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.