Out of the countless conversations I’ve had with friends because I’m the epitome of popularity, there’s one that will always stick out in my mind for numerous reasons. One Tuesday evening (or at least I think it was Tuesday) I was having dinner with a friend. We were eating a couple of cheese steaks, and I noticed that she was picking something out of her sandwich which led to this exchange:
“What are you doing?”
“I’m picking out the onions because I don’t like them.”
“The hell? You don’t like onions? Why?”
“I don’t know, I just don’t.”
It wasn’t a unique exchange by any means, but it was the first of its kind to really make me think. She would go on to mention that she also didn’t like garlic, and while that sounded just as ridiculous coming from someone who claimed to ever be happy in life, it made me suddenly think more about taste. You could say that talking to her gave me some food for thought.
Even though there is a scientific explanation on how taste preferences develop through interactions between a variety of factors, that sort of fundamental understanding has no bearing on how well we can express why we like or dislike certain things to other people. The only answer that exists in our minds is that we simply just do. Really though, what answer was I realistically expecting when I asked her? Why do we need to justify something that’s so inherently abstract to even ourselves? Why do we intentionally sometimes blur the lines of subjective and objective territory when it comes to something as personal as taste? Thinking back to that conversation, my immediate reaction was to shame my friend for what I perceived to be poor taste. This attitude stems from the notion that anybody’s sense of taste that significantly deviates from ours is by default inferior, or in other words, wrong. I mean, fuck. It’s fair to assume that any supposedly self-respecting person likes garlic and onions, right? The real reason why garlic especially is so effective against vampires is because its the closest thing to holy water in terms of raw divinity and holiness.
Food is wonderful for many reasons, and the sheer variety that it offers has to be numero uno among them. The number of staple dishes that showcase different permutations of ingredients and techniques that span across several different expanding cultures is unfathomable, and they’ve evolved and developed with respect to our tastes. However, this doesn’t mean that something like food that’s based off something as subjective as taste is spared from objective critique.
Take a dish such as filet mignon. Besides having the reputation of being another pipe dream for people below various tax brackets, the dish offers a lot of objective criteria to comment on. You can make points about the depth of flavor, aesthetics of the plating, precision of the sear, quality of the meat, synergy between the meat and accompaniment sauce, and so on. It’s very possible to make an objective judgement based on these points because it’s a dish that offers a lot of nuance in multiple areas beyond simple taste.
Now take a slice of pizza for comparison. I’m willing to bet that no other food has saved more lives of drunk college students than pizza has, and the reason lies in the beauty of its simplicity. It’s greasy, cheesy, and most importantly cheap. That’s the most notable point of contrast that pizza has with filet mignon. Its low price ceiling gives it an insane amount of accessibility not enjoyed by its peer, but it also damns it to being seen as a “low-class” food to eat. There’s an air of superiority surrounding the mere prospect of eating filet mignon partly because its a privilege not enjoyed by many on more than a few occasions, and the fact that its quality can be demonstrated by numerous elements outside of taste that can only truly be appreciated by the most esteemed food critics (aka English majors who struggled to find a job doing literally anything else) only adds to that. However, is it not possible to derive almost, if not, the same amount of pleasure from eating a dollar slice of pizza from NYC as a plate of filet mignon?
If we strip away the reputation cooking has as a form of art, food serves a very singular purpose—consumption. To me, taste is one of the facets of consumption simply because if you enjoy the taste of what you’re consuming, you’re naturally going to be inclined to consume more of it. I’ve had filet mignon once or twice before in my life, and while each time was one of the most pleasureful experiences of passing the flesh of a dead animal through my gaping face hole, I’ve also had moments of eating pizza where it felt akin to having a religious experience. Truth be told, it’s a little unfair of a comparison because half of those times involved alcohol, and everyone generally knows that alcohol makes anything you put in your mouth seem like the best thing to have ever happened until the next day.
The point I’m trying to get with this long-winded example is that despite the different perceptions of the two foods, it’s quite possible for someone to get the same amount of raw pleasure from those two completely different experiences based on taste alone. This is where personal bias comes in. Simply because a dish like filet mignon may have more esteem doesn’t guarantee that anyone will enjoy it over a quality slice of pizza, and those preferences may not be set in stone. There are days where I want to enjoy a quality dish at a sit-in restaurant, and there are other times where I just want to be a piece of shit and binge eat pizza while watching my Chinese cartoons in my pajamas.
Ice cream flavors might be an even better example to illustrate the differences in taste. Despite the fact that cookies n’ cream is by all accounts and human metrics the pinnacle of culinary achievement, there are vermi—I mean, people who feel entitled to different strokes. It’s always interesting to ask people about their particular likes and dislikes. While there will obviously be a cluster of bias towards some flavors over others, there is some degree of representation everywhere on the spectrum. While I love cookies n’ cream, I abhor mint chocolate chip because I don’t see how it’s different from eating fucking toothpaste, and I spare no opportunity to make fun of anyone who actually enjoys it and how their voluntary consumption of it contradicts the notion of the very existence of God.
That’s all that it is, though. “Making fun.” Jokes, chaffs, quips. No reasonable person is going to maliciously tear you down based off your taste for flavored frozen cow juice, nor will anyone make harsh judgements on your character based on the foods you like and dislike. At worst, maybe you simply dislike a lot of foods and you’ll be labeled as a “picky eater”, but anyone is willing to accept that it’s not something you can readily change at the drop of a hat. Even though some of us may be quick to meet any difference in taste with an air of superiority, it’s quickly dismissed because it’s common sense and knowledge that it’s largely out of our control.
However, anime doesn’t typically enjoy the same privilege despite sharing a lot of parallels. The general impression is that we’re a lot more conscious about the reasons for why we prefer certain anime over others. Not being able to adequately explain why Sword Art Online is one of your favorite series is the easiest way to get dismissed from any discussion for having a shit opinion, or on the assumption that you “you simply haven’t watched enough good stuff” to make the distinction on why it’s an aggressively mediocre series. This supposed consciousness leads to the expectation that fans have to conform to this arbitrary standard of what’s generally accepted as “good” at the risk of being shunned by those smelling their own farts on top of their high horses.
To go back to my earlier examples, imagine a dense and nuanced series like Legend of the Galactic Heroes or Ghost in the Shell as filet mignon. Both shows among many more I could have potentially named because my nerd dick is enormous offer a great amount of depth that allow fans to enjoy them in a plethora of ways on different levels. The multifaceted nature of the stories and the themes they convey lend anime fans to view them as rich, sophisticated, and by most objective standards, good. There’s an air of superiority that surrounds someone when they mention a series that can be classified as filet mignon as one of their favorite anime. It can be a pretty easy way to validate your own taste as a fan when it aligns with the consensus opinion for the series.
Now imagine a simple series such as Naruto or Shingeki no Kyojin as pizza. Both series are relatively mainstream and accessible. Nearly everybody in the anime community has watched both at least once in their lives, and while the writing may not be high-quality due its formulaic nature, it doesn’t take away from how fucking fun they can be to watch at face value. They’re enjoyed by a vast majority of people because they have elements that appeal to a wide range of fans, but they also have a reputation for “selling out” by pushing the series to absurd lengths at the expense of the quality of the story. However, unlike the previous example, there’s an obvious stigma if you were to go out on a limb and say that these kind of series are your favorites. Not many people will admit that Naruto is one of their favorite anime, and even fewer will take pride in it.
The beauty in anime is that its a limitless medium for storytelling that doesn’t necessarily conform to a single genre. Each viewer watches a series through their own unique lens comprised of their values, ideas, and experiences that allows for a profound amount of possible interpretations for the same story and characters. Enabling this stigma by shutting people down because they just happen to really like Sword Art Online or Bleach contradicts the very essence of what makes this community great to participate in. To anyone who’s a stranger, I want to go on record by saying I really hate Sword Art Online. I know I’m being pretty bold right now. I despise the lazy writing, the one-dimensional characters, and the constant trend of every girl in the series incessantly throwing themselves at the main character’s dick to confirm this self-insert wish fulfillment bullshit that revolves around this fucking anime.
However, what frustrated me the most about the series was how and why it was so popular despite the blatant flaws. This frustration eventually led to me masturbating to my own growing superiority complex that suggested I was more cultured and sensible for being able to see these shortcomings and point them out. Why do people insist on watching bad anime? Why do they have such poor taste? Are they just so simple-minded that they can’t see what I see? It took me far longer to realize that perhaps most fans of the series simply don’t give a flying fuck about any of that noise, and that actually there’s nothing wrong with that. For all the shortcomings I found with Sword Art Online, I can just as easily list some points that it did well. It had amazing production quality as shown by the gorgeous animation, exhilarating soundtrack, and top-notch voice acting. It featured great world building with an exciting premise that proved to be an insanely effective hook for even the most jaded viewers from the first episode. While those positives didn’t resonate with me enough to have a favorable opinion of the series, who’s to say that they can’t for someone else who genuinely enjoyed it, and for maybe even more reasons I didn’t think of? Who’s to say that whatever flaws I personally found with it have any weight on their viewing experience? Why do people have to conform to my own narrow-minded perspective of what’s good in order to have a credible opinion?
To each his own. To a lot of you reading this, it may come off as a stupidly long-ass post to confirm a piece of conventional wisdom, but it’s a message not many of us truly take to heart. It’s remarkably easy to get caught up on passing judgements on people based on what they like or dislike watching while forgetting the subjective nature of being a fan. I can go on a rant about Sword Art Online that would make Stalin’s speech on the Red Square look like a someone reading a fucking children’s book, but if you were to ask me why those things bothered me as much as it did, I’d be hard-pressed to say a reason apart from the fact that “they just do.” We’re so readily able to come to terms with how the abstract forces that dictate our taste in food are largely out of our control, so why can’t the same sentiment also apply to anime? At its very core, we watch anime for a singular purpose, and that is entertainment. If watching a particular series scores a positive on your binary scale of enjoyment, then you shouldn’t feel the need to justify that to another person in fear of being judged for giving some insufficient reason that doesn’t align with their own personal standard.
This principle applies to any form of consumable media, whether it be music, television shows, movies, books, etc.. As preachy as this post may come off as, this was meant to be more of a self-reflection piece because it’s a bad habit that I still struggle with at times. It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking in absolutes that alienate other people when viewing something critically, so I hope that some of you may have gotten some takeaway from this post, and perhaps can even add to it. If you’re that person who adores mainstream series like Sword Art Online, Shingeki no Kyojin, or Naruto, then don’t worry about trying to come up with some profound reason to justify it to someone who prides himself in only eating the finest filet mignon. Just accept that you like them simply because you do. And to those who are similar to me, take a step back to tone down the condescension to understand why certain series may appeal to other people, especially if your first reaction is to think that they have poor taste.
Even if billions of people in the world like garlic and onions in their food, it’s perfectly okay if you don’t simply because that’s who you are, and no one has the right to look down on you for it.