An ongoing thing I think about over the years is the level of discourse in the fandom verticals I follow. I think it’s a practical, rubber-meets-the-road sort of thing where fans discuss, organize, and understand what they’re doing, what they are consuming, and the impact of their actions (as well as the action of their content providers). The drive to seek to understand is often an underpinning force behind the reason why fans seek out things, from pilgrimages to simple literary analysis.
It’s not to say that a more sophisticated discourse is better, but rather the general rule is that you want to have many different discourses–possibly as many as possible to the extent that some discourses might prohibit others, so we don’t want just those. It is kind of the fallacy to think humanity can only do one thing at a time: feed the poor versus going to space, for example. Or to think a character can only be shipped one way (in a serious sense). There may be a list of priorities that may be important to a fandom, but individuals within it will have varying priorities at all times. In general, people will think what they think, and we always have to fight our tendency to want to monopolize or manipulate it, to allow everyone the space to express themselves within the allowed bounds. It’s extra credit to make the space safe and conducive to additional discourse to let that fandom flower, as I think humans naturally will blossom even if you just leave them alone and provide the bare minimum.
In as such, this is what fandom ghettos are like–just masses of people left to do what they are to do, unorganized and generally letting their previous training guiding them. I think that is probably okay, as far as a human condition goes. I also think we can do much better, assuming enough attention, human resources, money, and will (political or otherwise) is present. After all there can only be so many discussions about who your favorites are. The more discourses we have, by nature, there will be some that are more sophisticated as we come up with more new things to talk about.
To that end, I think it’s easy to think we can elevate that discourse by leadership: leading by example, specifically. I think one of the best example is the Sakugabooru folks. It takes some level of sophistication to talk about sakuga, even if on some level it’s one of the most visceral thing about that particular type of fandom. Anime news is another, although that’s closer to acts of, say, translation and retweeting an announcement where the “discourse’ Is largely one-way and can be extremely nuanced and complicated, and given it is one way folks don’t appreciate how that is until they try it themselves.
Which is to say, it’s not really the only way going forward. I use the term ghetto in part because, unlike nice neighborhoods, they cost very little to maintain and to live in. If your community doesn’t have gates, there’s no gate keeping so to speak. And at some level, we all start with basics like simple favorites and go from there, so as a fan mature over time, ever stage of that journey needs some degree of respect and attention in order to get folks moving up the chain, if that’s what you want. Every step of the way is important, but especially the first.
I also use the term, in part, to highlight a level of inequality and that discrimination does occur in fan spaces based on where people live in figuratively. It is not a coincidence that some forms of entertainment are attached to status and wealth. In the age of mass media and social media, this might not be as big of an issue since massively popular content are often democratizing as well as extremely attractive to everyone, even those in high towers, but discriminatory attitudes persists both ways, from the top looking down and vice versa.
- Professional media/journalism operate with some kind of means to some kind of ends that are pretty well spelled out. It’s definitely admirable that some sites expose predators in the industry at some risk (being female and harassed by internet mobs is a real danger). But I think this is a situation where we put ourselves in. We can do better. In this day and age there are a truck ton of “anime fans” and unlike video game sites, anime sites are still quite rare, at least in English. We need to gather crew on media and press so we have the right people with the right tools and experiences to deal with the issues (and dangers) of a profession that is covering things loved by (tens of? hundreds of?) millions of people worldwide.
- Social media has taken a lot of the work out of traditional media in the anime space. I think there is even more of a reason for authoritative sources of information to band together (informally) to make certain information available. It is about crafting narratives, and this is really hard to do when there are only 2-3 major English news site that covers “the scene” in depth. There are also several sizable sites that do the opposite, and really just click-bating with tabloid content (or worse). I think this is a real need that is being filled by Youtubers, and this situation can be observed across all different fan spaces (and non-fan spaces).
- All of it is just to say, if you build it, they will come. Unfortunately it’s also one of those things where it isn’t as if people have not tried before. I used to write for such a site, some might remember, that tried this. But frankly no matter how willing the spirit is, the body is weak.
- Let’s not forget how a group like Anime Tube can even get this far–it had to survive in the vacuums where the light of reality had little grasp on the way a company can go about the business of streaming anime. The moment they step into that light, they are probably toast. Frankly lit or not, anime will continue to be consumed, but maybe, just maybe, it’s good for the community for content to be tied to the rest of the apparatus (a visible and clear relationship with, say, the people who create the thing to sell toys or whatever).
Fans can and should take responsibility and I think with sites like ANN being where it is, some fans have. But when it comes to this Japanese cartoon, games, and comics stuff, industry are not really sowing it where it needs to be done. Part of this is in marketing budgets, part of it is the gap between western publishers and Japanese publishers. Some of it is just unsophistication (arguably the MPAA/RIAA only “got” all this in the last 10 years, for a point of comparison). Part of it is the Galapagos syndrome the entire culture of Japan has regarding doing business. There are many other factors still.
Which is all just to say, it isn’t even fair if fans can meet corporate half way. We are their paying customers, they really should go as far as they possibly can. Unfortunately, that’s most of the time not even half way. In that sense, the one thing I’m most grateful for Crunchyroll is its ability to slosh around the community and be a bridge to connect the consumers with the “source” which means, yes, they too run a news site. Yes, they post new seiyuu and anisong music videos (bless them) guised as articles. We are at the point where PR needs to be in English first, let alone actual reporting (heroic as they were at times) that ANN seems to pride itself on. There’s such a huge swath of news that just die in the void of the language barrier that there is no end to what needs to be translated, spun, and thrown out there.
I think if Netflix want to spend 10 million in the next 3-4 years to do an anime news/community site, that will do wonders for this entire sector. They can afford it and there will be results from this outreach type work. The work Bandai Namco is doing with Gundam (if Netflix can work it out) and gunpla may mean there’s a path there for that series. Who knows? But what makes sense is the full package, not just the anime by itself. Maybe this just means we need more slumlords today.