This site’s tagline is “A place to celebrate anime. Reviews of series with interesting characters and moments of beauty.” Would you believe that in those two sentences, I’ve issued a challenge to some of the most toxic trends in the anime community and in the world at large? And in myself as well?
A year or two ago, I noticed tweets and posts from a new voice in the ani-blogging community. I’ll refer to that individual using the pronoun “he.” I will not name that individual, because I honestly don’t want to call anyone out. What’s important is that over the next couple of years, I watched this bright and articulate individual became more and more cynical. His communications maintained their intelligence and wit, but the purpose became to tear down “the enemy.” Who that enemy was varied based on the norms of the tribe he was slowly joining. Often, he would attack anyone attempting to advance causes of social justice. Other times, he’d just attack anyone who questioned him. He would brag about how often he was blocked while at the same time trying to impugn down the integrity of the people who had blocked him.
Sound familiar? Put another way, how many dozen times a day do you see posts, or tweets, or news stories from people like that? People who are so fixated by cynicism and negativity that it consumes them? That it completely takes over their world view?
Worst of all, that kind of thinking is so toxic that, applied at more higher and higher levels, it can erode the foundation of friendships, communities, regions, or even nations.
Sound too familiar, doesn’t it?
Ever see the original Twilight Zone episode called “The Masks?” If you have Amazon Prime, you can watch it now. The story’s a beautiful morality play where at the end, family members greedy for their patriarch’s fortune agree to wear hideously disfigured masks. When they’re finally able to remove the masks, they find their faces have conformed to them — the price extracted for their loveless greed.
The idea’s been around a long time in psychology. If you adopt a persona (i.e., wear a mask), you tend more and more to resemble that mask. If you adopt cynicism as your modus operandi, it’s going to turn you into a cynic.
Most of you didn’t know me back then, but I used to be very active on Usenet. Usenet pre-dates web forums, but I was active on early web forums, too. I remember participating in terrible rhetorical battles that would rage on for days. The verbal abuse was terrible. Personal attacks were the norm. There was nothing positive about it.
But here’s the problem. It felt fantastic. Even then, I’d been writing for a long time (the archaeological record suggests that the first evidence dates back to when I was about 10, or about 45 years ago now). To me, words were weapons to take on anything unjust or just annoying in the world. These usenet and forum wars were not only logical, they were natural and righteous. That I could hold my own under any circumstances was proof of my abilities. That I had a group of friends who I could argue on behalf of was likewise amazing. It’s hard to overstate just how intoxicating that was.
Then came the day when a friend of ours announced in a usenet post that he was going to take his life. Over the period of two hours, all of us tried to talk him out of it. I remember pouring every ounce of skill I had into post after post.
And it make no difference.
The individual stopped corresponding, and we learned hours later from someone geographically close that he had taken his life.
That individual had been on my “side” of the various wars we’d fought, so I didn’t have a concern that I’d contributed directly to the tragedy. But then another question occurred to me: What if these wars themselves were part of the cause? Could I prove they weren’t? Wasn’t it at least possible that this environment was so unhealthy that it could produce — or contribute — to such an effect?
And if I couldn’t answer definitively, wasn’t it my responsibility to withdraw? At the very least, reality had brutally crushed the illusion that these fights were anything helpful or positive. I later understood that I was actually addicted to my own neurochemicals. Articles like this one from one of one of my favorite writers, David Brin, helped me see what was really happening.
Back to the present: I felt an affinity with the blogger/tweeter I mentioned earlier. He’s now become radicalized, in a sense, and I hope you now see what I mean when I saw looking at him gave me a strong sense of deja vu. I know where his path leads — at least I know where it led for me. If I start tearing shows apart, if my reviews start down the path of ripping into shows for the sheer “fun” of it, it’ll feel great. But it’d be toxic. Just like too much of the conversation at the local, state, and national level (to use the political boundaries in the US; please feel free to substitute the ones particular to your location!) is toxic. I’d be a negative force within the community. I’d destroy the relationships I’ve been trying to build for a short term emotional rush.
Please, let me be clear about something: I am not saying, or suggesting, or implying, that anyone who’s critical of a show or series is part of the toxins that are killing our society. Let me put that another way: There’s a lot of brilliant criticism going on in our space. In most cases, at least in the blogs I read (and I currently read 182 of them a week!), the criticism is offered either as a lament — why couldn’t that show be better? — or as an assist — here’s how the writers could do better next time! In this post, I’m not talking about either of those cases. For the further sake of clarity: I strongly support those posts!
I take issue with posts or tweets that are negative or cynical for the sake of being negative or cynical. I’m talking about the addiction to neurochemicals. Destruction in the guise of intellectualism. Or ignorance in the form of brutality. I understand too well how alluring those things can be, and I know too well the destruction they can leave in their wake.
That’s why I’m determined to celebrate anime on this site. Just like adopting a mask of cynicism can stifle the participants, a mask of celebration can inspire the participants. Rush, in the song Chain Lightning from the album Presto, said it better than I could:
Hope is epidemic
Bitterness breeds irritation
Ignorance breeds imitation
With this site, I’m taking a stand against my own personal failings. I’m taking a stand against some of the forces tearing our world apart. Sounds like I’m being pretentious, doesn’t it? It’s not like historians will look back and say, “Wow — glad that Crow guy had that site, or all would have been lost!” But I’m determined to do what I can. And in the anime space, this is what I can do. This is where I make my stand.
If you’ve read this far, thanks so much for your patience! This topic has been eating at me for weeks, and it was only when I sat down to begin writing that I realized why. It’s amazing how my subconscious speaks to me! I’m really glad it’s on my side…
I should also mention that I recently became aware that I was edging back down the path of negativity. It took reading a post called “IS IT WRONG TO SUCK A CAT GIRL’S EAR IN ANOTHER WORLD? – ‘HOW NOT TO SUMMON A DEMON LORD’ EPISODE 1 REVIEW” from Anime Q and A to give me a warning I could understand. This is one of the benefits of participating in the positive aspects of the ani-blogging community, and is a great illustration of what Rush was trying to say: Hope is, in fact, epidemic!
Do you think I’m exaggerating the threat of toxicity in the anime space? Are you taking some kind of stand and would like to talk about it? Please feel free to use the comments!