There’s a very peculiar problem that affects nerds. Many of us are obsessed with approaching media from a critical, analytical, sometimes cynical standpoint, often to feel smarter and impress other nerds. While this might be impressive in some higher levels of our communities, it often negatively affects the way we engage with the less-experienced among us, and with media in general.
There’s a sense in our culture that reveres the cynic. The logic is that anyone with a wealth of experience in a subject will no doubt have encountered the negative parts of that topic. Following that logic, anyone with only nice things to say about a topic must not be very experienced in it.
People steeped in niche media take this paradigm to an extreme. “Caustic critics,” people who play up negativity in their reviews for laughs (and are usually just playing a character while doing so) are often given greater respect and more attention than more even-handed critics. As a result, a lot of fans get the idea that the way to gain respect in the subculture is to be analytical, and often cynical and negative, about their media.
I used to review almost every anime I watched. Some I watched just to write a review on. Watching anime in a reviewer’s mindset changed the way I watched anime. Taking mental notes on the story, presentation, visuals, characters, and other elements took me out of the experience, to a certain extent, and I find I appreciated some of these shows a lot more when I rewatched them outside of a reviewing context.
What happened was that focusing on the individual elements of the anime in order to write about them in a review later took me out of the experience of the anime. I couldn’t see the forest through the trees. What’s more, I wasn’t experiencing the anime on the anime’s terms. In many ways, I wasn’t actually watching the anime. Not in a way where I could enjoy it to the maximum.
It’s part of why there’s often a divide between what critics like and what regular people like. Sword Art Online gets blasted regularly by critic types, yet remains a top pick amongst people who just watch anime.
It becomes a downward spiral when nerds get so caught up in broadcasting their arcane knowledge about the medium (real or otherwise) to impress other nerds that they adopt manufactured cynicism as a way of looking smart and experienced.
This often comes at the expense of emotional intelligence, needed not only to relate to “less-experienced” fans, but to people outside fandom as well. The ability to simply enjoy something in the moment is underappreciated in nerd culture, but is often crucial when it comes to social interaction. People like to be around people who can raise the energy of a situation, or at the very least not lower that energy by being negative or needlessly analytical.
Applied to anime, nobody likes the guy in the anime club shouting out nitpicks about the anime that’s showing. Everyone else is just enjoying the anime, thinking “what’s that guy’s problem?” They’re present. They’re enjoying the moment, not concerned with the ultimately minor flaws that more critic-minded fans zero in on. They’re not looking for approval or validation. They’re just enjoying themselves.
Not everything has to have a greater meaning. Not everything has to make you smarter or impress your peers. Let yourself feel. There’s a time and place for analysis and criticism, but there are also times and places for relaxing and enjoying a moment.
Some people derisively call it “turning your brain off,” but in reality, it’s more about getting in touch with your emotional intelligence.