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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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?