Lauren Orsini's "Fandom from the inside" talks about a contradiction I think needs more discussion in anime fandom. "I never realized that reporting and blogging on fandom have helped me to keep a degree of distance from it," she wrote — and when she discovered she was falling head-over-heels for a show (a show, of all things!), she felt conflicted: "I have no right to have so many feelings about something pretend." My belief is that she does, and that it in no way unilaterally compromises one's ability to think critically or analytically about the subject — but that doesn't mean you shouldn't try to see into what your love for something is all about.
The show that put Lauren over that particular edge was Yowapeda (aka Yowamushi Pedal), the cycling anime currently broadcasting. I've seen several episodes of it and for whatever reason it failed to strike a chord within me — it felt like mostly minor variations on themes I'd see many times before — but I'd be a complete horse's ass to suggest this meant anyone else's attachment to, or rapture over, or insight within the show was nothing but wasted breath. Actually, the fact that I hadn't connected with the show was what spurred me to think about all this.
Use your illusion
Critics have a curious relationship with the things they love that stand outside of criticism. Every critic has at least a few things they cherish which they know are immune to criticism — not because they're trying to make a special case for them to other critics, but because they're people with tastes, and it would be foolish for them to pretend otherwise. The best critics try not to let their tastes stand wholly in the way of their critical faculties, but it's impossible to keep one's tastes from becoming the wellspring from which the critical faculties come in the first place.
Here's a f'rinstance from my end. I don't have much interest in ecchi, moé or yuri titles. I don't seek them out, don't watch them, and don't steep myself in the culture of those works. Some passing familiarity with what goes on in that territory doesn't hurt, of course, but in general those things aren't what I seek out to hone my critical appreciation with. It's not because I think they're unworthy of any critical attention, or any attention period; it's because the amount of effort I'd have to expend saying something non-trivial about them wouldn't be worth it. Other people have risen to that challenge far more eloquently and intelligently than I ever could.
Now, what about the opposite — me speaking critically about something I can't help but be head-over-heels about? In some ways, the whole reason I started Ganriki.org was to investigate the tension between fandom and criticality — between, on the one hand, wanting to rush out and breathlessly tell everyone within earshot about everything from Princess Jellyfish to Moribito, and on the other hand looking into that very impulse as deeply as I could, and seeing what it was about my appreciation for those shows that was bigger than the mere need to be recognized as a fan of the show.
And again, this isn't to say that people who just want to be seen as a fan of something aren't indulging in something unworthy. It's that those with a critical bent, in my opinion, need to not get stuck in that alone — or, whenever possible, use that as a starting point and not a destination for their critical work. It's OK to say that you love something, but that shouldn't stop you from digging into it and finding things about it that might seem, from the outside, less like love and more like nitpicking. But sometimes we love things because of their flaws, and not despite them, and at least some part of the critical journey is about recognizing how that works with the things we love the most. My love for AKIRA and my ambivalence about it are not separate things; they are all of a piece, and they feed into each other.
... but don't let it use you
The meat of Lauren's post revolved around the way one comes out of the closet about such shameless love for something, and (from what I read into it) how that kind of shameless admission might reflect badly on someone who is trying to hone critical skills about such work. And again, I think owning up to a shameless love for something is one of the best ways to start doing that. It puts your cards entirely on the table, for one, and it makes it easier to unpack within yourself your own affection for something. But it is only the first step of many. Not following it with a continued cycle of introspection — not self-flagellation, but curiosity about one's own motives and emotional attachments — means one gets stuck on the level of appreciation that is little more than glorified flag-waving.
Some titles I'm affectionate about, I know I'm attached to for nostalgic reasons, or for reasons that have little to do with the show per se and more to do with the circumstances of their discovery (e.g., Sukeban Deka). I don't put much into talking about those shows, but not because I think all such talk would be a mere beating of the gums — it's more because I haven't yet found a way to talk about them except by saying "Ah, memories!" And again, this isn't to say someone else's trip down Memory Lane is going to be fruitless, only that I don't tend to start there — or, if I start there, I want to provide something reasonably meaty as a reward for having taken the reader on that particular stroll.
So, in the end, maybe we need to talk more about our obsessions, not less. But not simply for the sake of airing laundry or patting each others' shoulders (although both of those are fine and have their place) — rather, to make that into part of the larger cycle of understanding why we talk about the things we love, and to what end.