Last month, I wrote at length about how objectivity in reviews and journalism
is functionally impossible and perhaps undesirable. However, there is another side to the impossibility of objectivity that I did not address at that time, and it is *drumrolls*: Other People.
I am paid to write about manga and the manga industry, and my ostensible audience is ordinary consumers, whose interests often conflict with the industry's. Yet I also have personal acquaintances in the industry. According to my thesis advisor (who did a Journalism M.A. there), the Columbia School of Journalism instructs all of its students never
to enter into any sort of relationship whatsoever with the object of inquiry. No hanging out after hours; no acceptance of favors or free stuff. Thou Shalt Not Ever Take That First Step Because There Is No Going Back. Recent scandals, such as Judith Miller and The New York Times
, show us just how damaging to policy and public opinion not
following these guidelines can be.
The problem is that such an unyielding ban on fraternization is impossible from a pragmatic standpoint. Thank goodness I don't have to worry about the Japanese side of things. But in the U.S. the field's awfully small, and in several cases, my acquaintance with industry people predates our mutual entry into the field (a.k.a. we were friends from before)...and because I do not write about manga for
the manga industry, my personal relationships with these people can lead to thorny conflicts of interest. For example, I've been called "brutal" in relation to my reviews, but the truth of the matter is that it is hard
to pan a book I genuinely didn't like when I know someone involved in its production personally. I know very well that the person will be hurt when they read what I've written, and that knowledge eats at my soul. It also, I'm sorry to say, probably has some subconscious influence upon what actually gets written.
Far worse than dealing with people I like and respect, though, is dealing with those I don't
. "Acquaintance" can mean friend as well as foe, and knowing people personally means that I often know things about them--about their philosophical and political beliefs--that have nothing strictly to do with manga. And do those things matter? You bet your @$$ they do! For instance, I do not, needless to say, go out of my way to support products associated with homophobic, evangelical Christians, people who insult me publicly by name on their company's blog as if it's good PR, or people who believe that impoverished black people who were displaced by Hurricane Katrina deserved it because it is their own fault they were poor in the first place. (Yes, those are real examples...names redacted because telling you who they are would constitute free publicity for the companies they are affiliated with.) We do not *ahem* get along, and my feelings for these people have a very conscious influence upon what I write; when it's left to my discretion, I choose not to write about them or their companies...and as a private consumer, I do not buy their products. Unless they were to come to me personally to ask for assistance, it will stay that way. My conscience would not be clear if I willfully helped put money into the pockets of unreconstructed bigots in corporate leadership positions or of marketing specialists who think hating on their potential readership base is good policy.
Moreover, the lives of people I knew before they were industry people continue to converge with mine. "It's a small world after all... It's a small world after all..." (You get the point.) I just opened up a certain title the other day to see the name of yet another person I know from college. I had no idea she (I went to an all-women's college, so anybody with half a brain would be able to figure out the gender of this person in question anyway) was freelancing for the industry until that moment because we had had a falling out years ago and haven't talked in ages. I won't go into specifics, but suffice it to say that she can be a petty human being who defends demonstrable lies with verve if they happen to conflict with her own opinion of herself. The older I got, the less I could tolerate that bullshit. To be honest, I don't yet know how I'm going to deal should I have to write about work that she has done. It's so much easier to be forthright about friendships.
Unfortunately, this is a thorny issue that has no readily available, easy answer. Other writers do it differently and support their actions with entirely different rationales. But as for me, I'm not going to stop talking to my friends in the name of "objectivity," and yes, I do consciously allow old grudges to enter into consideration. I suppose that being honest and forthright about all this is the first step in the right direction, and I continue to work hard to support the reader's (not the creators', not the industry's, not the advertisers') interests first and foremost where possible--while staying true to what modicum of morality and critical distance I have left to protect.ADD:
This entry develops discussion had in one of my graduate seminars last summer.