Defining Features of Fanaticism, Or Why You Are Not Otaku

Fandom appropriates. There are some people out there who are hung up on the whole “otaku” term or the “moe” term and what have you. Words like anime and manga mean different things once you cross boundaries of languages, cultures, subcultures, and individuals. It’s not I’m trying to play definition Nazi, because I don’t have to. I’m just going to state the obvious, only because somehow I’ve not seen anyone taken that into their accounts, of what defines whatever word they are trying to use to describe themselves or somebody else.

Before we can even talk about words like otaku or moe there is one word I want to nail down. It’s fan. It’s not even “geek” (which is probably a better indicator of what I’m addressing, since there’s no “Japanese definition” trap here). It’s not that people like Patton Oswalt is using the word otaku one way or whatever Henry Jenkins is trying to say that these people do; I’m sure their ideas are interesting in their own ways when it comes to pop culture and its role in modern discourse in the mind of the public. It’s not what I am talking about. What I am addressing is the fanaticism in fans. Or the lack thereof.

Because to me that is one of the defining trait of being a fan. And being a fan is the ground level of discourse in which we view people like Gleeks or otaku. And without some degree of fanaticism you just cannot be one of them.

Why is fanaticism a part of fan? Wiki’s definition is pretty straight forward, so we can start there. Basically, it’s like what it takes to move up the corporate ladder–you need to go-get, be pro-active, show your enthusiasm. Of course the outlet of enthusiasm is different between each individual and between different fan scenes, but ultimately the exact object of your passion makes a fan. So there are two elements–

There is a passion; to something.

I used the word passion for short, but I could have used a lot of different words to describe this fanaticism. However there are some words that aren’t suitable, like “like.” I mean I like vanilla ice cream. I guess I am a fan, but surely it would only be a figure of speech. I don’t go to ice cream conventions or have ice creaming paraphernalia. It’s like how anyone can have a favorite color, but it doesn’t make anyone a fan of that color. Where do we draw the line is up to debate, but I’m not here for that debate. So I’ll use a marker of unmistakable threshold here–passion.

I think when it comes to traditional fandoms, for example, collecting stamps, knitting or even Star Trek, a lot of this stuff makes sense. It makes much less sense in the case of, for example, a film buff, or almost criminally, the American use of the term otaku.

To put it in a different way–are bibliophiles fan of books? I think this is kind of a word-mincing that I want to engage in. I’m going to use books as a crutch to illustrate my point, because books (and book fans, pardon the terms) have been around for centuries so people have had the time to sort out the different types of people who like certain things that have some degree relevance to print media.

There is some notion, that by some working definition of the term, that book fans exist. They are fan of books. They like books. They are pro-active and enthusiastic about books. What about books? Probably every aspects of books–fiction, non fiction, references, and even magazines and newspapers. Paper quality, binding, the way to display them on a shelf, you name it. They can even be fans of library sciences and other more meta-y things. These people, however, may or may not have expressed tastes about particular copyright subject matters. Twilight, for example, is a series of books that some bibliophiles may like or dislike.

It’s the simple application of passion to specific things. It’s like how an anime otaku could dislike Fractale. Or how an anime otaku could dislike moe. Or lack of application, in the case of dislikes.

But if some 8 year-old expresses his or her love for Ponyo the animated feature, I am not going to say that person is an otaku. Nor would it make sense to call people who like Twilight, generally, bibliophiles. By corollary, anime otaku are people who like anime, not because they like a few shows and now are disenchanted about every other anime that wasn’t those few shows. Gleeks are not categorically fans of television programming. Or even prime-time television programming. Or even television programming on FOX. Maybe not even musicals generally! So…

The fanaticism is missing. It’s the tell-all sign that you are or are not a fan. Just because you write about something, doesn’t mean you are a fan. Just because I write about eroge on my blog doesn’t make me a fan of eroge, or even writing about eroge. Heck even if I play them, it doesn’t make me a fan any more or less than someone else who do not. Just because somebody reviews some anime, it doesn’t make that person a fan. It’s more about who you are–your passion and not your action–that speaks to  your fanaticism.  It’s what you like and not who you identify with that determines the type of fan you are.

Which is to say, I think genuine otaku are people who do very little social activities among other fans. They do not participate in a lot of these things pop-culture scholars study. Fansubbing? Youtube memes? AMV? LOL. I mean let’s put it in simpler terms. If I really like anime, what would I do? Watching it would be the first thing, right? And if you’ve gotten a clue about how much anime is out there, you probably would know that true anime otaku spend most of their “fan time” watching anime. They probably would spend money buying anime rather than going to cons or do any of this stuff most self-proclaimed otaku do. Once you get beyond that, it becomes more of a matter of inclinations and preferences in which the anime otaku sates his passion for anime.

Now of course that is just one version of anime otaku. There are many manifestations, and I am sure many do reach out socially to augment their fandom. But it becomes a matter of that line-drawing exercise I side-stepped earlier. Like someone can really like cartoon porn of characters (so they draw cartoon porn of the cartoon porn they just watched), or someone might like anime but they like to socialize just as much (I think this is probably the case for most fans that actually subscribes to the common mode of what makes a fan a fan). Whatever. But when these instincts become definitive of your “otaku” nature then I think it has ceases to be about being an otaku and more about being some kind of scenester.

In a similar way, I think how these sub-genres and fandom that sets up an “us-versus-them” schema tend to perpetrate a notion of fandom that is defined by understanding. Just because I understand and speak about anime fandom doesn’t mean I am a fan, for example. However this is very much so not the case in this day and age, in America. It is very much identity, and sometimes it gets even political.

Fandom appropriates. Because fanaticism is rooted out of an sense of need; fans take what they have to sate it. I think for some, that sense of need is one rooted in identity. Still this is not the case for everyone. When we take words and mold them to our uses, people are going to complain about it because we are not alone, and we are not alike (especially when people hanging on the same label as it swells, definitions diverging). One observation here is that fans really do take anything that’s not bolted down for their own, from words and loosely defined catch words to music videos to whatever else under the sun.

No Responses to “Defining Features of Fanaticism, Or Why You Are Not Otaku”

  • Niku

    Very interesting, especially the contradiction it creates within my own identity. According to your definition I am both an otaku and not an otaku in a sort of Schrodinger’s otaku sort of way. Which I think is the perfect definition for myself.

  • omo

    That sort of thing is probably common

  • Valence

    I’ve denied being an ‘anime geek’ for about a year now, even though I think I might be classified as one. But aside from being both an ‘otaku’ – and not an ‘otaku’ at the same time – I think the definition of fandom needs to be further addressed.

    “And if you’ve gotten a clue about how much anime is out there, you probably would know that true anime otaku spend most of their “fan time” watching anime. They probably would spend money buying anime rather than going to cons or do any of this stuff most self-proclaimed otaku do. Once you get beyond that, it becomes more of a matter of inclinations and preferences in which the anime otaku sates his passion for anime.”

    Because fandom doesn’t simply end with watching the show itself. Let’s talk about Gleeks. Do Gleeks do nothing other than watch the show? Do they listen to the songs, for instance? What about gamers? Do they spend time on other related websites – while not playing the games they like? Do they surf YouTube, looking for game strategies or watching game-related humour videos, et cetera. Does doing any one of these actions make one any less a ‘otaku’ in this sense?

    I understand what you mean when you talk about ‘ true anime otaku’ , but in my opinion, such a breed is rare, simply because of the vast power of the internet. One can find various ‘fan websites’, or find ways to express their passion , with nothing more than a laptop with internet excess. Everyone will , in the end, spend some amount of fan time doing something else which may be related to the subject of their fandom itself.

  • omo

    Well that’s basically what I am saying. Glee is just a show that’s been on TV for a couple seasons. It’s easy to blow through the material several times. So it’s easy to imagine that a Gleek would do a lot more than just consuming and enjoying the show itself.

    But anime otaku is people who are passionate about “anime,” and that’s a lot more than what’s out there for Glee. It’s kind of like bibliophiles in my post. But it would be a very weird situation when most most bibliophiles don’t buy books, don’t even read most books, and all they talk about is the same done-to-death topics that everyone is talking about. To me that is basically what is happening with most people who call themselves otaku in America.

    Many of them are even questionable as fans, let alone otaku.

    Now anime geek is another label that has a different meaning, and maybe that suits some of us better than otaku.

  • Valence

    I see. It’s kind of the same in most places, since people seem to think that being an ‘otaku’ equates to being an anime fan, while it suggests a whole different level of fanaticism altogether.

  • jpmeyer

    IIRC, the academic discussion regarding things like fanfiction or character goods and whatnot is that they’re a way to extend the experience beyond the original point of consumption of the original work. So it’s like yeah, if you’re a fan of like Firefly or something, there’s only so much “original work” there, so you’re going to need to get creative/spendy if you want to keep experiencing it. It’s pretty easy to keep experiencing “anime” though.

    That also said, I would need to do more research to confirm this, but off the top of my head most academic fandom studies usually tend to focus on specific fandoms, like Star Trek as opposed to sci-fi, X Files as opposed to network TV, or Blade Runner as opposed to film. But for some reason, “anime” often gets treated like this rather than as being an entire medium that’s too broad to think about like this.

    (That said, we all know that being a REAL fan is spending an undefinable amount of money lolololololololol)

  • omo

    Worse, you become industry!

    But yeah, there is a matter of fanaticism, and then there’s a matter of what you are actually fanatic about. I think the latter is a big point that is obfuscated.

  • Kurogane Shiroikaze

    There’s a fine line between fanaticism and trying to be cool by having some subculture hobby.

    I’d say the dividing line is 5 or more years. Most people who just want to look cool won’t last that long.

    Of course, there is the possibility of converting… :D

  • Mystlord

    They do not participate in a lot of these things pop-culture scholars study. Fansubbing? Youtube memes? AMV? LOL.
    I don’t agree with this at all. Are you saying then that pixiv is full of non-Otaku? That none of the Doujinshi writers at Comiket actually love what they’re writing about? The implication here is that you have to spend every possible moment of your life watching anime. That’s really not how fandom works. Fandom isn’t limited to just consumption, but it’s defined by whatever allows them to feel the passion for their object of obsession the best (awkward way of putting it, but I can’t think of a better phrasing right now). Just as anime fans can still be one despite not liking moe, so can people defined by the word “otaku” do something other than engage in rampant consumerism.

  • omo

    I’m not saying anything you think I’m saying… All I am saying is most fans and otaku don’t draw, don’t make doujinshi, don’t make AMVs, etc. You can’t really study fans on the whole nor can you define fans in such a way where it’s all about that sort of extra activities. Consumption is, on the other hand, a core competency.

  • Mystlord

    I’m just wondering if I misunderstood this line then, which comes before the one I quoted above:

    Which is to say, I think genuine otaku are people who do very little social activities among other fans. They do not participate in a lot of these things pop-culture scholars study.
    I mean if you think that genuine otaku don’t draw, then the pinnacle of a fan of X thing is defined solely by his consumption of a medium. I guess the question here is whether you actually believe that a “genuine” otaku exists, because that’s the idea that your post seems to be against.

  • omo

    I do believe most otaku don’t draw. A lot of people who draw are artists, and hardly otaku. They may like certain things, and some might even be fans of certain things, and I’m sure there are otaku who draw. But that’s like saying people who shop in Akiba are otaku; it’s just a tangential activity. I don’t know. To me these fan-scene-contributors seem more obsessed with stuff that defines artists or AMV people or people who like to express themselves, not otaku.

  • Mystlord

    Well my point isn’t that otaku don’t draw, but rather that being a “genuine” fan doesn’t mean only engaging in consumerism. Expression is also a component of being a fan. After all, there’s no way you can really be a fan of something if you end up being silent when someone else attacks your passion. I get the feeling that being a fan means that your interests in something have become an integral part of your personality, but that might be wrong.

  • omo

    >> Expression is also a component of being a fan

    Well, expression is a component of being a human being.

    I think it’s one way to tell if you are a fan or not, of course, but to me it’s not something that is as definitive as the way you consume because different people react differently to the same stimulus. I don’t think fanaticism requires one set response when it comes to creative expression, most importantly.

    Of course at the same time I never said that genuine fans “only engages in consumerism.” I said that they all exhibits some kind of fanaticism, however. If or how is there some kind of universal way to express it, that is a question we can think further on.

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