Should otaku come out of the closet?

There is an interesting comment by relentlessflame over at Major Arcana about how criticizing outgoing fans like Danny Choo is tantamount to refusing progress towards social acceptance of our hobby. He argues that some of us cling onto marginality out of some immature sense of rebellion against mainstream culture, and that we should be open about things. That, as respectable human beings, we should not be ashamed of our idiosyncracies.

I have several issues with this line of reasoning.

The first one may not be very important, but it seems dubious to me whether people like Danny Choo, or to take an example I know slightly better, Nakagawa Shouko, are advancing the social acceptability of otaku. For one thing, they came up at a time when Akihabara and maid cafes where all the rage in the media, as opposed to, say, Okada Toshio, who would talk about the fandom when “otaku” was a banned word on the NHK and brought up Miyazaki Tsutomu to everyone's mind. But more importantly, the way they are advancing otaku acceptance is a bit like how Hard Gay is advancing the cause of homosexuals in Japan: maybe they are in some sense, but only at the expense of integrity and genuineness.

Second, there are degrees in social acceptability. Nowadays, if people learn that you're watching high-school girl cartoons on late-night TV, they won't freak out and think you're a child murderer. They will just assume that you're childish and socially inept. I can live with that. Heck, that's probably true to some extent. If otakudom were to move much further into the mainstream, it would probably mean more scrutiny and I'm not sure we want that. The underground is not always a comfortable place to be in, but it is free. It has plenty of icky, smelly corners. I have mine, you have yours, and we don't want mainstream noses telling us to wash them clean.

Third, while I agree we shouldn't be ashamed of what we like, it doesn't mean we should stick it into people's faces. For all I know, my neighbor may be a stamp collector, or he may be into strong BDSM. If he told me that, it would probably color my perception of him in a way that has more to do with common social prejudices than rational thinking. So he won't tell me, and I won't tell him that I'm into cartoons featuring younger girls. And social harmony is safe for now.

I'm not arguing for a “don't ask, don't tell” environment in which you're not allowed to be out even if you want to. I'm just not convinced that there is more to be gained than lost by being open about your hobby, especially in this Internet age when you're far more likely to meet like-minded people on specialized webforums than at your workplace or in the neighborhood.

15 comments for ‘Should otaku come out of the closet?’.

*nodnod*

I think you hit my sentiments quite accurately. #3 is a big one. I mean, do you really want to be associated with that guy who walks around chanting about a 2D character as his waifu?

Hmm, I don't see any reason why this hobby should be talked about more than any other. I also don't think it should have to be hidden, and we shouldn't treat it as though it needs to be hidden. Because once you do that, then it becomes something that does need to be hidden (as, in some respects, it is now).

I don't think it needs to be hidden either. But depending on the extent of your hobby, it's either a bit like stamp collecting or a bit like BDSM: people will assume you're a dork or a perv (or some of both), unless they know better. So even if it doesn't need to be hidden, it's probably wiser to keep it that way.

Actually, the assumption of secrecy in here is at the discretion of the person, wherein how would first judge his surroundings before even thinking of coming out of the open/hiding in the closet. Considering that the definition of the word Otaku is still half-true (and that means depictions in any anime, manga, or doujin material does not exempt people from the possibility of being the dreaded "child abusers" the word implies). There are some people who made their decisions feeling they can take the brunt of the impact of what they've done. A few regretted, some were happy or content, and fewer were accepted. It's just like what this post emphasizes: The social factors that we need to consider are critical for the community we're in, if not to ourselves or to the society.

Firefox calls "https://www.annabelleigh.net/" an untrusted connection! Where are you trying to send me?!

Untrusted only means that the site's SSL certificate is not signed by a recognized authority; it only matters if you want to post information to this site and you're worried about the people there really being who they claim to be. I don't think you want to post any information at all to that site, so it should be fine to ignore Firefox's warning :3

I think that one thing that people may miss with the whole idea of being "out" with their hobbies is that unlike with something like say, religion or sexual orientation, there's no pervasive majority. In other words, your minority expression is "shoving it in others' faces", but there is no majority expression that is shoving a different "it" in your face. That statement is really awkward, so examples: a pride parade is going overboard (why can't they just keep that in the bedroom?), but mardi gras, Girls Gone Wild, spring break, etc. are accepted with no thinking whatsoever. Saying you don't believe in a god, bad; swearing the truth on a Bible is just a given. But there's no comparative majority equivalent to going around telling everyone that you're obsessed with I dunno, trains or something to the point of dysfunction.

Perhaps it's all a question of degree? Anyone can like sports, but it gets weird when you become obsessed with players or you spend all day rattling off arcane statistics. You can like cooking, but foodies get looked down upon when they reach some arbitrary "too far" point (one example I saw recently was a flame war in the comments of a recent blog post about how offal is delicious that played out exactly like this). So ultimately, just saying "I like anime" evokes a different response from like "I can't eat this month because I just had to buy this shower fapping poster because MIO IS MAI WAIFU!" Or for Western equivalents, "I like Harry Potter" at worst makes you look a little childish, but it's up to you to make it sound creepy.

I feel like I've been misrepresented a bit, but I probably wasn't very clear either.

To build on what jpmeyer said above, I think the point I was trying to get at wasn't just that you shouldn't necessarily be ashamed of your hobbies (although that's part of it), but you also need have a sober judgement of yourself. The two go hand in hand. Part of this is having a good understanding of social graces and knowing when it's appropriate (and when it's not appropriate) to bring things up. And that ties back to the original article on Gizmodo that was really more about the degree of "social awkwardness" typically associated with the hobby (the awkwardness of the hobby itself is actually sort of notwithstanding).

Here on the Internet, if someone wants to have a personal blog that advertises their hobby, I think they should go for it. And if they make themselves look like a dork in the process (and to what degree), well, that's up to them. Becoming more self-aware is part of the process of growing up, and these sorts of experiences can help people come to terms with their interests/personality as it relates to the rest of the world. And it's the same thing to an even greater degree in the "real world", of course. There are times when it's okay to talk about your hobbies, and fewer still when it's okay to display them without restraint. The problem comes, again, as a result of that lack of sober judgement and that sense of social acceptability.

In other words, yes, having this hobby makes you a dork, but that doesn't mean you have to act like one all the time. And if we, as a "group" could start improving our "social standing" by not trying so hard to stick out like sore thumbs, it wouldn't be so shameful. But (which leads to the second point I was trying to make), there are some groups that are deliberately trying to be as socially unacceptable as possible. I was thinking especially of certain anonymous web forums famous for this sort of thing. And sometimes, this sort of lashing out, including towards people like Danny Choo, just makes the hobby on whole look worse rather than better. Our message would have to be clear, but it's rather cloudy.

See, (and to the part I didn't consider) I was thinking of the arguments against Danny Choo as put forward by the OEG -- that he's a fraud and a wannabe, and not serious enough to be real "Otaku". That "Real Otaku" are much more extreme, passionate, and crazy. But actually, what you're alluding to here is sort of the opposite -- that his outgoing and "extreme" nature is poorly representing the fanbase and making us all look bad. I guess I've always considered him "mild" (as OEG says, too mild to be a real "otaku"), but you're sort of saying that he's coming across too "strong" and is exposing things you'd rather people not associate with this hobby. And when you have half the people saying "he's too mild", and the other half saying "he's too extreme!", what are we really trying to say?

Anyway, the main thing I was trying to get at in all this is that, by showing more social awareness, we can, in time, make this hobby something to be less reviled. I want to tell you that, personally speaking, I don't tell a single soul about this hobby in real life, and very few people except my family and closest friends know about it. Mostly because it's just too complicated to explain, and I don't want that to taint their image of me (as you said). I value my privacy like everyone else (or maybe more than some...) and don't want that to be forced away from me without my choosing. But at the same time, I'm not ashamed of my hobby either. I think it should be more respect-worthy than it is, and that's why I don't feel badly talking about this stuff online and having these sorts of open conversations (even if it is under the comfort of a nickname).

While there's a certain safety in remaining underground, ultimately I feel like we'd be better off if the gap between us and the mainstream were less pronounced. And that's why I think it's still somewhat beneficial to have some outspoken fans out there in the mainstream. Even if they may sometimes make us "all look bad", it moves the yardstick that much further out, so that we can fall somewhere in between. And for all their awkwardness, I think they're still more socially acceptable than the other, more extreme image some people have in their heads.

I don't think there's anything wrong with being open about your hobby, but like jp said, it's a question of "how much?" more than "should I or shouldn't I?". And as also said, it isn't just relegated to anime, as it something to be considered for any passion you have.

I personally am of the "err on the side of caution" group, but to me, caution doesn't mean that I can't say that I love anime. It's just that people don't necessarily need to know all of the details of that love.

@jp: Point taken. But I wonder if you're not underestimating the prevalence of rituals celebrating mainstream hobbies. In France, we don't have anything like swearing on the Bible (heaven forbid), but you can hear loud cheers everywhere on all evenings with an important soccer match. Back when I was a college lecturer, it would almost feel awkward not to participate in the discussions about how great the previous evening's last-minute goal had been—and college professors are not exactly the most dedicated followers of spectator sports.

More generally, the “weirdness threshold”, so to speak, varies according to your hobbies. That was kind of the point of the Gizmodo article that started this. And I surmise that the “too far” point for anime fan is below what qualifies as otaku (because otakudom implies a measure of emotional involvement with fictional entities that won't fly with most people).

@relentlessflame: Sorry to have misrepresented what you were trying to say, and glad that you could come and clear it up. Though I must say I'm a bit at a loss with your contention that some of us are striving for social unacceptability. I can accept that 4chan posters are often on an immature counter-culture trip, but it's a bit of a stretch to suggest that they “stick out”: you have to be somewhat involved with the fandom to even have heard of this sort of sites, so that's hardly where the public image of the hobby is formed.

And no, I was not trying to suggest that Danny Choo is too extreme. I don't think he is, though Aorii seems to think that way. The most basic problem (among many others) with Hard Gay as an (even tongue-in-cheek) gay archetype is that, well, he's not gay. I'm not an avid Danny Choo follower, but he seems to have at least the same basic problem as far as being an otaku archetype. I understand why he would be so grating to the OEG guys.

Regarding your last point, suppose for the sake of argument that we can make “the gap between us and the mainstream less pronounced”. What would we hope to gain in the process? And what compromises are we prepared to make to get there?

@TheBigN: I guess my own sense of caution goes just a step further, then (which in Japan seems to be more or less common sense).

That makes me think about degree in another way. There are a lot of hobbies which at like their "lowest" level don't really count as hobbies, like sports or cooking. Those are basically "rituals" at that point, as you put it. Only after putting in some totally subjective, arbitrary threshold of enthusiasm do they become a hobby (and in turn, another threshold become a weird hobby.)

And of course, that point totally varies from hobby to hobby. The article lists how you need to get really into something like cars or sports before it starts getting weird, compared to how the faintest whiff of anything furry-related is beyond creepy. Anime's a little bit better (probably from ignorance being bliss), but still very easy to get weirded out by. Perhaps then the way to make the acceptance more mainstream is to move that bar where you like it "too much" up higher? The way that would happen to me, ironically is not the Danny Choos of the world that are really into the hobby, but rather for people to not care as much about the hobby. It seems counter-intuitive, but it would cause the baseline for "likes anime" to mean say, "watches some shows here and there" rather than "has 1 TB of schoolgirl tentacle rape porn on loop".

Well, I suppose what we could gain from that is an increased willingness for people to try it out. I mean, if you love something a lot, you don't generally want to keep it to yourself; you want to share it with others. I generally think that a lot of the stuff in this hobby is quite interesting, and I would even suggest that it's worth other people's time. But if remains a sort of "well-kept secret" for the "elite few", then I sort of feel like people might end up dismissing opportunities they otherwise might have really enjoyed and appreciated. Maybe that's a little bit of a bold/arrogant view, but I sort of think it's human nature to want to share what you love. Right now, the societal barrier to acceptance is too high, so we have to live a "secret life" in order to not be shunned by our peers. And I really don't think it needs necessarily be so shameful.

In terms of what we would give up to gain that acceptance... I suppose that's a valid point given the debacle last year regarding censorship in the eroge industry. Increased awareness brings with it political and social pressure, and it would drive some of the less "palatable" aspect of the hobby deeper underground. But what is the alternative? Can the industry continue to sustain itself within its close-knit circle, even as birthrates continue to decline? Of course, there are no easy answers.

I guess, even if we did accept the idea that there is some benefit in gaining more mainstream acceptance, the question of how to best go about that is at issue. I suggested (without a great deal of reflection, admittedly), that you probably need some vocal spokespeople at the front-end to be forerunners, even if they're seen as extreme by some (and illegitimate by others). But I also said that you need to be self-aware and know how to act appropriately so people don't think you're crazy. Those two opinions are probably at odds with each other in some ways. jpmeyer suggested that the best way may be to just make it seem "normal" (by not making a big deal about it at all), which makes the "extremists" look more "extreme". Perhaps, then, is that the role of those forerunners? To be the crazy ones that make the "rest of us" look normal? I'm really not sure, but it's probably worth more thought.

And regarding forums like 4chan and the like... it's more about the way the "extreme" stories come to life, and the culture that fosters it. For example, the whole "waifu" thing grew from a 2ch meme that expanded to 4chan and other places, and it grew a culture where, eventually, a guy was willing to marry a video game character. Many of the more extreme "'otaku' news stories" that cause some to roll their eyes originate in those sorts of circles. But actually, the fact that people aren't aware of those sub-cultures and what breeds that sort of behaviour causes even more misunderstandings. For example, you may recall stories of otaku ripping games/novels/manga in disgust when they find out that their favourite heroine is not a virgin. This is entirely a 2ch meme that was never meant to be taken seriously; people do these things just for attention, not generally because they really mean it. But when you don't understand the origin and the sub-culture, and when less responsible "news sources" just pitch it as fact/news, it breeds misunderstanding that is even harder to clean up. In other words, even if some of the misunderstandings/stereotypes about otaku are factual, I think many of them are the result of trolling and attention-seeking. I think the misconceptions are partly the result of the more extreme stories people have seen/heard, and some of those are just fabrications to begin with.

Anyway... lots of stuff to think about. I think it's a fun topic.

>>Right now, the societal barrier to acceptance is too high, so we have to live a "secret life" in order to not be shunned by our peers.

Which is also why you tend to see a backlash from some anime fans to those who "make" being an anime fan a secret life, including moe fans (as moe can be related to more negative sexual aspects), and fans who are overzealous that it's not considered "normal" (like "Narutards" as an accessible example), among others. I don't think that behavior necessarily helps things though.

I must say I do like the Hard Gay comparison. Anyway I'm still not sure I quite agree on some things. I forgot exactly how I was going to start this off since I showered since then. I think that people should be as outgoing and positive about their tastes as possible. It's low self esteem to be too closeted. This totally isn't how I was going to start this post/comment out, but I've no longer the energy for this tiresome endeavor to pull this from my mind.

Well, I think the thing about life is to keep a variety of interests, everyone has a few of those hobbies someone would somehow look down upon, but if you don't seem like a person with incredibly narrow interests most people I don't think most people will find it particularly heinous, unless it's one of those things that particularly violate social norms. I don't think someone is going to treat you like Geoffrey Leonard just because you watch Honey and Clover.

I could really say the same about being a Socialist in a Capitalistic country, being a Libertarian in a Conservative country. Even being publically political at all can have consequences. Then there's being a religious minority, LGBT, fan of disliked music, I could go on and on.

I don't think that a stamp collector needs to remain closeted. Lest s/he be some antisocial awkward stamp collector who has near no other hobbies.

I don't think anybody should stick their hobbies in people's faces. And I don't think we should be on the don't ask don't tell line as well. But your side of the line seems to be more on the side of being closeted than I am.

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