Non-management: So my article on Love Lives, male audiences, and idol culture is out on the Anime Feminist blog (AniFem for short). It’s been likely read by over a hundred folks, and it’s received both praise and criticism. A lot of the more vehement criticism seems to have been routed directly at AniFem’s editors, or been subtweeted about by folks to folks that don’t know me. The drama that was generated from the article’s publication has been especially frustrating for me because barely anyone who has been especially and vocally furious about the article’s existence on AniFem has bothered to actually reach out to me at all. I didn’t know that I was that unapproachable a person. I do have a Twitter account, and it’s definitely not locked.
I have sought out criticism that isn’t accessible for me to read, diving into article quote threads and various subtweet threads, to get a better idea of how people were reacting to it and how I could better improve as a writer. Some criticism pointed out how I over-generalized the idol industry. I could definitely have made it more clear that I wasn’t trying characterize how all idol groups function, just as thoroughly as I attempted to clarify that I liked the Love Live anime overall and am intrigued by some aspects of idol culture. I definitely don’t think that I am the end-all be-all voice on Love Live or idol culture. The specific criticism that I mentioned engaged with the actual argument of the article, and was framed in such a manner as to be conducive to inviting discussion instead of provoking callouts. It’s the kind of criticism that I welcome and find constructive.
Unfortunately, I have found other criticisms to be less constructive. Some don’t actually engage with the article’s argument itself, or some only reference the argument vaguely. Some complaints seem more determined with demonizing the author’s disposition instead of criticizing the author’s words.
To address some of the criticism that the article has been receiving, here are a few things that people can consider before (and for some folks, can consider after) typing out a complaint:
— Consider whether or not there are any structural limits holding an article back from covering multiple perspectives on an issue (i.e. soft/hard word limits, a narrow thematic scope, etc).
A common demand of teachers when they assign pupils essays asking them to analyse something is a word or page limit. Educators have only so much time to review and grade papers for a class before needing to carry on with the next lesson and assignment, but a word or page limit does not excuse students from making shallow arguments about the topic that they are asked to write about. The demand is to argue sound analyses and not to touch on all viable perspectives. An oft acceptable compromise in school for essays that balances making solid analyses with exploring important perspectives is “narrowing the scope of your thesis.” Students pick one to a few themes for their paper — and often the ones that they want to discuss and/or the most comfortably familiar with — and stick to only developing the arguments for that or those themes. That mentality of saving reading time carries over to many widely read blogs, where editors exhort writers to balance their desires to develop a topic with the consideration to not exhaust the audience. You want people to read through the article quickly while leaving them with the feeling of coming back to the blog.
I can’t cover every perspective on an issue like idol culture and Love Live while respecting a 2000ish word soft limit. I would have also loved to cover the yuri dimensions of Love Live and its connections to idol culture in the same breath, but, in addition to other reasons, that additional coverage would have exceeded the limit.
— Understand that my perspective or interpretation of an issue is just that: one of many.
In the social sciences, there is only one way to prove that a claim about some trend about group behavior is fact: statistics. You have to conduct a statistical study with an appropriate methodology to establish whether or not this claim is definitive and that claim is bunk. When studying idol culture insiders and Love Live fans, few statistical studies exist that track and conclude anything about what these people think or do as a group. In the absence of the quantitative analysis of statistics, social researchers on idol culture have had to rely on the qualitative analysis of interpretations. Researchers mainly have interviews and anecdotes of folks to get them started, and mostly reasoning to go on when making an argument about a group dynamic. The best and only thing the analytical writer can do, in the absence of being able to establish a claim as fact, is to make that claim as trustworthy an interpretation as can be. Trustworthiness in an article analyzing anything is dependent on the working viability and soundness of the argument and evidence in the form of multiple and appropriate anecdotes that support the analysis. There can be multiple viable arguments that can be backed different pieces of evidence.
Therefore, there can be multiple interpretations on idol culture and Love Live that are trustworthy. My one article does not hold the monopoly on truth, nor do I intend to argue otherwise. Please pitch your own article if you feel like a crucial perspective was neglected and that you feel like you have good sources to elaborate on it.
— Question whether criticizing the lack of the inclusion of newer examples of idol industry abuses in the article actually undermines the article’s argument.
I perfectly understand the criticism of not including newer examples of idol industry abuses under the argument that idol industry practices have improved in recent days. I also understand that the inclusion of newer instances helps impress on readers new to idol industry controversies that these abuses are not only terrible, but on-going. Many of the critics of the article, however, are already aware of the examples of abuses that I’ve mentioned. I do not see many of those same critics putting forward examples of the idol industry getting better, only that there have been future abuses that I have shamefully neglected in the article to catalog. I don’t see how that point (and the vehemence by which it is sometimes made) undermines the argument put forward by the article about the extant issues in the idol industry. It seems only to attack how the article itself was written. The article isn’t supposed to be a news report though. It’s supposed to be an analytical piece, and a bit of an introductory one at that. I am not rhetorically obligated in the essay to provide more novel news of shocking idol abuses when the older examples (which honestly aren’t that old) are still consistent with newer ones.
Demanding more novel news when it serves no relevant point for the already informed critic feels either like a demand to include more sensationalism in the article or, again, a veiled attempt to undermine the credibility of the article for reasons outside of the argument that it’s making.
— Reflect on how the assumption that straight men can’t do authentic feminist analysis can end up being problematic itself.
There are those criticisms that challenge my qualifications for writing about Love Live and female idols because I am not the right gender or sexual orientation. These positions are based on a faith about the general unsuitability of straight men engaging in feminist analysis of media culture. From a macro level, the implications of these criticisms, if applied broadly to the social sciences for any out-group trying to study an in-group, suggest the uselessness of disciplines like anthropology. That is not to say that the anthropology discipline hasn’t struggled with issues of prejudice clouding the judgments of non-native scholars in the past. However, these kinds of criticisms, when levied broadly by insiders against outsiders, nonetheless negates the value of any participant-observer attempt by non-native-outsider-researchers to understand cultures that they weren’t born or raised in. From a micro level, any rebuttal to this conviction that I could offer in my capacity as someone mostly straight and male would automatically be considered twisted and invalid, regardless of the help I received from feminist-aligned women while preparing the draft for this article.
For instance, Lauren Orsini of AniFem drew her own concerns from Love Live when she watched it and wrote about it on her blog. They were concerns that were similar to the ones that I developed when I watched Love Live myself. She graciously shared her notes on the show with me to refer to as I wrote my article under her supervision.
— Ponder the very likely and understandable reasons why I chose to write about Love Live, as opposed any other anime idol show or fan-service heavy anime.
I’ve seen this complaint levied against me (and not the article) by Love Live fans that think that I have some vendetta against the show or otherwise believe me opportunistic for picking on the franchise. I may not be as huge a fan of Love Live as some other people, but I definitely and unambiguously enjoyed Love Live in a non-trashy way. I may have criticized aspects of how Nozomi’s character was handled, but she’s also my favorite OG Love Live. After Nozomi, my next favorites are Nico and Maki.
Love Live is one of the few idol anime that I’ve watched to completion. I am open to being criticized about trying to speak authoritatively on the subject despite only completing a few idol anime. In my defense though, I tried to watch Idolm@aster too. I subsequently dropped Idolm@aster early because I found it even more reprehensible with how it treated its idols than Love Live. It inclined me to write about my entire Love Live experience than a partial Idolm@aster one. However, that still doesn’t fully explain why Love Live.
Why would I write about Love Live when it isn’t nearly as problematic and is far more wholesome compared to other idol anime? It’s controversial aspects aren’t as overt or as noticeable as the issues present in other idol anime like Idolm@aster, so what’s the value in picking on poor Love Live? I would argue that Love Live’s relative dearth of controversial apparency is what makes a critical analysis of it valuable. One viable interpretation that you can argue is that that dearth makes Love Live even more problematic. Love Live obfuscates, but does not erase. It scrubs, but does not sanitize.
It plays both sides, both all-age audiences and male idol otaku. The latter party, adolescent and grown up men, are satisfied with the occasional serving of red meat. The former party, kids and especially girls, grow up absorbing unhealthy expectations of what it means to perform their ascribed gender. To leave un-examined these purposely hidden and potentially insidious messages inside of otherwise innocuous or innocent-seeming idol anime like Love Live — leaving generations of young girls to idolize wedding dresses and what they stand for as the ultimate marker of femininity — can be considered a disservice to the spirit of feminist media analysis. Feminist analysis is a challenge to gender incredulities not only on the surface level. It is also a challenge to gender assumptions in the subterranean depths. Understand that the idols of Love Live are ultimately fictional characters. They were created by folks who were raised in the values of their deeply patriarchal culture.
That’s all for the common complaints toward the article… and the writer… that I’ve seen floating around that I felt were disingenuous and needed addressing. I would like to consider myself as being open-minded enough not to claim that I know everything. I am totally open to criticism that actually challenges the argument set forth in the essay that I wrote. If you feel that the analysis over-reaches and oversimplifies (for instance), or if you felt like I messed up recounting an important detail from the show (because I did), please feel free to point it out (politely though, please). In fact, I would highly encourage people if they do have a complaint about the article to actually talk to me specifically instead of raging about me behind my back or, worse, directing their anger towards AniFem.