Popularity Evidences Quality

It is said that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. In other words, the worth of art is subjective. This means that no one’s tastes in or opinions about the worth of any particular work of art, whether it be a painting or an anime, can be demonstrated to be more or less sound than anyone else’s. That being said, the closest thing there is to objective evidence of worth or quality is popularity. Obviously, there is no 1:1 correlation between popularity and quality, but popularity remains the best evidence. At any rate, so I shall argue.

There are two ways one can approach the reality that popularity evidences of quality. Call these views ‘the recognitive view’ and ‘the constitutive view’. Under the recognitive view, an anime that is of high quality will naturally tend to become popular. Popularity merely recognises quality. Quality is ontologically prior to, and causes, quality. Under the constitutive view, the quality of an anime is determined or constituted by its popularity. Popularity is ontologically prior to quality.

Take first the recognitive view. Suppose two anime are shown to one thousand randomly selected people. Suppose further that 900 of those people prefer anime A to anime B, and one hundred prefer the converse. All other things being equal, it is reasonable to take from this that anime A is of superior quality. The larger the group that votes on a decision, the more likely is the decision to which they come to be right. The Marquis de Condorcet demonstrated this mathematically in the 18th century. Of course, there are two important limitations to this. Firstly, it only works if each individual has a better than even chance of being right. However, to make this assumption, one need only have faith that human beings are fundamentally reasonable and therefore capable of distinguishing good from bad. Anyone who believes in democracy should be on board with this. Secondly, de Condorcet’s jury theorem only applies where there are two options, whereas there are countless anime. However, it still applies to a series of binary choices, and even when there are multiple choices, the correct choice is still more likely to be chosen than any other choice.

I turn now to the constitutive view. This holds that the quality of an anime is caused by its popularity. For, after all, in general, anime (and any other works of fiction or art) are made for the entertainment of the people. That is their purpose and their nature. The anime which creates the most enjoyment is that which best fulfils its purpose and nature and is thus the best anime. By the same token, it is also the best on utilitarian grounds.

Of course, the reality is not so simple. For instance, Pokemon became massively popular because, at some point, some Western television executives perceived that it would appeal to Western audiences (and because it was extremely marketable). Had they chosen some other anime, that other anime could have, for all we know, become even more popular than Pokemon did. We can see, then, that the judgement of those TV producers was an important factor in Pokemon’s popularity: the quality of Pokemon is not the only factor. There are countless other factors which affect the reason why an anime becomes popular. However, no matter how well marketed a product is, it cannot become popular (as opposed simply to ‘well known’) without having something of value in it.

As to the reason why this matters, it is quite simple. There are far too many anime to watch in one lifetime. Constraints require choices. Since it is impossible to know in advance which anime are good, one has to have some metric with which to determine which anime are likely to be best without foreknowledge. An anime that is popular is more likely to be enjoyable than an anime which is unpopular, for the reasons given. Of course, I can already see a number of flaws in this argument and potential counterarguments, and I am not sure to what degree I believe it myself. Yet the fact remains that there are good reasons to prefer popular anime to unpopular anime.

Do you agree? If so, why? If not, why not?