“Fanservice” is a term that quite frankly is a bit annoying to me in the sense that it, much like the term “feminism”, covers a broad spectrum of ideas that over the years have become so warped it undermines any precise definition, ending up just being commonly tossed around as a meaningless pejorative by simpletons. Feminism, when stripped down to the heart of the matter, is just the idea that women deserve the same economic, political, personal, and societal privileges as men, and in that sense I think any human with a shred of decency and intelligence could agree with that. However, that definition has been clouded by incessant criticism of female portrayal in any kind of entertainment, to which I respond:
To each their own.
I love the First Amendment and fully support those who utilize their freedom of speech, whether it be expressing their love or distaste for any given issue. And for the sake of shits and giggles, I’m going to exercise this freedom to criticize the kind of criticism in question…well, I’ll somewhat criticize it. You see, I have another part in mind for the topic of objectification and something I like to call “visual idealism”, which would better suit this part of the discussion. For now, I’d like to keep this post about the defining fanservice and the assumptions of everyone involved in creation and consumption, but I can sprinkle in some other thoughts on that matter as well.
When it’s brought down to its basic and very self-explanatory definition, “fanservice” simply is “servicing the fan”, which means it’s an assumption of the desires of an admiring consumer. Furthermore, it’s an assumption of the creator’s opinion of their consumer, a belief supported by no evidence that artists create art for specific groups and purposefully provide whatever those specific groups want in an effort to please them. While that may be true in the instances of some individual creators, and more likely some large publishers that prefer focusing on making money rather than supporting any sort of creative ingenuity, that simply cannot be proven for all artists, nor can it be proven for even a majority.
The market does not inherently dictate art. The market dictates what’s popular, and more importantly, what sells. Now, popularity and money may sway some artists both consciously and subconsciously, which might leave their creations to suffer critically because of a deprivation of originality, but again that is up to the individual creator. It is also up to the individual consumer to decide what they personally want in entertainment, be it a compelling narrative or just enticing visuals. I myself have gone on the record for dropping NEW GAME! because I thought it was cute and nothing else. Still, I don’t chastise other people for liking it, hell, I’m glad they could find value in something that I couldn’t. It’s not like the show was overtly hurting anyone.
But there’s still this idea that the “common” portrayal of females in any sort of entertainment is exploitative, sets an unrealistic expectation for women, and is in fact a hindrance to the progression of equality. And so here’s the rebuttal: Fanservice can be exploitative, but that is solely based on the motivation of the creator, not to mention the fact that exploitation isn’t inherently a bad thing. To “exploit” simply means to make full use of, and it’s to be expected that a writer would try to exploit their characters, a director would try to exploit their actors, and so on. As for the unrealistic expectation of woman, that’s really more reliant on the characters and their roles throughout a story, rather than their visual design. Even so, I would say that entertainment usually does have unrealistic expectations of things beyond just women, and that’s just because…
IT’S. NOT. REAL.
Sorry to burst your bubble there, but I’m afraid it’s just the truth. Entertainment through storytelling can reflect society, but it is not society, nor does it set any expectation of society. The world through which a story is told does not have to be the world in which we live in, nor does it need to strive to align with anyone’s personal ideals other than the creator’s’ themselves. The idea that entertainment can hurt people through setting an expectation, to me, undermines the people that indulge in it in the first place. Some like to berate the objectification of characters, but neglect to notice the dehumanization of the audience and the belittling of they’re enjoyment. It’s accepting the assumption that large groups of individuals, people with their own beliefs and motivations, can be easily led on and are incapable of coming to their own conclusions. Or at least, incapable of coming to the conclusions that coincide with their those vehemently against objectification, conclusions that are therefore “just”.
And before I reach MY own conclusion on the matter (see what I did there?), I’d like to briefly touch upon infantilization, as it is yet another form of fanservice that often gets put down without a second thought. It seems like a lot of anime characters are designed to look much younger than they actually are, and the first and easiest explanation that many people have for it is the attractiveness of youth. Whether or not that’s true, or fair that youth is given more emphasis in the worth of person, is of no significance to me. What’s important here is that indulging in this kind of animated entertainment, of which no actual people were hurt in the creation of, is completely fine. People like to act like watching these sort of things is morally reprehensible, but I just don’t agree with that. Watching something is completely removed from actually acting on another human being, and the sexual preferences of someone is of no one’s business but their own, so long as they don’t pursue these desires in a form that would actually cause harm to another person. Even believing that the consumption of such content could potentially create sex offenders is completely off-based and devoid of studies to back that hypothesis.
There have been studies to determine the effects of violent entertainment and how it influences the viewers themselves to become more violent. These studies offered few correlations but no causation, and George Gerbner’s Cultivation Theory would suggest that media does not shape the behavior of the viewer so much as it shapes their perception of how the world around them behaves. Basically, people that enjoy Grand Theft Auto aren’t criminally-minded, nor do they likely run the risk of gaining murderous tendencies through playing a video game. I would assume that, in the case of supposed sexualization of children in entertainment, watching such a thing would not influence someone to perform acts of sexual abuse or molestation. Still, more studies need to be run in this case to prove my point to be more than just an assumption, but as of now I feel pretty confident in my stance.
And those are just some of my thoughts on the matter. I actually did end up talking a lot more about objectification than I thought I would, but it’s still just the tip of the spear. I’d love to hear what you think about it so far, as this is my second part in a who-knows-how-long? series. Depending on how long the next part about visual idealism is, there may be a fourth. Anyway, thanks for reading and I hope to see you here again sometime.
Oh crap, I forgot to use “gratuitous titillation” a gratuitous amount of times…oh well.