That question really should be “when is fiction more than merely fiction” but I like to stick to my lane. It’s a colourful lane full of attractive people.

anime alley
I don’t know the artist but pretty alley right?

You might be wondering what I’m on about this time. As usual it’s trivial nonsense. I guess I have more than one lane! But see, I have a very specific pet peeve. I really dislike when people dismiss any type of debate or even conversation with “it’s just an anime…”  (Or book, show, movie, ect….)

I understand the impulse, believe me! Some people get way too passionate about their entertainment and really go too far. It can be downright scary. But to completely avoid any type of conversation on a subject just because it was spawned by a work of fiction is short sighted in my opinion and it denies a very important aspect and function of storytelling.

I really like stories, and people diminishing them makes me sad.

scums wish
I need a minute

As usual, everything I’m about to say is my own opinion and open to critique and debate. I have always believed that fiction is a primordial part of human psyche and evolution. There is a reason we invest so much time, effort and resources into creating make belief. The same reason we openly fall in love with characters we know aren’t real and cry over events that never happened. And we’ve always done so.

As far back as we have manage to trace our origins, some type of mythology has always been present. Personally, I think it goes beyond us being a species particularly susceptible to boredom and it has something to do with our very nature. That sentence is stupid. Being susceptible to boredom could be our nature… I couldn’t find my way out of the word maze I’d written myself into.

I think fiction is in fact an inherent and complex aspect of communication as well as a completely necessary intellectual function. Imaginary stories allow us to practice being human. We get to experience emotional or intellectual catharsis without any real world stakes to risk. We can contextualize thought experiments or moral quandaries without paying for them with real lives and pain.

ok ok, I’m getting to the point

Art can bring about understanding and empathy. It is a powerful tool that often takes a powerful toll on the artist and is not always rewarded in any way yet we still find ourselves helplessly drawn to it. Even someone as uncreative and straightforward as myself, finds that writing non descriptive texts is a wonderful experience.

In short, there is nothing “just” about fiction. It is a cornerstone of our existence and its importance cannot be overstated.

But where do we draw the line? I’ve spoken before of the futility of hurting real live people in order to defend imaginary ones. That could be seen as a simple rewording of the “it’s just a story” argument. And I obviously believe that. I think you should avoid hurting people as much as possible in general. However, in this context I meant hurting people’s feelings over the internet, as happens a million times a day.

Basically, I have two contradictory instincts when it comes to the issue. On the one hand I encourage moral and or intellectual debate whenever possible. That’s how we get smarter. We could use all the smart we can get. On the other hand the virtual world can be a minefield as it is without piling on ultimately meaningless arguments.

anime Sigh
I know! That’s what I’m saying!

The core issue here, for me is : are those fascinating comment debates and discussions I’ve been lucky enough to take part in, the best possible iteration and evolution of the vitriolic Twitter squabbles I try to avoid at all costs or are those two things completely different species. If it’s the latter then dismissing a petty troll with “it’s only fiction” seems perfectly reasonable, but if it’s the former, are we running the risk of discouraging free thought?

Pretty grand statement I just made there. Even I rolled my eyes a little at that!

I don’t really know. A few paragraphs ago, I had this vague notion of giving you all some basic guidelines to make sure we stick to the constructive side of discourse but I realized that’s useless. No one who could actually use those guidelines will ever read this post. I know for a fact that you guys are open minded, respectful and genuinely interested in other people’s opinions and perceptions. Have I told you recently how much I appreciate you? I do!

Madoka hug
you’re awesome!

Instead, how about we figure out how to avoid wasting our time and when it’s worth considering anime as more than an anime. Personally I try to throw out language and pretend an adorable 4 year old is talking to me whenever I read one of those potentially inflammatory opinions on shows or my medium of choice. The idea is to disregard the packaging and dig down to the bare thesis statement. If I think I know but I’m not sure. I’ll ask for clarification before even forming an opinion. I’m amazed by how often semantics get in the way of conversations.

Once I got that down, I decide whether I’m interested in the subject at all or just about the examples used to illustrate the point. If the subject isn’t something I specifically care about, I probably won’t add to the general digital noise. There’s no point in making the din any louder if I have nothing of interest to contribute. If I do care though, I will take things passionately but not personally. Or I’ll try. This his sort of a commitment on my part. I want to contribute earnestly so I can’t just opt out with “it doesn’t matter cause it’s just anime”.

I say that but let’s face it, some of those conversations can get exhausting and it’s good to have an escape plan for when you need it.

So what do you guys think, Is it a valid argument? Do you think debating works of fiction is a waste of time?

if you are enjoying it, it’s not a waste of time

67 thoughts

  1. Debating a story is pretty much like revising a topic before an exam.
    No wait, it’s like retrospections of conversations you’ve had. I definitely think that debating brings more character, not just to the story and heroes but also the people who are debating themselves.
    While I agree it gets annoying when someone takes things too seriously, there are great advantages of having a healthy discussion and debate about a series.

  2. Seriously! I wish that my replies would show up when I wanted them to so I don’t have to make another and realize I already made one of the same!!!

  3. Mr.Cat Says: Anime is life, anime is my daily necessity like breathing. So it’s worth! IF SOMEONE SAY’S THAT, IT’S ONLY ANIME AS IT NOT ANIME IT MY LIFE… (Seems like i got violent)

    1. Well, everyone has their own opinion. I personally love Romance, Quizzes, & Anime most. I’ve found myself watching more Quizzes and videos of Gacha stuff and Nightcore stuff more than anything else lately…

  4. While it’s true that more often than not people get so excited about their shows, I find it endearing sometimes…after all they’re just really into what they like. Me and my friends often debate our favorite characters/ships and even animes. For instance, my friend hates tsuyu from my hero academia but I love tsuyo and think she deserves the world but although we sometimes squabble about tsuyu it’s not like we fight for real. However, there are some people that fight over these things for real and that’s when it gets kinda sad…

    1. It’s stupid to me to really fight over a fictional character in my opinion (though I got a crush on a few sometimes (*cough*- Link in Ocarina of Time)).

  5. If arguing works of fiction weren’t a thing, some of us wouldn’t have jobs and some of us would be a lot less willing to engage with things than we already are…or maybe even both.

    Anyways, I don’t think I’ve ever used “It’s only fiction (don’t get so worked up about it)” as a defence before. Boiling down an issue to one line creates a risk of generalising too much, so I don’t think I want to try it either.

  6. *****are those fascinating comment debates and discussions I’ve been lucky enough to take part in, the best possible iteration and evolution of the vitriolic Twitter squabbles I try to avoid at all costs or are those two things completely different species. If it’s the latter then dismissing a petty troll with “it’s only fiction” seems perfectly reasonable, but if it’s the former, are we running the risk of discouraging free thought?*****

    As a kid, I enjoyed seeing movie monsters eat people. Obviously, I never wanted real people to be eaten by monsters. “It’s only fiction,” isn’t only dismissive. The fact that you know something is fictional changes the entire framing of a story. True story? How horrible! Fictional story: How interesting!

    Quite a bit of discussions are performative: you dunk on the outgroup to score points with the ingroup, and to that extent such meltdowns are often community building exercises: a banding together for comfort or validation. Happens on all sides. If you spot such a melt down, keeping your head low is probably the best thing to do, unless you have some social status with both groups, in which case you can try to mediate, but good luck – it’s exhausting.

    The next step down from in-group/out-group performative conflicts are probably rants. Rants just vent frustrations and aren’t really invitations to discussions. They can lead to discussions, but probably not immediately. If you feel the need to reply to a rant with anything other than sympathy, it’s best to be very careful with the phrasing. The biggest problem here is that one person’s venting can be another person’s frustration, and if this escalates and attracts others, we’re right back with performative conflict.

    Conversations work best where people are actually curious, and/or want to solve problems. When people understand that people are different, and when those differences motivate discussion, that’s when conversation is the most fruitful.

    So back to my opening paragraph: Drop someone into a pool full of piranhas and kiddy Dawnstorm would get excited. Drop someone into a wood chipper and kiddy Dawnstorm would be horrified and scared. It’s both only fiction, and Kiddy Dawnstorm understands that. So what’s the difference? I always liked animals, and I never cared much about machines. Does this make the difference here? I honestly don’t know. Kiddy Dawnstorm certainly didn’t want anyone to die a horrible death; that much I know. “It’s only fiction” makes a huge difference, but it doesn’t always make the same difference, and what difference it makes and when is highly personal, and it often bumps against taboos, which makes frank discussions rare, and honest discussions risky.

    “It’s only fiction,” can be attempts to disarm such situations without going into the details of face-threatening taboo reactions. It can also be something you say to yourself to serve as a safety net to explore the darker regions of your psyche.

    That’s related to “It’s only fiction,” (as in “don’t get so excited”) but framed differently. In the end it comes down to world views: what we pay attention to, what we think is important, how we think things are, and how we think they should be, and when “should” is even important.

    Most people who play Mortal Kombat, Grand Theft Auto, or Rampage aren’t practising for their future career. “It’s only fiction,” is soothing the waves, but the particulars are sensitive and you have to choose wisely when to talk about them. (Aside: Even between well-meaning people, I’m not convinced twitter is the best medium, though. It moves too fast; you need to be able to take your time to calm down, but by the time the thread might have vanished far down the stream.)

  7. Have we told you latelely how much we appreciate YOU? No…well…just throwing that in there again 😊
    As usual….another terrific post, on a very good subject. I always love people who say to me, how can you be so passionate about a show (Either anime or live action). ” It’s just a show, right?” ” It isn’t real, right”. Honestly….I think I have cried more at movies, shows, or animes, that I have done in real life (well…at least it’s a close tie at best). A story that can evoke emotion, or make someone passionate enough to start debating about it, does something right. And it’s the closest thing to real life too. I mean things that happen in real life, can make people discuss them too….often too very heated debates (like politics). (And quite honestly….I don’t get why people can get passionate about that …lol 😂).
    Seriously though: talking/debating about entertainment is never a waste of time…it’s a way of escaping the real (sometimes sad and depressing) world, and sharing it with like minded souls. And since when is spending time with friends with the same interest a waste of time? That’s right….it never is. 😊
    Great post Irina…but I guess I already said that 😊

            1. Ha, haha! This is just one of the things I enjoy about the posts, the funny conversations and meeting new people. Along with shows that sound interesting that I’ve never heard of.

    1. Talking way too seriously about silly shows has introduced me to some amazing people …cough…. how worth it is that!

      Thank you Raistlin

      1. If U go out & talk 2 more people, the more people can choose 2 be Ur friends (or enemies depending on personality and certain other things).

  8. As Terry Pratchett says in Hogfather:

    “Humans need fantasy *to be human.* To be the place where the falling angel meets the rising ape. With tooth fairies, hogfathers… yes, as practice you need to start out learning to believe the little lies, so to believe the big ones: justice, mercy, duty, that sort of thing. They’re not the same at all? You think so? Then grind the universe down to the finest powder and sieve it through the finest sieve, and then show me one atom of justice, one molecule of mercy! And yet, you behave as if there is some ideal order to the world, as if there is some… some *rightness* to the universe by which it may be judge. But people have got to believe that, or what’s the point? You need to believe in things which aren’t true. How else can they become?”

    That’s not quite verbatim, but close enough! 😉

      1. Heh, and there’s a much shorter way of saying to, which I only remembered a moment ago:

        “Stories teach us how to live and why.”

        That’s said by a storyteller in a miniseries, Arabian Nights. 🙂

  9. What a great post! Um I do sometimes throw around the phrase “It’s just anime/fiction,” but I DO NOT mean to imply that said fiction should not be discussed. I only say it when people start the arguments of “you are what you watch” and “if you watch x themed anime, you will become x.” That’s not true. Fictional is and should be influential in some ways, but good, rational people won’t let fiction drive them to anything immoral. (I’m not going to hurt anyone in reality just because I like to watch violent anime, etc.) Anyway, fiction, including anime, is definitely worth discussion! It’s not a waste of time at all. Some of the most fascinating discussions I’ve ever been in have been about anime. Besides, I’m of the opinion that only you can decide if something is a waste of time or meaningful. “Meaning” is up to the individual, so nobody else but you has any say over something you like being meaningful or not.

      1. Same here! Especially the fat or whatever it is that hang off my legs that wouldn’t jiggle if I got lots more exorcise and I wouldn’t feel so much like a weakling! I’d also not have as many scabs and I’d be better able at earning my crushes love so I wouldn’t have as many heartbreaks!

  10. This is some super scientific research right here… straight from the kimchi lab…
    Yes… Empathy 100%
    I have noticed that those who don’t read or watch anything or any sort of fictional entertainment. They really are not kind to other humans.
    In my small world those who read, watch, imagine: tend to be the humans I want to hang out with.
    And yes people do get to crazy over fictional characters and ships, but I think sometimes they don’t see how they are coming off to others.
    In the end it is the same old story for me: Trying to convert others to watching anime, because like you said, it is just great story and I too am a fan of great stories.

    1. Oh man, I’ve seen a lot of what you’re talking about. It seems like people who don’t like fiction of any kind are the same as those who don’t own pets.

        1. I don’t know, maybe they just don’t like 2 think about the mess the pets make & how much extra work they’d have 2 put in… I think it’s understandable. It doesn’t keep ME from liking animals but I can see that perspective.

            1. True & I should know because I have TWO little brothers other than my 13 year old brother.

        1. I may not like dogs but if other people like dogs, good for them. I prefer cats and foxes. This is my perspective.

  11. I sure hope debating works of fiction is worth doing,because that’s my whole schtick online.

    Seriously though, I think it depends on the topic. I will debate night and day about the characters from Oregairu and why certain characters are not as bad as they seem, but I think serious debates over “best girl” is just asinine and immature.

    Unless it’s K-ON and you don’t say Mio, then you are wrong, fite me. /S

    Moreover, like you said, fiction is more an expression of humanity’s collective thoughts and experiences, so what we’re debating isn’t really the show itself, but our own ideals and beliefs, and in that regard, fiction flexes those thinking muscles perfectly.

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