The Objectively Subjective Objective

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For as long as I’ve been blogging, it’s curious that I never made a post like this before in the past. When people read my reviews and look at my (low) ratings for various series, they may think to themselves, “Well, what exactly does this guy look for in a series?” I understand only about one in a thousand people actually think that, as most are satisfied with simply looking and forgetting, but I figured it’d be nice to keep note of what makes my ratings my ratings. What makes me think a series is good or bad and, most importantly, why my opinion holds more weight to me than others.

Now, that last sentence may seem conceited, which I wouldn’t argue isn’t. Everyone has some sort of pride to them within their work or hobby that allows them to feel more confident in their ability to share their thoughts or opinions with others. Especially noteworthy of critics (or those who aspire to be) is the sense of “Elitism” that is stereotyped into the persona of anyone who doesn’t have a systemic average rating of, say, seven or above. I am no different, as while I’ve never been directly insulted through the term “elitist,” I have often called myself, in jest and seriously, more aligned with the elitist mindset than otherwise. There is a reason to this, and one of the major reasons I decided to write up this post.

I will not deny that every opinion is inherently subjective. I will not deny that the differences in perspectives and priorities for each individual person will affect what they find good or bad about a particular subject.  I will deny that these opinions and theories cannot be objective, especially when dealing with a purely artistic or creative medium such as anime. I’ve dedicated my entire critical life to studying the standard guide to what makes a work good or bad based on the context of the subject. Anyone has seen it in a typical review set-up: Story, characters, art, sound, etc. These things are what I would argue can make an opinion objective in nature, though not concretely. I believe in the objectively subjective, that things can be argued into being more true than not; that, say, Toradora!’s characters are more realistic than unrealistic, or One Punch Man’s story is too comically one-dimensional to be given credible weight to its drama. Not that these become established facts, but become credible enough with substantial evidence to be able to be understood by the general public.

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One of the most irritating phrases I’ve heard in my time online is “Everything is subjective anyway, so why make such a big deal about it?” If everything is subjective, why even bother critiquing? Why even bothering distinguishing what is good and bad? Why even blog? Why even watch? Why even be different? Why not just release a bunch of shit for no reason because it’s all subjective anyway and nothing matters? Please bear with my snarky attitude, but it’s something that I feel is too slippery a slope to be said so easily. It almost sounds nihilistic to me; nothing in life matters and we all die in the end, so why put any effort into anything? The beauty of critiquing is so that we can appreciate what makes things good and bad, what resonates and what should be worth one’s time. We critique so that we can continue to attempt to shape the works of others into something bigger and better for more to be able to enjoy. That’s why being more objective than subjective matters to me. So that I can distinguish what makes a series worth not only my time, but your time.

I can enjoy the living hell out of something and still think it’s shitty on a technical level. Take my review of Custom Robo. I love that game to death, but it’s not great in any sense of the word. The gameplay is fine, but the story is incredibly standard, the characters are beyond cheesy, and the graphics are absolutely putrid. It’s not something I would actively recommend if it weren’t for the off-chance that it could allow people to enjoy the game as I did so many years ago. Basically nostalgia. Despite the fact that I adore it so, I only gave it a six out of ten, and that may be generous of me. I could absolutely rate it higher based on enjoyment, but I don’t think the qualities of the game are good enough to warrant so high a score just because it means a lot to me. That would be unfair of me to reward a game for being special to me, for being overly subjective with a topic on my own bias. That’s another reason why objectivity is a large part of what I try to embody.

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On the opposite spectrum, mother! was an incredibly intriguing and thought-provoking film, with great attention to tone and tension. Yet, by the end, I was left with an unsatisfying feeling, especially knowing that it all had one, all-encompassing meaning. I ended up not really enjoying the experience, aside from the fleeting question of “What does it all mean?” I awarded it a seven out of ten. Something I genuinely love gets a six while something I barely enjoyed gets a seven. That would almost seem blasphemous to some, but it’s something I feel strongly about—it’s the type of integrity I try to apply to myself for the purpose of critique. I want people to know what a film, a game, or an anime is worth on its own, while filling in the little details that make it what it is (through my own lens). That is what it means to me to be objectively subjective: to judge a topic based on its core parts and what it succeeds in doing regardless of personal preference or enjoyment. And I expect those who come to read my posts to know that that is what I strive for. All of my ratings are still my own, and I can rate something higher or lower than what it deserves, but I’ll do what I can to explain myself past a simple number score.

So with my brain fried and my fingers slowly bulging with every clack of my keyboard, I’m hoping this makes enough sense for people to acknowledge what makes my ratings my ratings, and how my religion of objectivity is a means of genuine worth rather than a stubbornness to avert societal norms. I’ve felt this way for a long time, and it’s taken some time for me to really develop as my own mental self has grown. To be more open and inviting of ideas; for a long time, I wouldn’t accept that everything was inherently subjective! While something of a personal case, it’s not something I feel more should do, but I would encourage others to take a more intrinsic approach to series and what they’re worth in terms of general characteristics. Of course, I never really delved deeper into that, as what makes characters good or bad is, again, fairly subjective, but I feel it’s the thought that counts. People should just think more, y’know?

10 thoughts on “The Objectively Subjective Objective

  1. “People should just think more, y’know?” – Can you get this printed on a bumper sticker or a mug because I kind of want it.
    This was such a great read. I particularly found this statement, “That is what it means to me to be objectively subjective: to judge a topic based on its core parts and what it succeeds in doing regardless of personal preference or enjoyment. ” to be really interesting. Thanks for the thought provoking post.

  2. I really like this post, and I always like discussing the topic of subjectivity vs. objectivity. That said, I’m going to totally disagree with you on this. I come from the entire opposite side of this argument, and I think embracing subjective experience is all about what makes a great critique, so here goes.

    I think aspiring to be objective can be good practice, but beyond objectivity as an ideal/guideline for critiquing I don’t believe someone can have an objective opinion about art. Objectivity is only useful to the extent that it allows you to recognize and explain your own bias. The bias itself can never be removed.

    I gather that you consider an objective opinion of art/media to be one that sort of “removes” the personal element and judges purely on the merit of its elements. For example, you said you love custom robo, but recognize that it’s ultimately shitty, because of characters, graphics, etc. So, in essence, an objective opinion is the combination of rating all of it’s different elements in spite of how you feel about it. But, you have to consider that you’re only removing the bias that you recognize. There’s a lot of perception that is buried in your unconscious and worldview that may tip the scales on giving something a 6 instead of a 7 on something. Regardless,
    marginal errors in ratings are not the biggest problem with this kind of objectivity.

    The biggest problem, is that it kind of misses out on what makes critiques interesting. Art is supposed to push your buttons. It’s supposed to make you feel a certain way. As someone reading a review/critique, I want to know if it succeeded in pushing your buttons and how it did so using its techniques, and then maybe i’ll want to see an overall rating. Sure, maybe a homogenized checklist can be said to be a critique, but not a good one I don’t think, at least not without the explanation. And aren’t opinions in this sense the interesting part? If you could only have one, which review of the Bladerunner 2049 is better, the list of 10 categories with ratings in each, or the essay on how the amazing characters changed the reviewer’s perspective on life, or grabbed him and didn’t let go and how/why it accomplished those things? I’ll take the second any day.

    Some of the most impactful art can be polarizing, because of how wildly the experience can differ depending on whether someone is receptive to its best stuff. So, if something is so good, or has so much overall good that the bad fades into the background, than the experience is good. Not every element should be weighted the same, because different elements gain different weights depending on the context. For someone that doesn’t “get” or “feel” the best part of an anime, it might fall at a 5/10, while those who do “feel” it would give it an 8/10, and that’s ok, because subjective experience is all you have and all you ever will have. Furthermore, it’s the how and why the anime did or didn’t achieve that 3/10 points that’s interesting, not the points themselves.

    Basically, I don’t think cutting something into little bits and rating each part works as an honest way of critiquing something, at least not by itself. You have to look at the whole for what it is and how it made you feel. And don’t get me wrong, I’m 100% confident that you DO this already, because it’s what makes something interesting.

    Sorry if this came off as long-winded and argumentative, but I thought I’d give my opinion on this since I’ve thought a good bit about it.

  3. I like the idea you bring up here about rating enjoyment v. rating quality. My emotional connection to movies is so important to me that I HURT when I have to bring down the ratings of a series that has a place in my heart because of it’s lack of quality. And so, when I review series on my blog, my standard is different, reaching a place that strains for these calls of objectivity, as opposed to my Anime Planet anime list, which takes my emotion for series and movies far more into consideration.

  4. As you know I’m a big believer in the subjective experience, but that definitely doesn’t mean I approach my, or anyone else’s, critiques are “not mattering”. In fact, I see it as quite the opposite. Every opinion and critique matters and has value, whether it be an emotionally charged personal piece such as the ones I write, a MAL structured review or an analytical diatribe. To me, critiquing a show is all about sharing MY perspective with others, based on MY experience, which is fundamentally different from the experience of many others.

    And sure, there are standards you can measure against any piece of media in which to critique it by, but I’ve never been one to believe those matter that much. My go to example is always as follows:

    Say I took a class on screenwriting, and they taught me all the rules and techniques needed to write a “good” screenplay. What if I then break all these rules and release a movie with that screenplay and critics think it’s great and everyone loves it? Does that mean I didn’t write a good screenplay because I didn’t follow the standards despite everyone loving it?

    Objective implies truth. Something that is inherently tied to reality itself. Something we, as people, don’t decide. But the universe has no opinion of what makes “good art”, people do.

    To me, what makes a critique fascinating is the personal emotions tied to it. I’d rather hear someone express their love for a show that affected them personally and had a huge impact on their life than “this was a 9 and that was an 8” etc.

    That’s why I like your take on Toradora so much. You consider it a 10, something that I’ve never seen from someone with this mindset. That show is a personal favourite of yours, for reasons I’m sure extend far beyond that of dissecting it and deciding it was the best.

    You bring up Custom Robo as a game you have much nostalgia for, but how you won’t let that nostalgia blind you to its actual quality. But if nostalgia plays a big part in your enjoyment of the game itself, doesn’t that make the game better for you? Doesn’t that make the game something that is more valuable to you and thus worthy of a better score? (I’m not sure what I’m trying to say here. I’m probably being an idiot haha.)

    Apologies if this comes across as condescending. That’s not my intent, just my take on everything really.

    For what it’s worth, you’re one of the reviewers who use this style that I find to always be enjoyable to read.

    Please don’t tear me to shreds 😛

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