This can be done well in theory.
As anyone who has spent any amount of time on the Internet probably knows, the problem with having a conversation with someone of different tastes is that it usually ends up something like this:
A-kun: Code Geass is awesome!
B-kun: No, Code Geass sucks.
A-kun: No, it’s awesome. Code Geass is really fun and Lelouch is a cool character!
B-kun: Actually, it’s a trainwreck.
A-kun: But that’s what makes it fun!
B-kun: No, that’s what makes it suck.
A-kun: OMFG STFU YOU ELITIST HIPSTER FAG
B-kun: NO YOU’RE JUST A COCKSUCKER
A-kun: Whatever it’s all just taste anyway
How much could you say you have learned from a conversation like the above? You can sum up the entire interaction as “everyone has different tastes and apparently A-kun is a cocksucker.” This is usually where the conversation starts repeating itself. “It’s all just taste anyway” is the one conversation killer that completely defeats the purpose of talking about anime with another person. In fact, it completely defeats the purpose of having conversations at all. But what can you say when someone insults your tastes and makes little to no attempt to understand your perspective?
On the Internet, people seem to forget the basic rules of forming a cohesive argument.
If, say, you were told to write an essay in class and you just wrote your opinion and the teacher gave you a crap mark, that’s fair enough, right? Even though it’s just your opinion, it counts for jack all on its own! An informed opinion needs to take into account other opinions. Yes, everyone is entitled to an opinion, but not all opinions carry equal weight in a debate. Those that are clearer and more critical are superior to those that are not – it’s not something to take personally.
You also can’t just close your mind and only talk to the people who have the same opinions as you if you want to avoid having painless arguments. Yes, you wouldn’t argue, but you wouldn’t learn anything from the discussion either.
So here is what you need to do to have a more fruitful discussion with someone who has different opinions:
- Set the goals of your discussion before you begin talking. It’s not something you have to verbally agree on. But you should have a clear idea of something you want to take away from it, like trying to get a more informed opinion of the series you are talking about.
- Choose your battles wisely. If you see the other person is not willing to be constructive, then back out straight away. It’s not worth it getting into a circular debate.
- Ask a lot of questions in order to gain a clear idea of what the other person is trying to say. Make an effort to understand their perspective.
- When you respond, address their arguments directly and clearly. Be polite.
- Basically, observe Internet etiquette.
All of this is common sense, but let’s see what happens when A-kun and B-kun try it out.
A-kun: So why do you dislike Code Geass?
B-kun: It’s not very consistent with itself and, particularly in R2, there are many convenient plot events such as [insert numerous spoilers].
A-kun: I think that the series is trying to be over-the-top for stylistic effect.
B-kun: But at the same time that really undermines the other point the series is trying to establish, which is Lelouch’s intelligence.
A-kun: Does it, though? You can definitely argue that part of Lelouch’s intelligence is manipulating sheer luck to his advantage, which is what separates him from the likes of Light Yagami from Death Note.
B-kun: I really don’t think that’s the case. There are too many inconsistencies in Lelouch’s character. He relies on the same tactics and uses them regardless of situation. The way he defeated the final boss at the end of R2 struck me as particularly uninspired and impossible to pull off.
A-kun: That scene really struck me as clever, though, because what I think it really displays is Lelouch’s ability to take something very simple and adapt them to increasingly more elaborate situations. This is something you see him do constantly over the anime; he’s a very dynamic person.
B-kun: The anime might indeed have been trying to do that, but I’m unwilling to give it credit for understanding the fluidity of character dynamics. In Code Geass, it feels as if the characters change their behaviour simply to fit the needs of the plot. You can see this in the sudden changes in characters like Jeremiah, which is never foreshadowed.
A-kun: That’s a very interesting point which I never considered. I know it’s not a perfect series, especially R2.
B-kun: Same to you. I feel like I appreciate Code Geass better now after talking to you.
You can see how the conversation is much more civil and in-depth. All it takes a bit of respect and some critical thinking!
This is all easier said than done, I admit. There are some toxic parts of Internet anime culture, like 4chan, where rudeness comes with the description of the place. It’s probably best not to feed the trolls. But assuming you’re having a one-on-one discussion with someone in a controlled environment, I think it’s reasonable to strive in getting the most out of it.
As for whether it’s truly possible to get around the “It’s just taste” barrier and come to a common understanding of a series, even from opposing angles, I won’t really delve into that question here since the answer would probably be much too elaborate. Suffice it to say that there is no single “correct” interpretation of any story, but this shouldn’t stop people from forming their own impressions and reasoning them out. I think it’s the same principle as asking “Can you truly understand another person?”, which is what interactions with others boils down to in general. Ideally, a debate about how good an anime is should be the means towards getting to know another person’s taste, not the ends in deciding which tastes represent the “objective” opinion.
So in my eyes, “It’s just taste” is the whole point of a discussion, not the defence! If you think of it that way, it really is a lot easier to have a painless debate with someone who thinks differently from you. For what it’s worth, that’s the way I approach discussions about anime with other people. Surely I can’t be a bad person because of my taste in anime, right? RIGHT?
This was a short, painless post, so if you have some strategies of your own in dealing with Internet debates, feel free to share. Painlessly, of course.
(Edit: For a real-life example of a painless argument, scroll down and check out the comments on this very post! Alsozara and I respectfully disagree on whether good writing has to be morally sound.)