Archive for June, 2010

A Brief Exploration Into Why We Watch What We Watch (maybe)

The Rule of Three is, unfortunately, compelling me to follow up on Pontifus’s post about the threefold methods of interpreting a text, and Cuchlann’s post about what a text actually is, leaving me to pick up the tattered scraps littering the workshop, and make some kind of reconstituted wood out of it all.

By dint of occupation and current educational focus, I tend to focus on what Pontifus elects to not talk about, the set of biases and prejudices which define a readers’ interactions with a given text. We bring these biases to everything we read (or watch), and whether or not we end up liking what we’ve read, the process of reading leaves its imprint on our biases; somewhere in the unconscious, where the foundations for taste lie, a new rule is defined, a corollary is added, a variable is shifted slightly. We can never fully know our own complex of biases, but we can see the pattern in what we like and dislike, and surmise from that. (I have no doubt that somewhere, someone is attempting to derive aesthetic calculus, though)

In my previous post, this complex produces originality when given a specific time-frame, where past experience gives the sense of something being familiar yet radically different; here, the same complex is the basis for taste itself. Most likely, the development of our individual tastes is fairly simple: whenever something deeply affects us, we begin to search out things similar to what affected us: the child who never missed a single episode of Robotech, for instance, as an adult is gleeful to discover not only Super Dimensional Fortress Macross and anime itself, but also anime similar to it. It’s a form of patterning: an imposition of order upon complex, chaotic streams of information by simplifying and generalizing until we have a concept that can be expressed.

Likely, you already understand that, at some level; however, what I want to touch on is the way this process, constantly iterated over the course of a lifetime, might work. Taking the above-mentioned Macross example, there are any number of different ways our hypothetical child might “pattern” the series. For example:

  • Large-scale space opera stories
  • Romance stories
  • Valkyries (or robots in general)
  • Idolization of Roy Focker, Maximillian Jenius, Lynn Minmay, Misa Hayase, Captain Global, Milia Falyna, etc.
  • Visual aesthetics (the early 80s style, Itano’s signature animation)
  • Writing style and pacing of storyline
  • Styles of music featured in series
  • Themes (love and music transcending intercultural barriers and warmongering)

I doubt this is an exhaustive list, and none of these aspects are mutually exclusive, although our hypothetical child will most likely perceive at least some of them as anathema to what they like, and may not even be able to consciously grasp others. It’s also likely that many of these will be converted into simplified tropes to ease the selection of similar things to watch or read (this has robots so I like it, that has a romance story so I don’t like it). The impact runs deeper than the superficial tropes, but at this early phase, only the most basic rules of thumb are likely to be of any use.

It’s at this point—where we have a basic but unarticulated internal aesthetic framework—that Pontifus’s interpretation methods likely come into play. When learning something new, there tends to be a “bottoming out”: faced with overwhelming amounts of conflicting information, individuals are forced to use compensating strategies to cope with the overload and attendant anxiety. Since we are learning about one’s own taste here, the three interpretive methods, arise from different implementations of various coping strategies:

  • The “focused” model, where the individual has a preferred meaning that does not preclude other meanings, derives from the decision to focus on a single set of elements. For whatever reason, the individual has determined that this particular set of elements produces, for them, the ideal form of enjoyment; perhaps they are keeping their options open for later explorations, but perhaps not. The interpretations produced, become increasingly specialized to the chosen set, and seen not as an absolute interpretation but as the interpretation they happen to have.
  • The “discerning” model, where the individual has a preferred meaning that does preclude other meanings, derives from a rejectionist stance: a single set of elements is chosen as the desired set, and other sets are dismissed as irrelevant. The interpretations produced are specialized to the chosen set, and seen as the definite, normative interpretation.
  • The “omnifan” model, where different interpretations co-exist and are considered relevant, likely comes from a very developed internal structure, where the individual has explored to some extent every element and understands the scope and limitations of their own tastes. The interpretations produced reflect the variety of directions from which the individual can understand any given work.

To, perhaps, simplify: the paths you elect to not explore have as much effect on your taste as the paths that you choose to explore; the manner in which you approach the selection of which paths to value can also affect the development of taste. None of these paths are ever ultimately wrong, as diversity necessitates the existence of things you actively despise; even when conflicting or mutually exclusive, each path serves to highlight the faults, strengths, and lacunae of other paths.

Finally, it’s important to note—especially given the obtuse nature of this concept—to remember that no single method operates exclusively: taste is, well, complicated, and people can easily be discerning and select anime as the only interest, thereby rejecting, say, television, film, and literature, but be omnifan within the confines of anime. These systems are also malleable over time: someone may initially put up a discerning stance, for instance, but soften it over time.

Also, one last note: this anime thing? Maybe I can, like, actually write something about it eventually! That way, someone might actually care about this whole ‘writing on the internets’ thing. I keep forgetting that there is anime I haven’t seen, that I have meant to see, but haven’t. :(


I cannot understand those that take anime seriously, but I can love them, and I do. Out of my love I warn them to keep clear of this blog.

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June 2010