“Have you read all the books on the top sci-fi rankings?”
“Hmm…about 70% I think.”
“Wow you read a lot! You know, there’s a line I always want to say in that kind of situation: ‘aw man! I haven’t even read half of the books on the list!’ How’s that? I self-deprecatingly admit I haven’t tried them, but subtly give the impression that I’ve read 40% of them! But I actually read zero!”
If the above exchange resonates with you, you may want to check out the short series Miss Bernard Said (Bernard-jou Iwaku).
To clarify, this isn’t a blanket recommendation. Heck, I’m not even sure if it’s a good anime. The presentation is kind of awful, using just three minutes per episode to drop esoteric gags, a bunch of sidenotes, and characters that speak like crazed chipmunk, all at once. Nine episodes in, and it also feels like the show has barely any idea what to do with half of its cast.
But yeah, if you’re the exact right audience for it, the relateability level is off the charts. The main conceit here is to have certified poser Machida Sawako (the titular Miss Bernard) shamelessly recounts her many trade secrets at ‘reading’ books, much to the exasperation of her peers, especially genuine bookworm and SF aficionado Shiori Kanbayashi.(…..yeah, after years of studying English Literature, I’m certainly very familiar with this process).
Machida is a character specifically designed to lampshade the behavioral pattern of literature poser, as well as make fun of pretentious snobs. In broader context though, the desire to present ourselves as more knowledgeable than we really are is a very common and humane thing. It’s nearly instinctual, especially in circumstances where we feel we need to gain in-group cred and sufficiently impress newly acquainted people.
As Machida repeatedly demonstrates, it’s easier than ever to bluff in this golden age of Internet and information sharing; one can learn enough to look well-informed about, say, the Cuban Crisis, by simply skimming the relevant Wiki article. Even if we’re unprepared or lack access, we can just wing it by referring to cultural osmosis, popular consensus, or even spontaneous hot take, which is usually more preferable than admitting ignorance or, god forbid, actually asking the other person to educate us on the matter.
Oftentimes we simply prefer to be an actual fool forever, rather than to look like a fool for a while.
Is that such a bad thing? Not really, I think—-while it’s rather pathetic and a hindrance to actual productive discourse, it’s mostly harmless. Within the context of media consumption though, peer pressure and lack of self-awareness (Machida is at least being honest with it!) could escalate this to an unhealthy degree. These days, there is a pressure to not only provide opinion to things that we consumed, but to provide the correct opinion.
Miss Bernard highlighted the issue by showing Machida pondering the most acceptable way to present her opinion on Haruki Murakami’s works (without actually reading them, of course):
“To ignore them as if they’re something disgusting? To find them intriguing because of their popularity at home and abroad? To get totally hooked? Which is it?”
I mean, I may not be a full-time poser like Machida, but I’m also prone to that kind of thinking (whether consciously or not). it’s very easy to be swept by hype, backlash, counter backlash, and other such nonsense, and decide my stance purely based on external influence (for instance, deciding in college that Twilight is the worst thing ever without even reading a single page of it). Moreover, through online media such as Internet forum and database/review sites, I learned to silently judge others based on their media preferences, and thus expect others to do the same to me. Not ideal.
Back to Miss Bernard: what I appreciate from the show is that it’s not simply mocking or parodying, but also present some insightful food for thought on how we approach our favorite media. I like how they portrayed Kanbayashi as someone that you would enjoy discussing books and exchanging recommendations with, instead of stereotypical literature snob.
She provided solid takes and commentary (e.g. that you have to accept a movie adaptation as a separate work and assess accordingly), and while she often reacted in a not so gentle way to Machida’s ridiculousness, she’s far from being condescending to the latter. She has enough self-awareness to reflect on her own reading habit, and yet she’s also unafraid of wearing her heart on sleeve and sharing her many pet peeves. You don’t have to agree with everything Kanbayashi said, but you can see a nice balance between even-minded assessment and passionate subjectivity in her.
Ultimately, there are many possible takeaways from all this.
It’s okay to like or dislike things without having to explain the exact reasons. It’s okay to admit you’re not qualified to comment on something. It’s okay to be inconsistent with your opinion, or have it change over the course of time. It’s okay not to consume popular/well-regarded stuff if you don’t feel like it, or pressure yourself to achieve arbitrary designations such as ‘x number of books read’ or ‘x number of shows watched’. It’s okay to have subjective biases and preferences in terms of media consumed. Allow yourself to re-consider, absorb information, and take differing opinion into account, but not so much that they detract from your own enjoyment.
Hot takes, snark talk, and general braggadocio may be the things that the modern public react the most favorably to, but having someone you can have genuine discussion with is worth treasuring, even if it’s only one person.