Why There’s No Such Thing as “Objectively Good”Posted: April 24, 2012
Through blogging and reading other blogs, I’ve learned quite a bit about analyzing shows. I’ve also been able to see what sorts of things people look for and like seeing in shows. However, in the process of doing so (combined with my interest in psychology and philosophy), I’ve stumbled upon quite the interesting theory: that there’s no such thing as being “objectively good”, or even objectivity itself to a degree.
I used to think that presentation was everything in a show, and was what determined whether people ended up liking whatever they were watching or not. Now I have a different mindset, though it’s a slight spin on the previous one.
It’s actually perspective that’s king.
Okay, editorial over.
Alright, fine, I’ll go into details and give examples. Be prepared for a ton of text, because I intend to fully prove my point.
You see, most people would say that execution is what’s important in a show: any show can have interesting or unique ideas, but if it doesn’t make the best use of them, then it’s just wasted potential. After all, “different” does not automatically mean “good”.
So if a show knows what it’s doing, even with pretty standard or generic ideas, it can be great show if done correctly, right? Isn’t it the way a story is handled and told that should determine whether it’s a pile of trash to be forgotten, or actually objectively good and should be praised by the masses? That’s why execution is so important.
But herein lies the problem: objectivity implies fact. Is there a show that is unanimously considered to be good? Of course not. There will always be at least one person that will disagree. So that means that execution doesn’t actually determine whether a show is good or not.
Sure, you could argue the majority card, but if there’s anything Twilight has taught us, it’s that the majority can be pretty damn stupid sometimes. But if you’re a Twilight fan or don’t buy that argument, here’s another one: if a group of three people rule a country, and two of them say stealing is okay, does that mean that it’s okay to steal? That may sound like an absurd example, but that’s the entire point: the majority opinion doesn’t automatically become a fact.
Instead, as I said before, the answer is just a bit of a twist on the idea that execution is what’s important.
I’m not even talking about how people like different genres or anything like that. Of course that still plays an important part when it comes to people liking a show or not, but even with genre preferences, people tend to have exceptions. One of the biggest ones is how most people who don’t like mecha love Code Geass.
But no, by perspective, I’m talking about something much more vague.
So then what do I mean by perspective? I mean how one person can watch an insane scene from a show and say, “Oh wow! This show is intense! That was amazing!” while another person can see the same exact scene and say, “Wow, that was just absurd. This show is so stupid.” Luckily, Future Diary aired recently, and is a good example of this. Some people saw the show as being too crazy and insane, while others were sucked into the fantastical world and events of Future Diary.
Now, that brings up the question of how exactly these different reactions are brought about. The thing is, nobody knows. After all, if we did, Hollywood would have already found a way to harness it and make even more money.
Sometimes there are threads of logic that connect these unconscious thoughts: if you’re a contrarian like me, then you’ll look for faults in any show that’s popular or gets praise you think is undeserved; if a friend or someone whose opinion you respect likes a show, you’ll probably be more likely to notice positive things about that show; etc. There are situations like these, but there are still times when people will get completely different opinions on a show without any sort of catalyst to fuel those perspectives.
Honestly, there’s only one thing about shows that can be considered to be objective, and that comes in the form of plot holes.
It’s up to the show to establish the type of universe it has and the rules that surround it, so if it breaks those rules, that’s a true fault that can actually be proven. Arguments like “it moved too fast, moved too slow, came off as forced, etc” can’t be proven, and you’re guaranteed to find at least one person that will disagree with you.
A good example of what I was just talking about would be [C].
Some people would say it was a fun ride, others would say it was completely pointless and a waste of their time, but that’s not want I want to talk about with this show. Sure, those have to do with perspective, but there’s not much to say about them besides pointing them out. I’d rather refer to a specific aspect of the show that’s solid grounds when dealing with perspective.
Let’s talk [C] and economics.
Some people say [C] has absolutely no deep messages about economics and it’s just fluff for the setting and attack names. Others would say that the show has some deeply-rooted messages in economics, but you’d have to actually be an economics major to understand them.
Now, who’s correct?
Sure, maybe an interview with the creator would reveal the answer, but let’s say you weren’t able to. How would you decide who’s right? You wouldn’t, because both sides are right. A show is, after all, what you make of it.
An argument that occasionally pops up that I find utterly ridiculous is the famous “you’re reading too deeply into the show” one. It’s not like people go into a show trying to link a topic or idea to what they see, the show just makes them think of whatever it is and then the connection is formed. The show acts as a catalyst for whatever the person thinks up.
So then what decides if someone thinks the show is smarter than they can comprehend? Obviously if the show is on a topic the viewer doesn’t know much about, odds are they’ll assume they just don’t get the message, but it may even be linked to lack of self-confidence in general. If you naturally assume the show’s staff is smarter than you, then of course you’ll think the show is DEEP if you don’t get it. Similarly, you could say the reverse for people who think the show is full of crap.
Another aspect of perspective I mentioned earlier is how other people’s opinions can sway your perspective on whether you end up finding a show to be good or not. If someone you respect likes a show, you’ll be more likely to find it good, and if they dislike a show, you’ll be more likely to find it bad.
My example for this one is a lovely post by (the sadly retired) 2DT on Un-Go.
Now, I’m not saying 2DT was wrong nor right in liking the show. That’s not what the post was about, after all. Instead, it addressed the complaints many people had that Un-Go was a bad show due to not conforming to Western mystery standards. This isn’t even really an opinion, he pointed out a fact.
My point is, what if he hadn’t written that post?
Un-Go was never all that popular, but a lot more people liked the show and found it to be good after reading 2DT’s post. Would it have gotten this decently positive reception if that post had never come to be? Would it have been another Fractale?
The show never changed, people’s perspectives did.
Not perspectives regarding their opinion on the show as whole, but rather what they wanted out of the show and what they looked for in it. A simple mindset changed a show that a lot of people didn’t care about into a show that had a fairly positive reception among the blogosphere.
Now, what if people had this mindset much earlier? You see, another mystery show aired a few seasons before Un-Go, and it got about the same wave-of-the-hand reception that Un-Go initially got. In fact, one of the commenters on 2DT’s post mentioned the very show.
Yes, I’m talking about Gosick.
If people knew of the different approach to mysteries that Eastern literature took, would people have enjoyed the show more? Most people dropped it after the first few episodes because the mysteries were either too “easy” or too “ridiculous”. By going into the show with the mindset that the mysteries are there to highlight and develop the characters, it suddenly becomes a lot better of a show, no? Again, the show isn’t doing anything different, just your perspective when watching it has changed.
But briefly going back to respected opinions for a moment, this is why you shouldn’t automatically agree with whatever those people say. You may have enjoyed a show that you didn’t if you hadn’t taken their word as absolute truth. There’s a difference between respecting an opinion, and blindly conforming to it.
Oh yes, I’m going there.
Long ago, in a galaxy far, far away, Baka-Raptor wrote a post saying how Queen’s Blade definitely wasn’t as bad as people were making it out to be. While everyone was busy focusing on the fanservice, there was actually a good plot to be found from the show.
Now, I could just stop my point at that, and point out how fanservice can distract people from aspects of a show that would cause them to actually enjoy it, but that’s much too simple. I could broaden it and point out how even minor problems with shows can do the same thing, but even then, it’s too simple and there isn’t much to add.
So let’s bring Nisemonogatari into this.
Nisemonogatari had its fair share of fanservice, yet people largely ignored it, or in the case of one (in)famous episode, even praised it. People just accepted it as part of the package that came with the show, and focused on all of the positives of the show.
With Queen’s Blade, it’s basically the polar opposite. Everyone was so focused on the fanservice that they couldn’t see any of the positives that the show had to offer. Now, it’s not like every single person would have loved the plot, but at least there would be more complaints from people than just “WOAH LOOK AT ALL THOSE TITS”.
So what’s the big deal? Why the bias?
The first argument would probably be that Nisemonogatari had Bakemonogatari as solid ground to stand on, but that doesn’t seem to entirely fit. If anything, shouldn’t people be even more disappointed in Nisemonogatari since it had so much fanservice plaguing the show compared to Bakemonogatari?
Both Nisemonogatari and Queen’s Blade have positives to them, but one show gets almost nothing but flak while the other gets almost nothing but praise. Perhaps I just don’t get it, seeing as I haven’t seen either, but I think they’re perfect examples of perspective as far as both ends of the spectrum.
Sometimes, all it takes is one scene for someone to decide if they love or hate a show.
Bringing back yet another old post, TWWK posted about how the scene of Euphy’s carnage completely ruined the show for him. It was violence for the sake of violence, and only served to shock and awe the viewer. It served no purpose to the story.
Or did it?
I could counter that the entire point of the scene was to drive home the message of how there was no easy solution for Lelouch anymore. He accepted the Power of the King, and now he had to suffer down a long and torturous path. The Geass is a power that “isolates people”, as C.C. put it. Lelouch caved and was willing to accept Euphy’s help, but the Geass is both a blessing and a curse.
In fact, there’s two scenes in Code Geass when the Geass screws Lelouch over. The first is the Euphy scene in the first season, when Lelouch is at his most hopeful. The second is in the second season, when the Black Knights find out about the Geass and turn on him, a time when Lelouch is most depressed.
Of course, I’m sure TWWK could come up with a counter to what I said, and I could again do the same, and we would endlessly go back and forth. That’s because neither of us is wrong. Similar to what I said before about a show being what you make of it, the meaning behind a scene is the same.
Now, some people may change their mind about a scene after debating about it, but most of the time both sides end up where they started. Though now they may understand where the other person is coming from a bit more.
Oh yeah, I’m going there, too.
One of the more common examples for perception is wanting more than a show gives, though in this example I suppose my argument is like my Code Geass example combined with my Un-Go one.
I personally think people went into Shakugan no Shana with the wrong perspective. Similar to how people at first didn’t like Un-Go for the way it handled mysteries, people didn’t like Shakugan no Shana for the way it handled Yuuji. He’s been infamously branded as being the most personality-less male lead in history.
To that I ask, is that not the point?
My arguments on how being stubborn and having a martyr complex are personality traits aside, allow me to copy down one the very line assigned to Yuuji in the light novel:
“The average high school freshman – Yuuji Sakai”
Isn’t the entire point of Yuuji in Shakugan no Shana that he’s supposed to be this ordinary kid thrown into this crazy situation, and we see how he responds and grows due to it? Doesn’t this perspective make a lot more sense than expecting some unique personality from him? Sure, it doesn’t change the fact that he’s ordinary, but just like with Un-Go, it’s not the show that changes, but your perspective.
Of course this is a slightly biased example since Shakugan no Shana is my favourite series, but my point still stands. Not to mention, this is further proof that it’s perspective that decides if a show is good or not. You’d be hard-pressed to find people in the blogosphere and even beyond that think Shakugan no Shana is a great show, yet it’s my favourite series and I have absolutely no complaints towards it.
Now, while I’m usually not one to ask questions, think about it for a moment: isn’t there a show that you like that most people say is bad? Isn’t there a show that you hate that most people say is good? I guarantee there’s at least one example for both in every one of you.
Obviously Shakugan no Shana is my own example for the former, but for the latter it’d be Cowboy Bebop. I’ve just never been able to get into a show with a sci-fi western setting, and the episodic nature of the show didn’t give me much motivation to go through each episode. I do see why people like it, but I just can’t get into that mindset.
This probably because, as I said in my Code Geass example, even with conflicting opinions, people aren’t about to go through a show they thought was bad and vastly change their opinion. People are usually stuck with the perspectives they first get upon watching a show.
However, this topic begs one giant question: what’s the point of anime blogging if shows being good or bad really does ultimately come down to perspective (subjectivity)?
Good question, voice in my head. One of the reasons is the same one as why actual critics exist: because people need an extra opinion when they’re on the fence about actually starting a show (or watching a movie, or playing a game). Not everyone has the time or patience to give everything a shot, so they let other people decide for them. There’s nothing wrong with this, you just have a chance on missing out on a show that you might really enjoy.
Another reason is simply because it’s fun. At least, I would hope that people who take the time to write up their thoughts on shows and post them enjoy doing so, otherwise that would be a pretty counterproductive hobby.
But lastly, and most importantly, it’s because it encourages critically thinking. It’s almost ironic, but by pretending our opinions are facts and objectively true, we actually fuel the mindset that causes people to analyze shows as they watch them and form these perspectives about shows being good or bad, which are anything but fact.
And besides, the world wouldn’t be as fun without people arguing with each other with comments like, “My dog has better taste than you, and he licks his own ass.”