Discourse doesn’t have the best reputation in anime fandom. It surprised me, coming back to anime fandom, to see so much disdain attached to such a neutral academic word. ‘Discourse’ here means that someone wrote a thought-provoking piece, probably about something controversial, which generated conversation on social media. If you’ve been following the development of this site, you might recognise that as something I consider a goal for AniFem.
The anitwitter use of the word ‘discourse’, however, is as a joke. Sometimes this is deliberately snide, with the implication that cartoons are obviously just cartoons and anyone who bothers to waste their time on more in-depth analysis than that is an idiot. Sometimes, it is a disclaimer or apology. “See, I don’t take myself too seriously, I still have perspective!” Other times, it is an expression of community. “Uh oh, everyone, here we go again…” It is not a word applied to in-depth analysis of animation artistry, visual direction or narrative structure; only personal topics like identity, representation and politics.
The message is that if you have written something which sparks discourse, or participated in discourse without being quite flippant or entertaining enough in your phrasing, you should be embarrassed. How many people have avoided expressing or responding to a viewpoint because they worry people might roll their eyes? How many have adopted this use of the word discourse despite engaging thoughtfully with it when it arises, just so that everyone in their community understands they aren’t THAT kind of commentator? I’m not sure what benefits this use of the word brings, but it seems to me like there are plenty of negatives.
As is sometimes the way, while writing this piece someone I follow on Twitter published a post on the same subject from a different angle:
So what lesson are people supposed to take from this, exactly? Never be sincere online? That must be the lesson quite a lot of people took from it, as most online interactions tend to be steeped in at least six layers of irony before they’re deemed worthy of responding to. Genuine emotion tends to feel like performance, whether we feel like it or not. If you write a lengthy, in-depth piece about some social issue or trend in entertainment that’s really close to your heart, it’ll often get picked up and spread around as a “rant,” which is language that demeans the emotional and intellectual labor that goes into producing such a thing, no matter how innocently it’s used.
Now replace ‘rant’ with ‘discourse’. Intended or not, the way anime fandom uses the word can come across as mean-spirited, designed to smack down the enthusiasm of people who wanted to hold an in-depth conversation about something they feel strongly about. It reduces the effort they put in and any number of nuanced, carefully constructed points to something which deserves to be laughed at simply for existing. We have a fandom culture which looks down on thought-provoking content as a concept. This use of the word ‘discourse’ is just a symptom of that.
When someone does volunteer as tribute and post thought-provoking content anyway, fandom expectations are ridiculously unrealistic. You shouldn’t think too deeply about cartoons, but IF YOU DO then you’d better cover every possible scenario, perspective and contradiction, and be prepared to debate every possible aspect of the discussion perfectly with expert knowledge and extensive experience at your disposal, anticipating every possible possibility that may possibly be relevant… or have the validity of everything you’ve ever created called into question.
Batting novel-length academic theses back and forth is not how people converse. Not even in academia! One article is only ever required to make one point, and if you can identify that one point then the article has done its job. All articles have a scope and specific intentions, and many have word limits too, but expectations of authors seem to be at an all-time high while benefit of the doubt is at an all-time low.
Too many responses to in-depth analysis lambast the author for not including a particular point in their original piece rather than raising that point as a way to further the discussion. It’s the difference between “I think this is also relevant” or “I want to challenge this point you made” and “Why didn’t you cover this?” One asks the author to comment, the other to justify. One expects the author to be open to new viewpoints, the other expects the author to cater to all viewpoints. One expands the discussion the author began, one shrinks it to defence of a single corner.
Developing discussion is something the whole team feels passionate about at Anime Feminist, and we’ve been looking at a number of ways to approach this ourselves. One area I have so far avoided is opening up our comments sections, because dealing with just our Twitter mentions is all-consuming on some days. However, this is something people have asked for repeatedly, so we really want to give it a try and do everything we can to make it a rewarding experience for everyone.
We’re going to start opening them on selected articles, which we will deal with case by case. Whether we open comments on a post will depend on the content of the post and how much time we have to monitor the conversation, which will be moderated to make conversation as productive as possible. If it goes well we will open them on more articles than not. If it doesn’t go well we will shut it down and continue as we have until we are well funded enough to pay people to moderate. This is an experiment, not a new commitment.
Whether we have a comments section or not, you are always welcome to tweet at us, contact us on Facebook or get in touch through our contact page. Things have been a little quiet and we’ve been less responsive for the last week or so while we’ve been working behind the scenes to improve the site and our services based on your feedback. This work is continuing, but normal services will resume next week – keep your eye out for our first discussion post with comments!