When it comes to the media I consume, be it Anime, video games, music, or whatever, I’m often told I have far lower standards than most people because of the things I enjoy. I’ve even had some people tell me that I have no standards at all because of my taste.
“When it comes to good writing in Anime, you don’t have high standards because you like Sword Art Online”
“Sonic Adventure is one your favourite games? You must have lower standards than most!”
“You have no standards when it comes to music because you like talentless bands like Insane Clown Posse and Kawaii Monster”
These are all statements that I’ve had thrown at me time and time again because my taste in media tends to fall outside of what the consensus considers to be “good” or “well made”. And this is something I’ve always found rather strange because, believe it or not, my standards are actually pretty high when it comes to the stuff I enjoy. At least, I’ve always thought so.
Because I tend to enjoy things that are generally considered to be of “poor quality” or “lacking”, I’m often told that I’m not a “harsh” critic. That I’m simply more generous when it comes to rating the stuff, compared to the average viewer. When, truth be told, I’m actually a very harsh critic. For the most part.
I most certainly do have standards. I’d even go as far as saying that I have high standards. It just so happens that I have a very different set of standards than the average person.
I’m well aware that a lot of my favourite pieces of media are things that aren’t well received by the consensus. One of my favourite Anime of all time is Sword Art Online (Anime of the Summer), a series that is often criticised for having bland characters and poor writing. My favourite video game is Tales of Symphonia, which while considered one of the best games in the series by fans of the franchise, wasn’t received as kindly by critics, with its narrative, which happens to be my favourite aspect of the game, being heavily panned across the board. One of my favourite bands is BrokenCYDE, who are widely considered by both critics and the general public alike to be the worst band in existence, with their debut album consistently placing near or at the bottom of just about every single online music database chart you could think of.
Yet despite my taste going against the grain, I’ll also always be the first, and one of the only people, to actively challenge the consensus on a regular basis. There are plenty of widely acclaimed pieces of media that I’m not a fan of at all, and I’m not afraid to harshly criticise them.
I may have given BrokenCYDE’s widely panned debut album a perfect score, but at the same time, I also gave Radiohead’s critically acclaimed album OK Computer a 1/10 because I thought it was… Awful. I listened to the entire thing. Multiple times. And I did not enjoy it. I disliked every song. I struggled to get through it. It didn’t appeal to me at all. So I gave it the lowest score possible. Despite the fact that there are likely plenty of good reasons, beyond my preferences, that I should have probably given the album a slightly higher score.
Was a 1/10 too harsh? Probably. But that’s the point I’m trying to make here.
I am a harsh critic. Just not in the way most people want me to be. I’m a harsh critic in a way that most people don’t like. Because I don’t agree with them. I have “low standards” because my standards are different from the norm. Very different.
I don’t love a show like Sword Art Online because I have a lesser appreciation for good writing, I love it because I think the show has good writing. And I’m more than capable of explaining why I think the show has good writing (it’s still coming, don’t worry).
My taste in media is incredibly specific, and if something doesn’t fit that taste then there’s a pretty high chance I’m not going to care for it all that much, if at all. My standards may not be the norm, but they’re pretty god damn high! I rarely give a score of 8 or above to anything, and I tend to reserve said scores for only the best pieces of media I consume.
There’s this weird idea that standards are universal and that our harshness as a critic or a viewer should be weighed against the exact same set of standards, but I struggle to get behind that idea. It’s dangerously close to the idea of “objective criticism”, and we all know how I feel about that by now. Standards are subjective, and they vary from person to person. There is no universal standard and everyone is capable of judging media based on their own, personal set of standards that are based on their own preconceived biases and preferences.
We’re all capable of being harsh critics. Just not all of us are harsh towards the same things. And that’s okay. After all, isn’t that what makes criticism interesting? Seeing different perspectives? Seeing how others judge media and trying to understand what they value in their entertainment?
I can think of fewer things more interesting than that.