Guilt, yes guilt. Nobody wants to feel it. It implies one did something wrong, and is inferior to those who do otherwise. I was told once that “in matters of taste, there should be no disputes.” In anime and manga however (not to imply that it doesn’t occur elsewhere), taste is part of a social dominance game that’s played for high stakes: self-esteem in the internet.
Sure it sounds silly, and it is. But people do operate under the paradigm of taste. They accuse each other of having bad taste, and praise creative works for being ‘tasteful,’ as if the benchmark or touchstone for such can be taken for granted. The concern here is:
People will like certain shows. These shows make people enjoy themselves (feel good).
Obvious enough right? However, within any society there is a competition among thoughts and opinions. Darwinian thinking leads to the idea of among opinions, there is ‘survival’ of the fittest, and the fittest get to dominate — to become the most influential. Extend this to the internet, we face survival concerns of blogs and review sites. Dominant opinions gather most of the eyeballs (page views, subscribers, etc). These all come into play. More importantly, nobody wants to feel bad about liking a show.
An impulse buy that results in paying whatever a toy-seller is charging even if I knew how ‘limited edition’ doesn’t mean much when there aren’t a lot of buyers. I paid full price for this (twice as expensive) when I could have used the money for more useful/important things. Nonetheless my Revoltech Macross series is complete (for now). It’s one of my guilty pleasures.
90% of anime and manga is crud (Sturgeon’s Revelation); or, 80% of the good stuff one gets out anime and manga comes from 20% of the examples (Pareto’s Principle, ‘The Law of the Vital Few’); take your pick. Either way, many shows people like will fall under the ‘not excellent’ spectrum of quality.
Most people won’t enjoy being identified with ‘bad’ taste. So with regards to liking anime/manga with questionable quality, a choice confronts the viewer:
- I accept that this work as flawed/bad/terrible and that my taste is flawed/bad/terrible; or,
- I reject the idea that the work is flawed/bad/terrible. Other people are wrong.
While I think that this is a false dichotomy… and an easily enough deconstructed binary, I posit that more often than not (even without statistics to back up my claim) this is the choice that presents itself first. This is the choice architecture that determines people’s behavior more than calm reflection and expression.
When people actually choose #1, or are ‘forced to’ due to overall consensus that a show is terrible (e.g. Akikan) they often play a card that allows them to pretend that their liking such a show does not reflect on their tastes at all. They categorize the show as a ‘guilty pleasure.’
This guilty pleasure concept, as applied to units of culture, interestingly enough, makes it so that the individual pleasuring himself with the subject work, never has to feel guilt. The show or manga somehow ‘doesn’t count.’ Personally, I don’t think people should feel any guilt for liking something with less than excellent values (that are subjective anyway). The whole business of guilty pleasure that is founded on relative quality of subject works is inauthentic.
It’s not as if that we are truly expected to only watch and enjoy the consensus masterpieces. It’s just that we often behave as if we are expected to, and that we impose this on others. How do we do this? We trash shows we don’t like (or expect others not to like!). I remember how people used the guilty pleasure apology for continuing to watch Code Geass R2 despite the big-effort scathing commentary they put out after every episode.
People just can’t be with the idea that they can actually like bad shows without irony and defensiveness.
After all, there are those who are chomping at the bit to attack people’s tastes, to call people morons, or trash. Attacking shows, and calling them trash is just the set-up. It’s not difficult for me to imagine why people get so defensive. Look, popular shows get attacked; consensus ‘masterpieces’ get attacked. It’s really not surprising why shows like Kämpfer, or the Fall ’09 season, or hell the anime industry as it currently stands get attacked.
Furthermore, we identify ourselves with our tastes whether we like it or not. Picking lists of favorites is serious business. In a market of opinions where influence and eyeballs are the currency, our branding as fans, bloggers, critics, and connoisseurs is rather critical.
Nobody really wants to be accused of having poor taste, and this kind of guilt bothers people.
If I haven’t made it clear, I don’t subscribe to this kind of guilt. Quality, in terms of artistic and literary merit, are not my thing in terms of creating levels and hierarchies among works within culture. No, what I should rather say is I don’t like the idea of levels and hierarchies among cultural works period: for the dominance games that occur in the process of developing such, and the whole dominance faggerjackery that will occur when such hierarchies are made ‘official.’
I’m not saying that guilty pleasures don’t exist. Quite the contrary. I posit however, that guilt is a feeling from moral wrongness. While enjoying anime and manga can be a moral concern, it isn’t fundamentally so. If I lie, I feel guilty. If I cheat, I feel guilty. If I vote for a crook and elect her in office, I feel guilty.
When I think Ikari Gendo from Neon Genesis Evangelion is cool, I feel guilty. When I take pleasure in watching a child (Hitokiri Batoussai) murder swordsmen in a gruesome bloodbath I feel a little guilty. Reveling while hundreds of thousands of soldiers get blasted into space dust while watching a huge fleet battle in Legend of the Galactic Heroes yeah, can make me feel guilty. I don’t think about it too much, I play the guilty pleasure card and move on to the next show. Does this excuse me from the inauthenticity and hypocrisy of the whole guilty pleasure business? I don’t think so.
Outside my core tastes, there are other pleasures that one can feel guilt from indulging; such as getting off on watching/reading female grade schoolers breastfeed each other [NSFW], or simply wishing certain characters to die for whatever reasons; help me think of others!
I feel that it is important to note how the guilty pleasures I identified aren’t media-specific, nor even genre-specific. I am very interested in identifying such examples. If you can share a few here in the comments, I would highly appreciate it.