"Justice stems from each person getting what they deserve based on their individual actions. It concentrates a huge amount of power in the hands of those who get to decide what others deserve." --Rory Miller

This quote crystallized something I hadn't been able to articulate as a preference. I don't like fictional stories that have people "getting what they deserve." I think it's incredibly arrogant to position what your culture thinks someone deserves as an objectively good thing. Or in practice, what a certain author thinks. There is probably no faster, easier way to make me reevaluate my choice in entertainment than by being heavy-handed about it, but my tolerance for punishments disguised as consequences is low. Which is part of why I prefer animanga, or nothing, to most American media: Japanese entertainment is sometimes about other things, that have nothing to do with matching up people and "acceptable" outcomes for them.

I can't relate when people talk about wanting to see the bad guy get his, or the hero get the girl, or any of the other tropes that are encoded in our culture's idea of who should be allowed to attain happiness and success, and who shouldn't. When authors make up pretexts to justify a certain level of retaliatory violence* that "the audience wants to see," they're equating a majority preference with consensus. Sometimes I am willing to uncomfortably sit through it when other aspects of a story appeal to me, in the same way that I might mute advertisements instead of turning the TV off. But nothing makes me more aware of all the things I don't see eye to eye with an author on than having them self-appoint as the one rewarding the good and punishing the bad, because not only do we disagree, they're using their position to lay an educational beatdown on characters that I care about. It's one-way communication. I can narrow my eyes and keep reading or I can stop, but there's nothing else I can do about it. On an emotional level, that is not my idea of fun.

*The violence doesn't offend me - the encoded condemnation does.

I'm thinking as I write this that a lot of the conflicts Western fans get into with each other in relation to stories, the vehemence in arguments about whether a certain outcome was justified or whether an author is bigoted, are built on a shared history of consuming media where bad results are meant to communicate disapproval. Not all stories incorporate this as a premise, but people have been conditioned to look for it. (Some even believe a story is failing its audience if it doesn't.) The really contentious situations seem to erupt when a story clearly has this as a theme, but people don't like the way things are panning out. That's where I've seen the fiercest conflicts over whether a character or situation is justifiable, and whether the author is bigoted. I'm starting to think that's because other people have the same reflexive aversion that I do to the prospect of having a moral judgement they find repugnant pounded into them. I also think this may be where a lot of the villain fans that try to convince people their favorite isn't really that bad are coming from - being 'really that bad' in the author's eyes got that character humiliated, hurt, or killed.

And in a way, it's also personal, isn't it? The author isn't just saying that fictional characters deserve certain things, they're reaffirming the logic behind our prison and punishment system. By extension, they're enforcing the idea that we deserve to be helped or harmed by forces beyond our control, depending on how well we fit someone else's definition of ethics. I'm starting to get why most fans respond emotionally and ferociously to being on the wrong side of that, even though it is just a story and the author has absolutely no power over them. It threatens a deeply held sense of being safe because (and only as long as) society considers them one of the nice people.
coffeevore: A person in a subdued, closed-in room, looking out a bright sunny window. (looking outward)

From: [personal profile] coffeevore

Yeah. I notice that a lot of people in fandom will hate a character because that character did something they consider to be evil, unforgivable, or simply "the bad guy" and they assume that arguments in favour of that character will try to show why that character was just to do what they do, or at least justifiable (in some sort of "he/she didn't start it" kind of way). And that's entirely not my approach. I don't actually care very much whether the character is good or bad, whether they can be justified or not. I care about whether I can relate to them and feel what they feel. If I can, then I'll like them. If I feel really distant from them, or feel like they're stubbornly pushing ahead with something that I can't be comfortable with, then I won't.

Japanese media

I've probably quoted this interview on the subject before, but for reference's sake: [In response to a question about whether a heroine is really an evil mastermind, or actually as innocent as she acts] "I guess we have a lot of these questions from the U.S. To be honest, I didn't get very many questions like this in Japan. Most of the questions in Japan are about Alice, or if Seven was lying. This is so interesting."

Japanese fans, I think, are possibly less concerned in general with retributive justice or with whether someone they like can be justified.* It seems more like it's okay to like a "bad" character without being afraid that people will think that means that you would choose to take the same "bad" actions yourself. But some Japanese stories do have retributive justice, too. Even a Japanese storywriter that I recently read a (completely different) interview with was complaining about there being a popular trend of it. I wonder how far it goes and what assumptions are and aren't part of it.

It's kind of weird that Western fans do automatically equate their own morals with the characters they like. Acting afraid of what people will think of them if they like the "wrong" characters. Projecting all the characters' choices back onto themselves... and it's kind of sad if it means they'll limit the viewpoints they're willing to look through.

* Just a stray thought here, but: a Japanese story that I was reading recently was talking about the strength of standing by your friends and believing in them and their choices no matter "how bad it looks". I wonder if a more in-group-loyalty-based response to characters happens? "These are the characters we've followed, so we'll support them even if we wouldn't make the same choices ourselves"...
Edited Date: 2013-04-15 10:10 am (UTC)