Phrases that I hate: “Pandering”

pandaing to the audience

picture punrelated

So, from now on, this is officially a running theme on this blog. A category of posts, where I’m ranting about random phrases that fans tend to use, and reveal the negative implications that I see in them.

Last time, I talked about “Guilty Pleasures” and how it’s used by people to justify why they are continuing to watch an unpopular show, while  they are also conforming to the vocal elitists by joining their chorus about how bad it is.

Now let’s look at a phrase that is used to dismiss shows without directly addressing any  tangible problem with them: Pandering. Nowadays, it is even used on it’s own, as in “I don’ even know why I’m watching this pandering crap”, but it’s implication is always supposed to be, that it’s pandering to a certain group, that it shouldn’t be pandering to. To the people with bad taste.

In an earlier post about the clichés used by anime reviewers, I already touched the issue of how they often use this as a generic insult at anything that’s appealing to anyone else but not them. But that’s just the most transparent usage. For example, even if I would dislike Fate/Zero, and even if I would be an elitist, I couldn’t get away with dismissing it as “it’s just pandering to people who like Urobuchi’s brand of tragedy, and kick-ass action scenes”.

– “Silly Alterego! Don’t be ridiculous!  A genuine tragedy, and well-crafted action sequences, are the hallmarks of quality. If you call that pandering, you might as well say that it’s  pandering to people who like good anime!”

 That’s what you would say. So obviously, there are some appealing features that we are supposed to accept even if we are personally not interested in them, and only a few bad ones can be accused with the intent of pandering.  let’s look at some of the most common contexts  it might appear in:

  • Pandering to the otaku/to the core fandom
  • Pandering to the moe-loving crowd
  • Pandering to ecchi-loving perverts/to fujoshi/to pedophiles/to [x] fetishists
  • Pandering to the [previous big hit]’s fans.
  • Pandering to kids
  • Pandering to the high school nostalgia of adult fans
  • Pandering to the Lowest Common Denominator

– “See, Alterego? There is one thing common in them! These are all mindless things!  Your Fate/Zero example was wrong, because it stated that making intelligent storytelling and compelling characters is still pandering. But we only use that term as a legitimate complaint against shallow shows that are appealing to their viewers’ most basic urges!”

Well, that could kind of make sense. I once read this one great blog post, about what the writer called “Pavlovian entertainment”: Shallow formulatic elements of a story that fans are conditioned to like (panty shots, maid costumes, cute fangs, etc.). According to the writer, they are not inherently bad, but many modern anime are overdoing it.

…and then this happened

That’s also why, acording to him, most people are mistakenly believing that moe is killing the industry. The moe trend, and the overdose of pavlovian entertainment coincidentially started at the same time, so most people only noticed the surge of shallow characters and cliches, that also happened to be moe .

If “pandering” would really be used as a synonym of “pavlovian entertainment”,  I could get behind it. The problem is, that as Triple_R noticed in his post, the criticism is already misplaced. The examples that I collected above, are already using the phrase directly to dismiss some content types stereotypically associated with pavlovian entertainment, rather than the pavlovian elements themselves.

When was the last time  you heard a show being accused of “pandering to people who like fancy scenery shots”? Note, that this time, I even took into account the theory that only mindless, unintelligent, instinctive appeal counts as pandering. So here is this question, with eye-candy as an example: Why is it that reviewers constantly praise pretty sceneries, so there is evidently an audience for them, but they never ever get accused of being used as distasteful tricks to  sell more discs, unlike other, stereotypical eye-candy panderings?

-“Well, maybe it is not as OVERUSED  in any series as ecchi and moe are! Besides, even if people like nice scenery, is there such a thing as a group that can be identified as “scenery fans”, that could be directly targeted with such pandering? “

No, there aren’t such people. And that’s the point. It shows, that the whole “pandering” accusation is more concerned with othering, and spreading negative stereotypes of certain groups,  than with the measurale amount of distracting content in a work. That you shouldn’t identify with the same thing that is also enjoyed by dirty otaku, by stupid kids, or by furries. There are quite a few works, that make pretty scenery one of their strongest points. There are far more views of the sea and of the setting sun shining over town in Aria, than cakes that get eaten in K-on. There are far more god rays and sparkling puddles after the rain in Hanasaku Iroha, than boob-grabs in Kiss x Sis.  If there would be negative stereotypes about scenery viewing, then these would be accused with being mindless pandering.

Not because they would be any more mindles than they are now, but because the pandering assumption is more about prejudices, than about objective amount of shallow tricks, or about how distracting they were.

I’m wondering how many people would give Legend of the Galactic Heroes a chance to prove it’s intelligent plot, if men in 18th century military uniforms would be held in the same regard as cat-girls in maid uniforms are.

TL;DR: For the time being, if I read you saying that something is “pandering to x group”, I will just assume that you think x group is despicable, rather than making a statement about it’s truly unacceptable amounts of pavlovian entertainment.

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