Why Do Critics Hate Popular Shows?

Management: This one should obviously go without saying, but it comes up so often in response to criticism that I figured I might as well give a more full response. A couple thoughts that I’d rather just link than constantly paraphrase.

Question:

Why are critics so against shows that are popular? Just because perfectly good shows likes SAO or Titan become popular, they have to pull at the seams and attack them? It seems mean-spirited and pointlessly non-conformist to put down shows just to look “critical.”

Bobduh:

My short answer here is “Holy strawmen, Batman!”

My long answer is…

Yeah, it’s still a strawman. You’re assuming people who don’t like things you like are somehow lying, when in fact they probably just don’t like what you like. People just really do have very different opinions. And yes, there are people who get their kicks out of going into threads for shows and saying “this show was crap, you’re all stupid for liking it” – but A. Those people are the exception when it comes to contrary opinions, and B. So? Ignore them. They’re acting like children. If the only way they can find satisfaction is by deliberately seeking out people who enjoy things so they can bring them down, then wow, that’s really, really sad for them. Don’t let it spoil your fun.

But also don’t let it make you assume that’s the default reason someone doesn’t like a popular show. You use examples of shows like Attack on Titan (which I actually reviewed) or SAO and say “despite being very good, these shows are attacked by critics to make themselves feel smart.” That is a tremendous assumption there – by saying “despite being very good,” you’re basically doing the reverse of what those critics do, and saying “I think these shows have many merits, therefore anyone who doesn’t think so must be lying to look smart” instead of “I think these shows are terrible, therefore anyone who likes them must be stupid.” These are both personal opinions being cast as universal indictments of how other people appreciate media, and they’re both a problem. And in fact, it’s the “you shouldn’t badmouth shows” point of view that scares me more – going into threads of show-love and saying everyone is stupid is one thing, but simply saying “I think this show was bad, and here are my reasons why” in a normal discussion? Denying that sounds like denying the very idea discussion and critical dialogue should be applied to shows, which is just straight-up anti-intellectualism. Everything should be up for discussion and spirited debate – and in fact, these debates often comprise a substantial part of someone’s enjoyment of a show.

Someone can dislike popular things and still be passionate about the medium – hell, oftentimes people’s dissatisfaction with a popular show comes about because they had high hopes in the first place, or because they think it would be really good if only it changed this or this. And that can actually lead to compelling conversations with people who do like the show, as long as both people are willing to set their feelings on the show aside from their identity or feelings about the other person. Which is one of the biggest problems here – people perceiving an attack on something they love as an attack on them personally. And yes, when it comes to the trolls, they really do combine the two. But assuming a person who dislikes something you like is just trying to look smart is just as bad as assuming someone’s stupid for liking something, and meaningful conversations require more mutual respect than that.

Watamote

Pictured: Anime Criticism

24 thoughts on “Why Do Critics Hate Popular Shows?

  1. Because it’s the natural course of any popular product in the medium. Why? Because people voice their opinion just to prove they are right. Why? Because those type of people believe they are smart. Why? Because those types of people want to see others struggle. Why? Some people just love to see the world burn.

    Two days ago I happened to express my dislike of Little Busters! (The animation). I need to make this clear, the ANIMATION. I haven’t played the VN. That said, I think my points of disliking it were really clear:

    Little Busters! storytelling and drama is horrible, or at the very least, just not my cup of tea. Little Busters! voice acting is horrible. I couldn’t connect with any of the characters, etc etc. Overall, I don’t think I was attacking anyone, I was simply expressing my dislike. People didn’t like it, but that’s not really my problem. I DON’T mind enjoying a discussion. I love anime and manga mediums, they have their flaws and I fully recognize them. But going out to attack me personally? Well… I’ll be damned

    I think what scares me the most is the people who try to control your every action in the internet. If you don’t play along, here comes the mockery. This is to be expected in anime and manga communities because the people there aren’t mature, in the sense of accepting others people thoughts.

    The same goes to people who loves comics and hate anime. They come with the most absurd arguments, just mention something about a beloved issue and you have done it, endless yapping about mediums.

    just my 2cents

    • I obviously agree that internet opinions shouldn’t be actively regulated or anything, but I think a lot of this comes down to the issue of mutual respect, and framing your thoughts in a way that promotes discussion, not defensiveness. Which is not the same thing as “curb your opinions” – it’s more that the other route is pretty much destined to be unproductive. It is incredibly easy to trip many people into defensiveness mode, so if someone’s looking to engage, I’d say the burden is on them to be as evenhanded as possible for purely practical reasons.

      Granted, a lot of times this won’t work. When it comes to people who actively distrust your opinions or disagree without actually engaging, there’s not going to be any middle ground there.

      • I think it all comes down to fear. I believe that most of those who retort have this insane belief that the series or manga/book they like is perfect, when they see others badmouthing the series they like it creates this little storm in a cup of tea and the struggle begins.

        I don’t often engage in series discussions. Like you said, it’s pretty unproductive because we are just discussing our tastes, rather than the series itself indirectly. When I see the behavior of people getting frustrated seeing others liking what they don’t like I always wonder “why does it matter to you?”. It seems that for the person struggling (also known as the offender) requires that the person expressing their delightful experience (also known as the victim) reach his/her standards.

        As for me I just spend my time within the wordpress blogsphere. So I just participate on various articles making impressions and try to add my thoughts without imposing it as a fact.

        • My original post only really addresses one particular strain of misrepresentation – as you say here, there’s a lot more to it than that. On the show-lover side, there’s the tendency to personally identify yourself with the things you love. This might naturally lead you to forums, where you’re participating in order to gain acknowledgment from other people who have also identified with these shows. When someone then questions the worth of their show, it can come across like that person questioning their actual identity – and the most convenient response to that can be to just pretend the other person is lying to make themselves feel powerful, in order to avoid possibly damaging this show connection they find valuable through real debate.

          On the other side, yeah, people definitely attack shows and the people who love them for plenty of silly, selfish reasons. It’s an easy power play, and can make you feel like part of a more exclusive crowd. Since taste is something virtually impossible to give a hard definition to or meaningfully evaluate, it’s ironically one of the EASIEST things to simply SAY you’re very good at, providing you with a sense of mastery and worth in a safe place where people can’t directly prove you wrong.

          On both sides, this is entirely about the person holding the opinion, and has very little to do with the show itself. When you’re using shows as a crutch to hold up your identity, bad things will happen.

  2. It’s simple: critics don’t hate, they criticize. They criticize everything, if they’re doing their “jobs”. They will be negative, they will be positive. They will likely be more negative because it’s easier to describe something by its flaws than by its strengths… doubly so for something aiming to be “popular”.

    Why? Because anything aiming to be popular has to aim for average – that’s where popular lives. And it’s terribly hard to be positive about something that’s average, because it’s TRYING to not stand out. That means a critic will have a tougher time finding things to praise that aren’t the same thing they’d say for every OTHER aiming-to-be-average anime.

    That’s also why “different” anime often appear to get more praise. It’s because those anime are trying to stand out in a good way, and critics have something obvious to praise. It’s liberating, especially when your job is to criticize things that mostly aim to be average. Not being cynical in that environment is difficult.

    • It’s true, many shows do just aim to be what sells (although you could easily argue this is because the creators are ALSO fans of what sells, though this less-cynical view doesn’t actually make the product any better). I feel this can get even trickier to criticize when popular shows aren’t popular because they’re “average,” they’re popular because they satisfy certain audience fantasies that actually make many critics think LESS of them – they’re pure power fantasies, they’re utterly peaceful escapism, etc. People just go to media to fulfill too many desires for criticism to be a one-size-fits-all kind of thing.

      I actually wrote another post about trying to deal with this problem here:

      http://wrongeverytime.com/2013/07/09/media-goals-and-critical-evaluation/

  3. I sort of feel that you used the poorly designed question as an excuse to avoid addressing a phenomenon that does exist, even if it is more of a numbers game than anything else. Which is not to say that your commentary is ill conceived or untimely (it is neither).

    There are two factors at work here: exposure and hype, and they both contribute to the impression that popular works, almost entirely regardless of medium, are punching bags for critics.

    When considering the notion of popularity it is important to remember that small communities based around common interests are sociologically protective. They prioritize approval of new members (or ideas) over group growth. In other words, fandoms stake claims to cultural memes and become increasingly unwilling to acknowledge the contributions or opinions of outsiders. When a popular work exposes large numbers of uninitiated individuals to the claimed memes, it isn’t uncommon for the fandom, or rather, its most vocal critics, to lash out at both the perceived ‘Johnny-come-latelies’ and at the work that created them.

    A good example might be the HBO adaptation of the Song of Ice and Fire. The watching community quickly split into readers and non-readers, with the readers criticizing both the non-readers for not immersing themselves more fully in the story, and the TV show for not being faithful to the books. Like Bobduh, I’m not implying that these people are stupid or that they are unnecessarily vindictive, just that there are sociological constructs that encourage these types of behavior. Critics can gain standing within their fandom-community by ‘defending’ the claim of the fandom. Interestingly, this would make the act of panning a popular show an act of conformism, rather than nonconformism.

    The other factor that acts against popular works of art is hype. As a piece grows in popularity, it inevitably becomes the subject of growing word-of-mouth praise that we have come to term hype. “Art X will change the way you feel about Genre Y,” and so on. When new audiences experience a hyped-up piece, they experience it through the lens of recommendations, previews and praise, which act to raise expectations. Eventually, the hype will rise above the quality of the product and new audiences will begin to be disappointed by the experience.

    A common example is the Mona Lisa. While the painting is one of the most recognizable in the world, and one of the most important to the body of Renaissance art history, the actual experience of the painting hanging in the Louvre is generally described as disappointing or underwhelming. Criticism, as a field, tends to be though of as more objective than it actually is. Realistically, a critic is just a viewer who has chosen to write about their experiences. And those experiences are necessarily impacted by things like preconceptions, body of experience, and hype.

    Now, these factors don’t always lead to negative reviews of popular art, but they can contribute to a perception that critics always oppose popularity. Of course, that perception is also built on the fan’s desire to protect their viewpoints and the accompanying desire to proselytize for those viewpoints. Which brings us back to the points Bobduh was making in his final paragraph and the almighty clusterf**k that is the fundamental attribution error.

    • Solid points – this issue is obviously far more complex than my short response implied, since I was intending more to counter what I feel is a particularly poisonous line of discourse-dismissing. As you say, both in-group defensiveness and hype backlash can color the tenor of our reactions to works, making honest reflections more of a reaction to social circumstances than they otherwise would be (beyond the fact that our reactions to art are so bedded in specific personal circumstances anyway). Toss in identity politics and the fundamental attribution error and it’s kind of a wonder people can have productive conversations about art at all. Which is why I try to stick to a point as fundamental as “don’t inherently distrust others’ perception of art.”

  4. Plenty of possibilities
    i) They want to seem unique through the illusion of being smarter/deeper/skilled in subject matter/etc

    ii) They are looking for something the show is not going to give them (eg logic in Gurren Lagaan, character depth in Freezing, etc)

    iii) They are offended by the subject matter (eg Tezuka Osamu no Buddha by monotheistic fundamentalists, etc). Extra hate when the ending does a switch into said subject matter right at the end to create a sense of being tricked (eg Oreimo)

    iv) They cannot understand the show and have to get explanations which offends their sense of supremacy (eg Gatachaman Crowds). As the show’s points would be explained by others, the pivot of the hate will switch to something else like pacing, animation style, not making something easily understandably, etc rather than plot points

    v) The show makes a planned dramatic turn which makes the points of hate against the show fall apart but no one like to look dumb and incompetent so they become entrenched into their initial position (eg Madoka Magica)

    vi) The show is based off something else likely in a different medium and the parent inspiration is held up as the unacheivable standard of perfection, extra points if its “filler” that never existed in the parent medium (eg Bleach). Super extra points if the person is told that the “filler” was actually done under the direction of the original author later.

    vii) The show upon some thinking, caters to a group that the person hates being identified with (eg Swordart Online, etc). Thus to reject the group means to reject the show regardless.

    viii) The show uses common situations that exists within other shows. The rejection is thus because its the “same old, same old”. This carries connotations of point i) and creates an instant dislike because something is not “unique”. Extra points if the person is reminded that an number of anime that person applauded also used a mix of the same story plots

    Basically, there are many reasons including the rarest of all, an objective view of an anime’s good and bad points. Of course, those defenders of specific anime also have a number of reasons, which also fall similarly into the above points though in some cases, reversed.

    • It seems like a lot of these follow the same thread – using a show only to confirm a preexisting set of biases. Which is ultimately another way of avoiding meaningful engagement, which is a big part of what my initial post is worried about (well, that and reducing people to easily-dismissed boogeymen). I’d argue against too quickly assigning one of these labels to someone, though – if discussion makes it obvious, discussion will make it obvious (and in my experience discussion pretty much always makes it obvious one way or the other).

      These various reasons for dismissal certainly do come up though (hell, I’ve seen comments about Madoka that embodied i, ii, iv, v, vii, and viii all at the same time), and I’ve actually talked about a number of them in the past. If you’re interested, here are a couple pieces with my take on ii, iv, and viii:

      http://wrongeverytime.com/2013/07/06/what-defines-a-work-as-mature/

      http://wrongeverytime.com/2013/07/09/media-goals-and-critical-evaluation/

  5. Speaking just for myself, I know that the more I like something, the higher my standards (eventually) tend to become. For example, I adore both anime and the fantasy genre as a whole, yet I have comparatively few fantasy titles on my top [insert number here] anime list, in all likelihood because I’m usually much more critical of fantasy anime in general. I can also definitively say that over the years, I’ve grown more and more discerning about what I spend my time watching, even though my love for anime has only continued to grow. It makes no difference how popular an anime is or isn’t – the more I like something, the more time I’ll dedicate to a) watching, and then b) picking it apart for my own satisfaction.

    • I feel the same, and generally see criticism as just another expression of love for something. There are many shows I watched years ago that I wouldn’t find compelling now, but I’m certainly more invested in the medium than I’ve ever been.

  6. I would argue that there are more factors that lead to anime critics underrating popular shows than just spite. There are quite a few subconscious things that can bias your view.

    One is that it’s easy to overcompensate for hype. A show is super hyped and well loved, you prepare to review and… it’s nowhere near what the hype said. You start considering the hyped show a 10 and the real dissapointing show completely in comparison to that, instead of your usual rating for a 10.

    Another one is just simply exposure to the medium. For example, consider a show like One Piece. To someone relatively new to anime it’s really amazing and like nothing they’ve seen. To the old guard anime critic it’s just one of the newest versions of Dragonball Z. It isn’t nearly as novel or exciting because you know what’s going to happen because of the furmalic nature of the show.

    That doesn’t make it a bad show, but it does make the two of you rate it very differently. And hey, it could really be a great show. It’s just hard to rate it highly when it’s so familiar. It seems cliche even if it really isn’t that cliche, just a popular and heavily played story genre.

    • Agreed – there are many, many factors that influence someone’s experience with a show outside of the base facts of the show itself. We all bring our own expectations and perspective to our media – my only worry is when people jump to invalidate those perspectives.

  7. Critics annoy rabid fans because their judgments can be interpreted as a power play: you’re one-upping them by tearing down part of their identity. It is one thing to tear it down under the professional title of Critic; for everyone else, it’s being a douche. If you wear a lab coat, you can speak with authority vested in you. Same with police uniforms. Same with berets.

    So in order to earn this title, what must you do? Critics and fans both have satisfaction in a hobby; dissatisfaction with its flaws is what separates them. Rather than ask why a critic hates a popular show (that may be their role in life), ask what about the show turned someone into a critic!

    • That is definitely a big part of the problem – people conflating criticism, or even just differences of opinion, with some kind of personal attack.

      I’m somewhat leery of this fan-critic spectrum you seem to be proposing, though. You don’t have to call yourself a critic to be annoyed by a show’s simplistic characters or whatnot – as long as you’re being respectful (which, beyond just tone, also implies an understanding of when you’re actually fostering debate and when you’re entering a room of people reflecting on a show they like and saying all their opinions suck), I don’t think you have to “earn” the right to voice your opinions.

      I also might have to write a post at some point about the perception of critics as defined by negativity. I know it’s the scathing stuff that generally gets noticed, but personally I actually prefer positive criticism – criticism that illuminates depth in a work, or that offers a personal example of how a show resonated with a viewer. That’s almost always the stuff I prefer writing and reading.

  8. What a terrible caricature of critics. It hurts to have someone dislike your favorite show, but does it ever NOT hurt? I think we should certainly distinguish between haters and trolls and generally unconstructive critics, and critics who actually know their anime history, the fundamentals of narrative structure, and who are overall more educated about storytelling and media consumption. And assuming the critic has calmly stated his reasons for dislike in coherent fashion, one should have the humility to nod his head and say, “I understand your problems with my show, though I don’t agree with them.” The internet, however, is an easy place for people to quickly incite controversy without having to face consequences for their poorly thought out exclamations.

    • People often take criticism of things they like as personal attacks… which isn’t helped by the fact that, as you say, some people ACTUALLY FRAME their criticism as personal attacks, saying “this series sucks and you have shit taste for liking it” or whatnot. So if people don’t want to engage in an actual debate, and are simply online for confirmation of their feelings, it can be comforting to just try and delegitimize the other side’s arguments altogether, by making it more about them as people than the show itself. It’s not justified, but it’s a tough thing to fight against – people seek online communities for a variety of reasons, meaning many people discussing shows simply aren’t interested in turning a critical eye towards the things they love.

  9. Man, this is an age old topic of conversation. And it’s funny, I’ve been on both sides of this fence, switching sides continually depending on the show and my years of watching the medium. But at this point of my anime watching career, I won’t slam anything I haven’t seen in depth, nor will I give a sh*t about someone’s opinion if they don’t like my favorite anime. I generally don’t have the time or care to debate people, or make the foolish assumption that I can change someone’s opinion if they’re not open to change.

    There is one time recently that manage to infuriate me, and it is when I left a comment on a anime blog, and someone decided to use my Naruto avatar to devalue my opinion, as if someone with a Love of that show can only love that show, and therefore only love sh*t shows. It’s the sheer ignorance that pisses me off. Naruto is very popular, and has a lot of fans. But not all fans are the same, nor do they like the same things. It’s sort of comparable to how I hate racism. It’s a lazy use of your opinion of one thing, to say that everything in that category is “bad”. All Narutards are this. Or all black people are that. It’s not a 1:1 comparison, but I believe the mindset is very similar. It’s a matter of laziness, stubbornness (in your own opinion) and willful ignorance. And I find it really annoying.

    • Oh god, that guy. As I say at the beginning, people like that do exist, but it’s a really childish attitude, and they’re the exception, not the rule. I read a lot of criticism and talk to a bunch of bloggers and critics, and almost everyone I’ve come across really does write because they’re legitimately passionate about the shows they love.

  10. Pingback: Why Critics Are Always Wrong | Wrong Every Time

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>