Objectivity and Subjectivity in Media Analysis

Objectivity and Subjectivity in Media Analysis

“Well, it’s all subjective.”

 How many times have you heard that before?

If you’re like me, who watches a lot of YouTube videos about media analysis, then that phrase is achingly familiar. Often, it’s used to deflect counterarguments by essentially saying that there is no correct answer, and you are free to believe whatever you wish. But, in actuality, it undermines the value of writing as craft. By saying that it’s all a matter of the audience’s opinion (i.e., the subjective), you are also saying that the work itself (i.e., the objective) has no part in the experience. When you think of it that way, it’s a strange thing to say, isn’t it?

Now, don’t get me wrong. You are more than welcome to like or dislike you want, and for whatever reason. There are things that we all enjoy for the simplest reasons like explosions, action, romance, and so on. For example, I have a friend that’s only interested in watching hard science fiction TV series, and hey, more power to her! There’s nothing wrong with just enjoying a movie or show for what it is.

Personally, if there’s a story about a traveling monster slayer, I’ll probably like it no matter what. But as for the quality of that story… well, that’s a different discussion altogether. After all, there’s a difference between saying “lightsabers are in Star Wars” and “lightsabers are cool.” The first one’s a fact, and the second one is an opinion, albeit a very popular one. Likewise, there’s a difference between saying “X is a strong character” and “I liked X.” The character’s quality can be demonstrating by their consistency, motives, and participation in the plot. But, as for whether you like that character or not, well, that’s just up to you. 

 For this reason, I find it so strange when a media critic says that “it’s all subjective” when it’s really not. Objectivity must have some part because the story being discussed exists. Even if the only objective qualities are the names of the characters, there is still objectivity. No matter how hard you might try to ignore that, it’s the truth.

As mentioned earlier, disregarding the objective qualities of art means that you can’t attribute anything, whether positive or negative, to the work or its creator. How could you? If it’s all subjective, then you are the one responsible for your experience, no one else. And that would mean that there’s no actual difference between a good and a bad story or a good/bad author. What would “good” and “bad” even mean in that world?

But thankfully, objectivity does exist. And trust me, dear reader, you want it to. Whether you’re a writer or an audience member, objectivity is a good thing. As a writer, it means that your success isn’t solely dependent on those who experience your work. It means that there are concrete things that you can improve, and that if you keep work at your flaws, you will become a great writer. And as an audience member, it means that there is something more to discuss than “that was neat” or “I really liked it.” You can discuss the intricacies of how the character arc was executed or how certain themes were developed. Objectivity makes stories more interesting, not less.

If it wasn’t obvious, this is something that I’ve put a lot of thought into (part of the writer gig, I think). But as always, you’re free to like what you want for whatever you want. Just know, that if you start saying things like “objectivity in art is stupid” or “it’s all subjective,” I’ll jumped out of the nearest closest like the boogeyman to debate you and tell you how wrong you are.

Thanks for reading!

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