Ostensibly for anime critics; theoretically for everyone.
Let’s start with a quote:
Point me a scribe writes ’emotionless crit;’
All I shall see is a liar or halfwit.
Criticism inspired by passion is great; criticism informed by passion is a bit of a double-edged sword. My favorite anime bloggers are the ones who are entirely barefaced about the inclusion of emotion in their writing (see AJtheFourth’s tremendous post on Orange‘s sixth episode or illegenes’ wonderful One Piece post) or who have, through what I can only assume is witchcraft, melded frothing love with intellectual approaches (ghostlighting comes to mind). Personally, I think I fall somewhere in the middle—I struggle to articulate emotion at times and can wind up leaning into colder analytical prose. More on that later.
I thought about titling this post “Emotionalism vs. Criticism,” but that’s a false dichotomy. Emotionalism and criticism are not at war with each other; in fact, practically speaking the idea of separating them is impossible. To paraphrase Shakespeare, we cannot honestly separate our emotional reactions to the things we encounter from the ways in which we discuss them. Humans are emotional beings, and this goes doubly true in a media culture, community-created or otherwise, heavily reliant on emotional reactions. (see the proliferation of the term, “feels”).
So, to define terms:
- Emotionalism: when we watch things, we have emotions about them
- Criticism: we like to talk about things using intellectual terms
Perhaps the titular tension I’m proposing here is obvious already, but the risk we critics (and, really, anyone who talks about the stuff they watch) run is using our intellectually filtered criticism to justify our emotional realities, rather than to explain them. It’s a fine distinction, but the difference in what’s being said goes like so: “I felt this, therefore…” versus “I felt this, because…” And so now we’re into another binary, justification versus explanation. The former is, um, probably bad. I think. Or at least it leads quickly towards things like defensiveness and nastiness of rhetoric. The latter is illuminative in nature, both of the speaker and of the piece itself.
But the tendency is to justify while waving the flag of rational criticism, as if we can just shrug off our emotions and spit out arguments like robots. If you believe anime, not even robots are completely impartial.
I’m mentally referring back to my piece on dropping Re:ZERO at this point, recalling how many times I had to make double checks on where I was coming from when I made particular arguments. That piece probably falls somewhere in between justification and explanation, but I give myself points for at least being aware that I was trying to dissect a fundamentally emotional reaction and piece together the other parts of the haystack that the “last straw” fell on top of. This is typical of me, I feel.
All of this is doubly true with emotionally charged (or emotionally motivated!!) topics, posts, and tweets. It is comforting to wrap the vulnerability of having emotionally connected (and thus reacted) to something within the defenses of intellectually posited rationales. We critics have it especially tough because we’ve generally created an expectation of intellectualism for ourselves (campaigning again anti-intellectualism and all!). Poor critics (note: not-poor critics?), careerists of illusion-making. My theory about “feels” is that it is a popular term because it’s vague enough obscure vulnerability while still communicating a definitive experience. It’s symptomatic.
Anyways, the takeaway here is: don’t hide your emotionalism (you have it, get over it) behind the guise of criticism. You are not as rational as you’d like to be, and neither am I. Learn to acknowledge that your emotions are going to drive your impressions of things and beware of couching subjective emotional ideas within the confines of intellectual arguments. Anti-intellectualism is bad; emotionalism masquerading as rationality is worse. Probably. If you seek to justify your emotional reality, you may succeed, but you will have also have constructed the most fragile dollhouse possible for your feelings to live within. And then you will be angry when other people come to play in it, because they’ll probably start knocking on the walls.
That’s enough weird metaphors, let’s continue this in the comments if you’d like.