Editor’s Desk: against the cult of personality

I hate Nakagawa Shouko.
Not personally, but I hate what she stands for. She exemplifies a brand of nouveau pop starlets who masquerade as otaku to cash in on the Densha Otoko boom, a bastard strain of entertainers that have spawned cults of personality through the simplistic and ham-handed use of otaku memes they don’t understand, who are polluting the waters of fandom with their arrogant A-boy lackeys.
The otaku tribe I fell in love with wasn’t a cult of personality, it was a cult of art and craft and maniacal, heretical theory. this isn’t to say that the artists themselves with all their eccentricities are shut out of the circle, this isn’t to say that beautiful people can’t be otaku, but that those not focused on the art – those focused on themselves, regardless of stripe – do not belong.
The otaku tent is large. It includes voice actors and actresses, singers, animators, character designers, directors, producers, and artists of all stripes. it includes fans dedicated to the craft of all of these. To me, though, it does not include any of the lampreys who have recently latched onto the scene, neither creators nor true fans but personalities who adopt the superficial aspects of otakuism for their own personal aggrandizement.
These people, as reprehensible as they are, are not the worst part of the problem. What is far more distressing is the body of phony fanboys that has amassed in the retinue of these false prophets, who follow not their creations but their personalities, their insipid outer image of glamor or fashion or whatever it is that makes them seem desirable.
Fans of personality should stick to their variety TV shows and stay out of my artistic space. if you lack the will to understand the otaku world, I want you OUT. this goes for both the upstart b-rank celebrities pretending to represent the “moe-zoku” and their fans – if you’re not willing to come to the table on our terms, gate the fuck out. You’re clogging the aisles of Comiket with your ignorant foppishness, you’re harassing the few legitimate cosplayers left, you’re buying limited edition items for the sole purpose of reselling them at auction, you’re profiting off the enthusiasm of real fans while not giving anything in return and, in short, you’re a cancer on the community that should not exist.
This is my line in the sand. This is where I say enough to the likes of models turned cosplayers, false otaku TV “personalities”, artists who would rather talk about themselves than put pen to paper, anyone who trades more on their name or image than on any talent they may possess – you don’t belong here. There are professionals working hard every day, there are fans who take their work seriously, who deserve the air you’re wasting. There’s a lowest common denominator audience waiting for you out in TV-land and the magazine aisles of convenience stores. Porn/gravure stars? Pop idols? Get the fuck out of Akihabara and find your own smut district to pollute.
If you want to be part of this world you’re welcome to join, but you have to choose your own adventure: there are honorable artistic professions out there, positions earned with sweat and tears and years of hard work and training. There’s the life of the fan, who puts his time and his money where his mouth is. Come to me when I can see something in your eyes other than spinning yen signs and let’s talk – until then we’ve got nothing to discuss.
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Shingo is an anime fan who hasn’t RAGED AGAINST THE MACHINE in a long time. He thinks that Densha Otoko, while not a bad show in itself, is the worst thing to happen to otakudom in Japan since the Miyazaki murders of 1989 and hopes the Mousou Shoujo Otaku-kei TV drama will be canceled before it gets the chance to air.

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0 Responses to Editor’s Desk: against the cult of personality

  1. omo August 23, 2007 at 5:52 am #

    It feels like you’re just complaining that people don’t respect the stuff they are leeching off of.

  2. Shingo August 23, 2007 at 6:12 am #

    That’s part of it, yes. I think it’s an appropriate subject for complaint.

  3. Kurushimi August 23, 2007 at 6:15 am #

    You’re preaching to the choir here as far as I’m concerned, but it’s also inevitable – whether you label it as otaku and moe interests becoming mainstream, a quick and easy cashing in, or selling out to the masses, businessmen will always jump at the chance for profit, especially once they caught wind of how much otaku throw towards their interests.
    Having seen the anime/manga fandom experience similar growth in the US, I have to say I’m slightly more optimistic. Much like the coming and going of the tide, you’ll see the posers come in, cash in on the “otaku fad”, and as it dies down, you’re left with the veterans again. That is of course, assuming they don’t pack up in disgust or worst, attempt to cash in and go mainstream themselves.
    With that said, I just take everything at face value. Regardless of what Nakagawa Shouko represents, I can appreciate the Gurren Lagann OP as a good song, for example.

  4. Shingo August 23, 2007 at 9:29 am #

    I agree that fandoms are cyclical, and that they do mature with age as the less committed drop out. That said, I’m not trying to draw a distinction between new fans and old fans, but rather marginalize those drawn to the scene by personality over art, those drawn by the new otaku myth as expounded by Densha Otoko in which the art and memes are presented as subservient, merely means to an end (romance) instead of the end itself – I want to distinguish them from the rest of us.
    I prefer the mythical otaku narrative presented in Otaku no Video, the burning spirit and solidarity found on the road to Otakingdom and the eventual ascent to heaven on the wings of the SDF Macross (hey, a man can dream).
    I think the real danger of Densha Otoko and Shoko-tan lies not in what they are as media (entities), which may be quite enjoyable in isolation (I agree that the Gurren Lagann OP is great), but what their narratives say about acceptable cultural activity within the fandom. I’ve been able to ignore them pretty well to this point and intend to continue doing so (while appreciating their enjoyable aspects), but the trend away from art as core axiom of the culture is worrisome. I guess all I can do is keep on posting about stuff I like and hope the other stuff eventually recedes, as you say.

  5. jpmeyer August 23, 2007 at 10:59 am #

    I’m always bothered as well by how capitalism seems like it can co-opt anything. The whole complaint I see here is about how people from outside have taken your experience, packaged it, and have sold something that isn’t even related to that experience, but that has now over-written your experience.
    I think I wrote a post about this once, but the co-option of otakudom in Japan seems like the commodification of hipster culture in the US. People wore thrift store clothes, lived in certain neighborhoods, drank at dive bars, etc. because they couldn’t afford anything else. But then they got pushed out by people wearing a $40 faded t-shirt, drinking a $5 beer, and living in a $2500/month apartment who thought that this person’s lifestyle would be fashionable to adapt.
    (and don’t get me started on my hatred for those “I’m not a plastic bag” bags!)

  6. Shingo August 23, 2007 at 12:08 pm #

    I think that comparison holds true to a certain extent, although as a culture based around mass media consumption it’s hard to avoid a certain intrinsic degree of commercialization in anime fandom. The terrestrial TV broadcast of anime is the one thing keeping it democratic, and I think fans who don’t fall into the trap of crass commercialism surrounding the shows they like are probably the better off for it.
    I think in the case of Japan’s otaku culture it’s less that it’s in danger of becoming excessively commodified (it was on that road since the production of the first Gundam plastic model, at least) but that the market is in danger of being perverted by entrepreneurs with little or no interest in the actual subject matter. This primarily refers to resellers eager to make a quick buck at auction, but also to companies who produce cheap, inferior quality goods to sell at inflated prices to fans who need their fix.
    I agree that something is being sold to these new fans that’s not something that should be associated with what’s being sold to me, if that makes sense, and yet that association persists; it seems like a more complex relationship than the hipster analogy, though that may just because I’m mired in the middle of it myself.

  7. Kurushimi August 23, 2007 at 1:17 pm #

    To me, that’s what Comiket, Wonderfes and the doujin community are for – the last bastion of true otaku culture (no melodrama intended). From the point of view of an outsider looking in, I get the impression that no matter how many maids, fake personalities or idols appear in Akiba, no matter how much of a tourist attraction it becomes, you can always depend on rabid fans cranking out quality games, CDs, and other creations at these events.
    Then I re-read your post and realized that these events ARE being invaded. So yes, definitely a cause for concern. Akiba has pretty much become a tourist attraction these days, so they can continue to hawk their presence there. If, however, they steal precious space from the line for the newest Touhou game or Blasterhead CD at Comiket, well, heads will roll…

  8. P Laskey August 23, 2007 at 10:30 pm #

    I read that post thinking, “nah, nah… he’s going to get flamed (or worse) for this”, and was surprised – and perhaps relived – to see most people, generally, agree with you. Those who are latching on to Otakuism are annoying I must admit. It reminds me of the opening scenes in the otherwise very poor sequel to the Densha Otoko TV series, with tourists with their kids infesting Akihabara landmarks and Otaku beset in the street by squealing schoolgirls with camera phones, the legend of Densha having made idols out of geeks overnight. I always say, give ’em five minutes and they’ll have gone on to the next sensation. As for Nakagawa Shouko, sorry but I can’t consider anyone who sniffs cats arses cute.

  9. omo August 24, 2007 at 1:23 am #

    I think this is inevitable, not so much because of capitalism, but because of lack of identity. The “otaku” tent is huge, and there is little in terms of unification (well, maybe until recently) or a sense of “what is there to respect?” coming not just from society at large, but even amongst the fans.
    Because here capitalism works both ways–if the fans feel offended they won’t go around and buy Shoukotan goods. Invariably the root of too many otaku folks are self-interested and we don’t really care much about the big picture.

  10. Anonymoose August 24, 2007 at 2:32 am #

    I don’t think the cult of scene is any more respectable than the cult of personality. And that’s essentially what you’re worried about.
    Bob starts a religion called Fooism and gains a close group of followers. After many years, Jane comes into the group and creates her own version of the Fooism holy texts that are a bit more palatable to the masses, but does not change the name. People come to follow this new version in droves, and becomes popular to the point that when you ask an outsider on the street what Fooism is, they will undoubtedly know only of Jane’s version. Some of Bob’s followers are not happy about this.
    Is that what we’re worried about? That *real* anime/manga/whatever otaku will be seen to be the same as the metaphorical unwashed masses?
    Who gives a shit about that?
    Your ‘scene’ grew up around art, the creation and appreciation thereof. No one is taking that away. There is not an army of Shoko-tan fans that are going to descend on comiket and burn all the doujins.
    Otaku will create. Otaku will consume and discuss. Perhaps if that isn’t enough then you’re more obsessed with some kind of social phenomenon than the principles you claim to care about?

  11. Shingo August 24, 2007 at 4:55 am #

    >>Anonymoose
    I see issues of social identity as surrogate for issues of principle in an arena where principle is seldom discussed. If you want to frame it in those terms I’m fine with that.
    I’m reconciled to the fact that as the popularity of the medium grows the segment of the fandom to which I belong will become increasingly marginalized. That said, if we don’t beat our drum occasionally we’ll be that less likely to attract new blood out of the mass of newcomers to the scene.
    As you say, all I can do – and all I intend to do – is to keep on keeping on in the only idiom that I know, that of creation, consumption and discussion, and hope it’s enough to keep my own little social and philosophical vision intact in my own mind. That, and hope there are a few others out there who share the vision and can help relieve the burden of solipsism under which one can only labor for so long.
    The nexus of popular culture and otakudom is fascinating to me, and my emotions here are mixed. It’s often hard to separate the media itself from its viewership, and it was in that perplexed state of mind that I wrote this column. I’m not sure if this makes any sense but I hope you’ll bear with me as I try to understand what exactly it is that I’m talking about.

  12. Shinikenshi August 25, 2007 at 8:44 am #

    I have begun to wonder about this so-called invasion by the non-otaku for a while. Though I found Densha Otaku to be thoroughly entertaining, I never thought that stuff like that would bring other, more detrimental factors into the arena.
    Your analysis is very interesting and I suppose as some people have stated, to be something that was…perhaps bound to happen? I liken it to the increasing popularity of anime and manga in the States which has allowed for more people to enjoy both mediums, while at the same time taking away the exclusivity that the hardcore “first” adopters/fans once clung to. Granted, having something becoming more mainstream isn’t quite the same as the pretenders invading a culture which they only enjoy for either monetary gain or for the sake of personality cults I suppose…
    Now I feel bad since to an extend, we also might be lumped in this category for going to Comiket and buying for profit. My claims of being “not-as-otaku-as-everyone-else” doesn’t help me either… T_T

  13. wit August 28, 2007 at 3:27 pm #

    If I imagine this article being spoken in a really nasally voice it’s improved fourfold.

  14. Shingo August 28, 2007 at 4:07 pm #

    >>wit
    You’re quite right. In hindsight, this was not a particularly bright moment… It’s more representative of personal issues than anything present in the fandom at large. Worth more as a Something Awful-style parody mp3 than anything, most likely. Maybe I’ll make one.

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