Waxing Philosophical: Embracing Predictability

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Happy new year and all that jazz. I have returned from my long break and will be slowly working my way back up to a predictable post schedule. I didn’t really have a chance to plan any posts last month while I was on break, so I figured I’d ease myself back into the blog writing schedule by doing a fairly short Waxing Philosophical post today.

I spent a good amount of time over Christmas watching those all too familiar Hallmark and Lifetime Christmas movies. You know the ones I’m talking about. The super corny love stories that almost always feature some “big city” guy or girl who needs to be reminded what Christmas and family is all really about and wind up falling in love with either their childhood sweetheart or some stranger they meet by chance. They’re stories are ridiculously predictable, and yet…watching them winds up being a weirdly comforting experience. Why is that? What is it about these types of movies and shows that make them enjoyable when their plots are so straightforward to the point where I can almost always predict what will happen next?

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There’s actually a study done by a UC San Diego psychology professor on how spoilers affect a person’s enjoyment of a piece of art. In his study he actually showed that people tend to enjoy a work of art more when the ending or plot points have been spoiled for them. It’s a really interesting look at our relationship with plot driven stories and the different moving parts that go into crafting an enjoyable piece of media. “The plot is in some ways like a coat hanger, displaying a garment,” said Christenfeld. “If it’s just a crumpled heap of fabric on the floor, you couldn’t admire the garment. A plot is just the structure that lets you do the interesting narrative components – maybe even knowing the ending is useful because it allows you to focus on these other parts, or to understand how it’s unfolding.”

Having predictable storylines in essence relieves some of the brain-work required to follow along with the plot, allowing us to appreciate the other moving parts of the work like characters, world, and dialogue all the more. It’s one of the reasons why a lot of us find that we enjoy a series more on the second or third watch-through because we can now focus on other aspects. But I think we also enjoy these kinds of stories for other reasons: the kind of comfort that comes from knowing what to expect.

Take those anime series that we would dub iyashikei, or healing anime. They are thought of as such because their plots involve minimal conflict and drama in an effort to be soothing to the viewer. Laid Back Camp is one example. It’s plot is basically girls going camping in different places every episode. It’s comforting in its repetition and minimal plot. It allows the viewer to, in a way, turn off their brain and just enjoy the experience of being with these girls as they discover wonderful and picturesque places around Japan. There are those anime dubbed as “cute girls doing cute things” where their plots are also minimal and predictable so that more of our attention is focused on the cute girls.

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Now I may still get frustrated sometimes with some shoujo romance stories, and coming from a critical perspective, they can be frustrating to watch. However, that doesn’t mean that I don’t still appreciate their value. Take L-DK where the plot is two teenagers forced to live together and all the drama and romance that develops from there. The plot is fairly conventional and overused in some respects, but I do still like going back to it from time to time because it’s a nice, what I call, comfy read. It becomes the same concept as watching Lifetime movies at Christmas: the opportunity to not have to think too much and just enjoy something for what it is, corny storylines and all.

I think as writing critically about media can sometimes turn us off to these kinds of stories because, as critics, we’re always looking for something new and exciting to talk about. But I feel like there’s only so much newness and drama and action-packed stories people can take, which is why sit-coms, iyashikei, and “cute girls doing cute things” shows exist and are so popular. Having that predictability is a comfort, especially for people who may lead stressful lives, and is why each of us probably has those one or two shows that we love watching when we’re sick.

Let me know in the comments if you have any anime, manga, or comics that you like for their predictability.

~~Thanks for Reading!~~


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4 thoughts on “Waxing Philosophical: Embracing Predictability

  1. While there are a handful of stories I’d rather not know where they are going as I watch them, generally speaking I enjoy narratives that follow predictable patterns but execute them in interesting ways and as I rewatch lots of anime and movies I’m never overly concerned with knowing how something will end. It is more about the fun of getting there. Thanks for sharing an interesting perspective.

    Liked by 1 person

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