenly missing: conversation. With shows Soul Eater, Sword Art Online, Attack on Titan and Keikaishi suddenly, any comment against the “greatness” of these series was seen as a direct attack.

I’ve said plenty of times that I really dislike Attack on TitanI find it shallow, poorly drawn and a discount Neon Genesis Evangelion but say that to a fan of the show and they’ll make it sound like that was the first, the first, series to ever do what it’s trying to do and commenting to the contrary was a personal attack on their character and humanity and must be squashed like so many humans under poorly animated Titan feet. But it’s not the first series to do that. Shoot, Evangelion isn’t the first show to do what it did: but I will argue that it’s one of the best in creating actual fear and paranoia around a vague yet menacing creature of questionable origin. But what I never could expect the lack of conversation around it. My criticism was met with violent reaction, unmatched hostility and a lot of negative comments. My mantra when it comes to criticism is to always have a reason. I try to sit through three episodes of just about anything and if I’m not sold by episode 3, I abandon the series and admit that it wasn’t for me. If I’m going to comment, I’m going to do so with some knowledge of what I’m talking about.

And I’ve come to notice this trend with a few things: I’m also one of the first people to say that Frozen is a tiny bit overrated (very overrated) and the backlash, oh the backlash. It didn’t matter that I had seen the film and had legitimate criticisms of it, what mattered was that my opinion didn’t match the overwhelming hegemony saying that the movie was literally the best thing ever.

I have had people stop talking to me because my opinion doesn’t match theirs about an anime or a TV show. Now, I really want you to sit and think about that. I am a lifelong otaku. I am a dedicated fangirl, cosplayer and panelist but at the end of the day there is no cartoon from the US or Japan that is stopping me from talking to real human beings about real things and the fact that actual friendships have been ended over what basically amounts to an animated cash grab is the most disappointing aspect of this whole “death of discourse” issue.

It comes down to the idea that to be friends or fans, you must unilaterally agree and that just isn’t true. I have plenty of friends that I share wildly different opinions from. It’s one of the reasons I love talking to my friends. We can have different headcanons, like different properties. Discuss the differences that we saw even in the same series. Talk about voice actors, subs vs. dubs, anime vs. manga and our conversations are so much richer for our differences. How very boring it would be to have friends that all saw things the exact same way I did and even more so, I love being able to view another person’s passion. I love being able to see my friends show me their love of the series and sometimes, just sometimes, even change my mind. And that does bring up a good point, just because I don’t like something doesn’t mean I’m not respectful as long as that same respect is afforded to me. I’m very aware that my tastes in anime and manga and lots of things can lean towards being a little obscure, a little hipster and a little rigid but again: conversation does not have to mean overwhelming support.

So what killed discourse? Echo chambers.

Online it’s very easy to find people who only mimic your voice and don’t challenge it. Tumblr is probably one of the biggest offenders of the echo chamber model but there are others, rest assured, it’s so easy to tune out any opposition and use the strength of the masses to overwhelm any dissenters. How sad is that? I’ve mentioned many times that overwhelming response can take something from ambivalence to anger. When it’s impossible to have any opinion due to the herds of fans that keep any criticism, even valid ones, out to continue to promote the greatness of the work from within.

I think it’s tragic to see conversation die. The early Internet had its problems, but we had community and conversation and if you know me, you know that I welcome conversation. I love it. So if you’d like to start one, I’d love to hear it.

In the next post, we’ll discuss being critical, a cynic and why criticism still matters.