Anime is Sacred, Indoctrination is Profane


My bother David is not pleased with the post I wrote about how we appreciate art.

In my very serious response, I’m going to pretend that he was talking about Anime or Manga rather than art in general.

David doesn’t want to buy into any institutional theory of Anime, because he does not believe that Anime’s value is arbitrary. Moreover, he doesn’t like the idea that partaking in the sublime enjoyment of giant sweatdrops indicating embarrassment requires that he be a member of a group. We must not sully the sacredness of Anime with the profaning influence of group indoctrination.

As far as I’m concerned, Protagoras of Abdera has this all figured out thousands of years ago. In the Platonic dialogue that bears his name, Protagoras argues that people spend their whole lives teaching one another right and wrong. He said that if learning to play the flute was the same as learning right and wrong, we would all be prolific flute players, though there would still be variation in talent. Perhaps there would be variation in taste as well—the dialogue does not imply that he thought so.

My question to David is: how did he even discover Anime in the first place? It’s a very strange thing, with a whole iconography of facial expressions and reactions that have nothing to do with how people look or react to things. The answer is that you get introduced to Anime—directly or indirectly—by people. The fact that other people value it and talk about it makes you aware of its existence at all. Part of the joy of watching it is being able to talk to other people about it.

At this point I hear David saying: “Wait a minute. Say Anime just happened to be on the TV when I was a kid and no one actively introduced me to it. Say I never talk to anyone about it ever, I just cherish my private enjoyment of it.”

But you cannot escape community by this means, because the creators are part of a community by necessity! Anime does not spring up in a vacuum.  Artists and writers and voice actors and producers and directors all practice a craft which they learned from other people—either directly through instruction or indirectly through imitation—and by practicing that craft with other people playing the other essential roles. The devoted Anime fan sees every mech series as standing on the shoulders of Mobile Suit Gundam and other predecessors; the devoted fan sees how creators have learned from one another while also trying to do things their own way. They see the conversation.

Anime is a conversation, and conversations by definition require a group of people conversing.

Often denigration of the form is tied to denigration of the people. Anime fans have been denigrated as some version of “abnormal, insane people” for as long as people have watched Anime. That is because Anime is tied to the community of people watching and creating it; it just is.

I cannot help but see David’s attempt to demarcate Anime’s intrinsic value from merely arbirarily valued anime in the context of modern philosophers of science’s attempts to demarcate Science and Truth from mere truths, something Deirdre McCloskey has expended a great deal of energy arguing against. We humans do not experience anything meaningful—in terms of knowledge or aesthetics—without conceptual schemes, and conceptual schemes are built socially. They just are.

Anime doesn’t grow on trees.

3 thoughts on “Anime is Sacred, Indoctrination is Profane

  1. On the one hand, you’re sort of right, and I see your point. Anime was a funny example, but actually, a lot of it demonstrates exactly what I was talking about. I’ve watched a number of anime that have made me think, “This is trying too hard to be anime and not hard enough to be *good*.” The best ones tend to go outside the box, in terms of the common tropes and styles.

    I recently watched Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure, and it was so anime it hurts. No one would find it good unless they’d been desensitized to all the weirdness that goes on in anime. That’s just one example, there are tons of anime like that.

    Miyazaki was right: anime fans are a negative influence on anime.

    I don’t know, it could be a personal attitude. Maybe art is a community, and I just don’t like it, and want its influence to be as limited as possible. Like I said in my post, it just seems that the best art comes from outside the community. Or it could be that the community is sort of a collection of what’s come so far. In which case, getting more deeply entrenched in it will make you more backwards-thinking and unimaginative. You’d still be right, though, that the community has to exist for art to exist.

    1. I think one of the things you’re getting hung up on is the idea of a singular Community. The xkcd reference in your post is the correct one—every Community is actually a bunch of fractally nested and semi-overlapping communities. You can zoom in and out in your perspective; some communities are more predominantly awesome or more predominantly mediocre (from your own private point of view) than others. But they’re all connected to one another they’re side conversations in a larger one, but at nearly any gathering it’s always the side conversations that are potentially the most fun.

      There are some people who love Jojo, I am not one of them. But it’s SO ANIME, but also so anime of a certain type—of which Cowboy Bebop does not fall into, by one (arbitrary but useful) taxonomy, but they’re still sort of in the same universe, certainly closer together than, say, the original TMNT is to either of them.

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