The Infinite Zenith

Where insights on anime, games and life converge

Controversed: Moyatori’s November Workshop (Part IV), On Handling Critique, Criticisms and Controversy Fatigue

“A person who was demoralised is unable to assess true information. The facts tell nothing to him. Even if I shower him with information, with authentic proof, with documents, with pictures; even if I take him by force to the Soviet Union and show him [a] concentration camp, he will refuse to believe it, until he [receives] a kick in his fan-bottom. When a military boot crashes his balls then he will understand. But not before that. That’s the [tragedy] of the situation of demoralisation.” –Yuri Bezmenov

We’ve come to the last item in Moyatori’s Controversed: as a short refresher, it’s a bit of a special workshop Moyatori’s been hosting to understand how peers become versed in maturely and expertly navigating controversial topics. For this final week, the name of the game is handling criticisms and feedback from readers – up until now, the topic has always been how we wrote about difficult topics. However, the readers’ inputs are also a key part of the process: they may offer insights to augment our own, challenge us with different ideas or, my personal favourite, swing by with colourful insults, never to be heard from again. The comments are thus a necessary part of any discussion involving controversy, and Moyatori’s questions this week deal in some of the more memorable experiences that we’ve had in the community with bad comments, specifics behind how everyone handles feedback, and the sort of things I do to combat fatigue amidst flame wars. Thus, for this post, it’s time to go storytelling for the first item, spend some time explaining my own comments policy and style, and then wrap up with another story. Before I begin, I will note that all comments here, and most other WordPress blogs, are moderated automatically by a tool called Akismet, which automatically filter out spam comments from bots looking to sell essays or Sildenafil from dubious, malware-infested sources. New comments that are not determined to be spam are pushed to a queue that I personally review, and only after being cleared, will comments become visible to all readers. As far as my WordPress comments experience with this blog goes, a vast majority of readers, I am happy to report, are civilised, well-mannered and rational people who have interesting and valuable things to say. By speaking with them, I learn or have a good time in considering different points of view. Over this blog’s nine year history, I have only ever deleted a single comment from a user who clearly had nothing of worth to add to my discussion of the Kokoro Connect Incident, and in general, I tend to keep even the ad hominem comments, if only so I can make an example of those who are unable to have a civilised discussion. In short, my WordPress experience has been very smooth sailing, and I have no horror stories to report here.

  • It is a bit surprising to see that the end of November is already upon us, and that this is the fourth Controversed post. Because Moyatori indicated that the deadline was going to be the upcoming Sunday at noon Pacific Standard Time, I figured that I should get this done as soon as possible. This event has been quite fun for pushing me to explore directions that this blog wouldn’t normally explore, although I do get the feeling that far from helping readers to understand how I do things, I’ve only really succeeded in dropping my follower count.

Because my blog has been around for quite some time, it’s drawn readers who have found the content here to be enjoyable or relevant to them, and some of these readers have been courteous to spread the word by sharing links to my posts elsewhere online. Most of these conversations use my materials as a starting point for their own discussions, and I do not begrudge people for doing that in any way. However, it is also off-site where almost all of the criticisms are levelled at this blog. There is a recurring trend in that some readers find my style to be very dense, dry and difficult to read. I find this to be perfectly valid: I have a particular style, but I don’t find it easy to write in a conversational manner. I try to address this with my figure captions, where I do get to be more informal. Beyond this, I’ve been accused of being self-aggrandising, writing to “listen to the sound of my own voice” and the like, as well; again, had these folks decided to leave the feedback here, it might’ve been possible to query them and gain insight into what precisely they were looking for: it could be the case that I am being pedantic for readers, but it is equally possible that I happened to disagree with them and found a way to so thoroughly shut their argument down, that their only retort amounted to naught more than a juvenile insult. If folks insist on making their criticisms in their own venues (Reddit and TV Tropes are where most of my critics congregate), then there is no opportunity for conversation or understanding, since I don’t make it a point to ensure a hundred percent approval rating from websites that I am unrelated to. The goal of this blog is certainly not to appease Redditors or Tropers to validate their egos, and with this being said, I typically find that the off-site criticisms about this blog remain relatively mild compared to the story Moyatori’s looking to hear for this Controversed. In response to whether or not I have a horror story about feedback, I do happen to have such a story, and it is a thrilling one.

  • The page quote is sourced from Yuri Bezmenov, who spoke of the “active measures” that the Soviet Union had employed to undermine the foundations of western civilisation. While it seemed improbable that generations of people would suddenly stop believing in facts, what I’ve seen around the internet has indicated that, foreign influence or no, the western world does seem to be trending towards a lack of respect for facts and science. Some nobody with a Tinder-style Twitter profile picture is more trustworthy than an expert in the field, and in their minds, should be afforded equal respect.

This story deals with K-On! The Movie, which follows Yui and her friends as they travel to London after a miscommunication results in the group setting up a graduation trip to cover their actual goal of writing a song for Azusa. During the course of their travels, Yui sees what Azusa means to her and the rest of Houkago Tea Time. With Naoko Yamada directing, this movie was a smash hit by all definitions. However, the series’ success has also been viewed by a small, but vocal group of people as being detrimental to the industry. In the summer of 2012, shortly after K-On! The Movie‘s home release had become available, AnimeSuki’s Reckoner (a writer at Behind the Nihon Review) published a lengthy harangue about K-On! The Movie. Behind The Nihon Review has had a history of criticising K-On!, and while Sorrow-kun, the site’s lead writer, always maintained that they were a bastion of intellectual discussion, the reality was that they had used academia and intellectual methodology as an immature (but effective) cover to complain about genres that made anime look like anything other than intellectually stimulating treatises on philosophy, sociology and politics. Ten days after the movie came out, I awoke on Saturday to find this atrocity of a “review” in my list of subscribed threads:

K-ON! has always been one of the most disingenuous anime franchises of all time to me. If there is any big reason why this movie ultimately falls flat on its face it is because they try to strike a sentimental chord about the nostalgic high school years in a franchise whose sincerity has gone completely bankrupt a long time ago. Not to mention the amount of distraction that is caused by what ultimately felt like a minor side point to this story, their trip to London.

Seriously what was the point of this movie in ever venturing off to London? Half the movie, if not maybe a little more actually takes place back in Japan. The time they do spend in London is just waltzing around random parts of the city and hardly utilizing any elements of the culture and setting for the purposes of the movie. When they did their little performances, one was at a sushi bar and the other was at a Japanese cultural fair. Home away from home? Give me a break. This movie never needed to go to London to do what it did because it never actually really used the goddamn setting in anyway meaningful. The focus here is completely off.

I also have to note why people in London were portrayed like the biggest weirdos ever. I mean c’mon now, I know Japanese people tend to not be very good with foreign countries but this sort of ridiculing portrayal of foreigners has got to stop. I usually forgive TV more for this since well they don’t got the budget and stuff, but this is a goddamn movie and they can’t actually do a better job here? Worst the engrish still exists and they can’t get proper english speakers? Give me a break.

If this movie was supposed to be about how they wanted to say goodbye to the their good friend, then good grief did they go about in the most roundabout manner possible. It does not help that most of movie is pretty much recycling the same old jokes and personality quirks that have long since gone past their life time of freshness and amusement.

And like always this franchise hasn’t been about music. That became very clear in its very first season and it still is clear now. I never got the impression that the music was something deeply important to the character, rather it was the experience with themselves as friends that they seemed to value more. Essentially the hobby didn’t matter, it was just that they all interacted with this hobby. To the very end this permeated the show, and I still have to ask the question here, why music? If K-ON!! ever truly sent the message here about why music was here in the first place, I never got it. It had about as much purpose as it did in something like Angel Beats, it’s just sort of there. This franchise is still completely false advertising in this regard.

I also do not like how they always manage to play so damn perfect in their songs. Oh we wrote a song, we don’t really practice it and all of a sudden they’re on stage and the whole crowd eats it up. Great. It’s a disservice to the process of music completely. The only time they did any different was the very last song that they prepared for Azu-nyan, but these scenes were far and few in between through this entire franchise and even in the movie.

In reality this didn’t need to be a film. The pacing throughout was completely off and very uneven. The production values were honestly a bit disappointing for a Kyoani effort. A lack of a cohesive narrative structure plagued the film all throughout because of two completely different focuses never meshing together. The sentimentality doesn’t work because it never properly built a base by distancing itself from its obvious 4-koma roots in the first place. When most of your show consists of eating cake and drinking tea with 4-koma styled humor and interactions throughout, it just does not feel sincere. The film wasted too much time in an ultimately pointless side adventure to make up any ground here on this front.

I hope this is the last we ever of the K-ON franchise. This film was extremely, extremely poor.

Within moments of finishing reading this that morning, counterarguments began racing through my mind: if anything, it was Reckoner’s “review” that was extremely, extremely poor. Reckoner was wrong on all counts about K-On! The Movie. This “review” demonstrated his emotional bankruptcy, as well as small-mindedness and inconsolable envy at the fact that a series with a theme on something that wasn’t “intellectually stimulating” could perform well. The London trip in K-On! The Movie was an accident, a consequence of the girls trying to conceal their graduation gift to Azusa, and that the fact it happens shows that Houkago Tea Time is very much a go-with the flow band. The movie also used native English speakers, and I felt it reasonable to suppose that Reckoner is probably a non-native speaker if he had trouble with comprehending the dialogue. The series has never been about music, and instead, was a story of discovery and appreciation, as well as expressing thanks through music. Houkago Tea Time’s consistently high standard of performance comes from the fact they’ve been playing for three years and know how to put on a show. Reckoner’s dishonesty was disgraceful in his “review”, and calling the movie out for poor production values is to be outright lying: the film looked and feels sharper than anything seen in the TV series, making use of sophisticated lighting and camera angles. Behind the Nihon, if anything, was false advertising, claiming to have “intellectual” discussion when all they did was complain about moé anime. It was fortunate that beyond AnimeSuki, Reckoner’s “review” never made it anywhere else, as it represented an unsatisfactory effort based on emotion rather than well-reasoned thoughts. Amidst this jumble of thoughts, I knew that Reckoner was entitled to his opinions of the film, but as I’ve continued to maintain, being entitled to an opinion does not mean one is entitled to an audience, or entitled to having people agree with him for free.

Thus, rather than counter-argue against the “review” directly, I attempted to probe further and see if I could get Reckoner to rationally justify why he had watched the movie if he’d never been a fan of the franchise. If people were going to agree with him, I felt that Reckoner would really have to earn this right. However, I never got any further: back in those days, AnimeSuki possessed a reputation system that was originally intended to show which forum members had anything useful to say. Naturally, Reckoner, being a longtime user of the site, had a much higher reputation score than myself. When I asked why people were agreeing with Reckoner despite his rant being contributing nothing of value to the discussion, this prompted people in the discussion to dole out negative reputation to my account. Over the course of an hour, I’d gone from being reputation positive to being very reputation negative, which resulted in my being totally ignored in all parts of the forum. All of this resulted from challenging a longtime member to really justify their conclusions properly in the spirit of discussion. Because Reckoner had completely convinced his arguments were indisputable and counting on his reputation rather than merit, to defend his position, he resorted to crude means of closing the discussion, expecting that people agree with him simply because he’d been around at AnimeSuki for longer. At Reckoner’s request, for months afterwards, all of my posts were completely disregarded, which completely defeated the purpose of participating in the forum, and my blog even experienced a significant drop in traffic as Reckoner asked in the Behind the Nihon Review community to boycott me for challenging his authority.

The lesson learnt from this incident was that there are people with frail egos who do not like to be challenged, and on virtue of their reputation, demand agreement from others. Were I to go back and do things over, per Moyatori’s question, I’m not sure if there is anything I could’ve done differently to have a conversation with Reckoner directly – this writer from Behind the Nihon Review had a large, but fragile ego and had been utterly convinced that K-On! was something no one should watch. I imagine that had I continued, I would’ve simply been banned. In retrospect, while attempting to get a rational answer from Reckoner was impossible, I could’ve turned the entire situation around by re-writing Reckoner’s review from a completely positive standpoint and made a more concerted effort to gain the support from the other forum goers, to prove that the positives in K-On! The Movie far outweigh the negatives. I never did get around to doing this, however: in the end, I ended up speaking with the admin, who noted that, while Reckoner’s actions were in the wrong, reputation was not something they preferred to deal with (if they allowed me to reset my reputation, it would set a precedence where people could also ask for the same). However, they did permit me to deactivate my old account and spin up a new account for a fresh start. Since my old account was deactivated, I was not violating any rules with the new account. Since then, I’ve been rocking this new account. Further to this, AnimeSuki did away with the reputation system as a result of this incident, and with reputation gone,  all of the forum members were now on equal footing, and I found it much easier to properly have discussions with people when I did rejoin. While it created new problems, allowing Sumeragi to hijack threads and flood them with lies (I’ll discuss that in a few moments), removing reputation was largely a positive move for AnimeSuki: without reputation, Reckoner had to defend his opinions on merit alone and began posting with a dramatically reduced frequency. Finally, as for Reckoner’s efforts to boycott this blog, people soon forgot about things: today, this blog seems to be doing well enough, and dare I say, considerably better than Behind the Nihon Review, which gets as much traffic in a year as I do in a day now.

  • I absolutely stand by my assertion that the hostility towards K-On! stemmed from the fact that the individual had saw himself as being above the creators. This brand of thinking has since permeated the world, with people believing their own knowledge supersedes expert opinion. This is because if their truth is overridden by the truth, the foundations of their world no longer make sense to them, and further to this, the instant gratification afforded by the internet, and social media in particular, mean that highly specialised, technical disciplines are not worth pursuing to them simply because they take a great deal of time to cultivate. Patience and social media do not align: if it takes years to acquire the expertise and skillset needed to understand a topic, it won’t help one get retweets or upvotes, these people reason.

On the matter of how I address my critics and criticisms, I start by noting that there is precious little I can do about discussions that happen off WordPress, and I suspect that my most vocal critics deliberately choose to attack my blog off-site for this reason, likely fearing (non-existent) retribution. However, they are mistaken in their assumption that I censor everything the same way Sony NA does, and in fact, I count this blog’s commenting policy as being very open. Further to this, I strive to be fair to readers who take the time to comment: assuming the comment has cleared the spam filter, is relevant to the discussion and is free of prohibited materials, I always aim to ensure my reply to a comments are close in length to the original, and I strive to answer the commenter as best as I can if they have a question. Readers who leave a sentence and a reaction will likely get a smiley face with their light-hearted reply, and commenters who take the time to write paragraphs will receive a paragraph back in response. The goal here is to foster discussions from across the spectrum: if users are looking for a quick reaction, I can accommodate that as readily as I do lengthier conversations. All sorts of comments are welcome here, and I usually make an effort to reply to comments as soon as possible, usually before I publish my next post. There is only one exception to this rule: I have a zero tolerance policy for memes because of their repetition, which is wasteful, and in particular, the so-called “pepega” meme is outright prohibited here. Posting that hate symbol is the fastest way to be permanently banned from commenting. Beyond this, I welcome comments from readers – besides offering insights I may not think of, there are the occasional comment where a reader writes about how my posts have helped change their lives in a tangible, positive manner, and those are always a joy to read and respond to.

  • Consequently, there is decreasing respect for the scientific method, experts and facts, and this means that controversies become more common. When there is no foundation to build discussions off of, people only have their subjective experiences and emotions to argue from. I call these “feels” in a derogatory manner, and my participation in Controversed found that a lot of misunderstandings in controversies happen precisely because of these so-called “feels”: without context and facts, some people fall back on a knee-jerk reaction to simplify complex issues into a us vs. them debate. In a proper discussion, this does not happen because there is context, and a common ground to build arguments from.

The last item on today’s itinerary is how I handle the potential exhaustion that may result from discussing controversial topics. We suppose that avoiding them is not an option in this case, since my nominal answer is to simply sit them out while they’re raging: a few years ago, a forum-goer calling themselves “Sumeragi” was arguing that Miho was not justified in saving her teammates in Girls und Panzer, and claimed that his own personal views were the correct way of living out life. This resulted in a massive flame war, and while other forum members attempted to counter with logic and reason, Sumeragi insisted on how his beliefs and backgrounds proved that all other arguments were void. This is something straight from the playbook of extremists who’ve rejected reality and replaced it with their own delusions. Against a foe of this sort, it is simpler to not participate. In the case, however, where one is entangled, I would suggest disabling notifications to posts and replies in the social media environment, and for forums, using submit-and-forget approach. The key to avoiding fatigue is understanding that a constant presence in the debate and a swift reply is not worth the stress it introduces. For social media, disabling notifications means not being constantly bombarded with updates, while on forums, writing infrequently and only responding periodically reduces the amount of effort one has to spend replying to people who may not be arguing in good faith. In both cases, the idea is to make the person on the other end of the screen endure the deluge of notifications and refresh their pages anxiously. Even with this approach, heated discussions can get very tiring, and in this case, my favourite course of action usually follows: head offline and do something fun, whether it be going for a walk, grabbing a beer, or unwinding with a good film. There is a price to “winning” online arguments, whether it be suffering from anxiety or, in Sumeragi’s case, a permanent (and well-deserved) ban from AnimeSuki. I remark that there is a difference between a spirited discussion done with folks one is familiar with, and arguing with anonymous people who are convinced they are in the right: with people where a mutual respect is shared, discussions happen at a casual pace, and there is never any exhaustion.

  • To undo demoralisation, then, people must look to accepting that there are other people in the world who specialise and excel in different areas, and that it is the sum of this knowledge that progress is built upon. This means having faith in a physician’s diagnosis of a patient, an engineer’s designs for a building and the software developer’s explanation of how an algorithm works, rather than deciding that one’s own access to Wikipedia makes them equal to an expert. These are my closing remarks for Controversed, and I assure readers that December will be a lot more conventional in nature, as I focus on my usual topics: perhaps then, the readers I’ve frightened off may return.

I believe that with this post, I’m now finished Controversed. I’m not too sure how useful my content has been for Moyatori, and if anything, participating has helped me to recall why I prefer to avoid online controversies altogether – a recurring phenomenon in controversies is that people are often unwilling to listen. Even when presented with the facts, people will cling to their ideology and emotions until the bitter end. A computer program or mathematical proof is insufficient to convince these people of reality, and they stubbornly insist they’re correct even in direct contradiction to empirical data. In this situation, we speak of the demoralisation that Yuri Bezmenov warned the world of decades earlier: when facts fail to be respected, and argument boils down to “feels”, there is nothing to be learnt, and no discussion to be had. Social media exacerbates this, and it gives the terrifying impression that rational, logical thought is rapidly going the way of the dinosaurs. Logic and reason are the sole tools in ensuring that in a controversy, people find the willingness to listen to all sides of the argument. In an age where this is often forgotten, complex issues are reduced to matters of black and white, where all context is stripped from the argument. This accounts for why controversies continue to erupt over every trivial thing in anime and other matters. While knowing how to navigate controversies and discuss these topics is doubtlessly important, the topic Moyatori chooses to close off Controversed is equally important – in a world where every debate is potentially black and white, and where neither side refuses to yield or concede that the other side has merits, knowing precisely how to handle difficult individuals and situations is vital in keeping one from burning out. As long as there are enough people who adhere to civility, logic, reason and a willingness to listen in their arguments, interesting discussions will always be had without getting out of hand, and within the circles I’m a part of, I’ve had no trouble asking difficult questions of my peers, who’ve given me insights I certainly wouldn’t have heard otherwise.

4 responses to “Controversed: Moyatori’s November Workshop (Part IV), On Handling Critique, Criticisms and Controversy Fatigue

  1. moyatori November 26, 2020 at 18:31

    As someone who greatly enjoys academic writing, I don’t think there’s a problem with the style of your language itself. I do think we still have to remember that not everyone’s thinking is scientifically oriented, and that “feels” too are valid, particularly when it comes to a subject as subjective as anime reviews. Academic or empirical rigour isn’t necessarily superior, and certainly isn’t universally so!

    The comments directed to you certainly weren’t too nice, and I’m sorry you’ve had to deal with them. If I can make a suggestion though, you might be able to avoid some hostile reactions by removing scare-quotes around certain things, such as “review.” Even if you disagree with what the review said, I think there’s no need to undermine it this way, especially as it can be perceived as passive aggression.

    Liked by 1 person

    • moyatori November 26, 2020 at 18:32

      P.S. Very glad that you’ve found value in the workshop, and a huge thank you for your participation!

      Liked by 1 person

    • infinitezenith November 26, 2020 at 19:11

      This is the sort of criticism and feedback I prefer getting: how do I go about communicating better? This is how 🙂 The worth of these side-projects is evident, and participating is immensely enjoyable for that reason. I would wish that more folks saw discussion this way; I try my best to listen, and there are things that occasionally try my patience. That K-On! The Movie review was definitely one of them.

      On the topic of subjectivity, it is absolutely true that not everything boils down to a science. The enjoyment of anime and the like is purely subjective, as are themes, motifs and symbols in literature. In these feels, I expect people to bring their judgment into the discussion, because that’s where the fun is. In this post, my mind was on the little mathematics debacle from a few weeks ago, as well as the more recent reaction to my province’s announcement surrounding the health crisis: scientists have done their part, there is evidence and numbers, and yet, politicians and Twitter users continue to play games, as though we don’t have science at all. For discussions in general, I believe that there is one foundation that is universal: the willingness to listen, and on these grounds, regardless of whether or not a debate is rooted in the objective (e.g. efficacy of masks in reducing spread of infectious agents) or the subjective (e.g. how Shirase’s shyness conflicts with her goals in YoriMoi), at least for me, I’ve found that hearing everyone out is the best starting point.

      So, thanks for your feedback and for illustrating how controversies and criticisms can be constructively discussed, and for hosting this party. The one take-away I’ve gotten from reading the other posts for Controversed is that I’m in good company, and while other people might see fit to spam memes in response to criticisms and controversies, I know I’ll have a reliable and mature bunch to bounce thoughts off of 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: Controversed Showcase: 2020 November – The Moyatorium

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