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A Rather Condescending Otaku Article

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msq
Feb 20th 2013 at 7:00:42 AM

Apparently, someone by the name of gwern posted this rather lengthy and detailed essay on otaku dated sometime in 2010:

http://www.gwern.net/otaku-essay

Without really spoiling anything, it's a long-winding, if not patronizing rant with an academic sheen, not to mention a rather negative portrayal of fandom. But what are your thoughts on it?

Hope this brings up a discussion!

probablyinsane Relationship Status: I LOVE THIS DOCTOR!
Feb 20th 2013 at 8:22:47 AM

I guess this is just more ?proof? that EVA really put otakus through a wringer (of sorts).

Plants are aliens, and fungi are nanomachines.
msq
Feb 20th 2013 at 8:25:00 AM

How so? The wringer bit, I mean?

probablyinsane Relationship Status: I LOVE THIS DOCTOR!
Feb 20th 2013 at 8:33:42 AM

Apparently, EVA's one of two primary reasons why Moe became so popular.

https://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Analysis/Moe

Plants are aliens, and fungi are nanomachines.
BokhuraBurnes Radical Moderate from Inside the Bug Pit
Radical Moderate
Feb 20th 2013 at 8:36:27 AM

That was a pretty rambling and at times contradictory article. It goes from claiming that the plot holes in Eva aren't significant to its appeal to dwelling on how bad the plot holes are, focusing on the vividness of the characters and then saying they aren't well-developed, and so on.

I think what it comes down to — and I honestly can't tell whether the author agrees or disagrees with this, and if so, what he or she thinks of it — is that series such as Evangelion and Welcome to the NHK are more 'diagnosis' series than 'treatment' ones. In an average show, characters face some problem, and the emphasis is on seeing how they respond to the problem and how dealing with it makes them grow. In these 'otaku' shows, by contrast, we are presented initially with rather unlikeable characters with delusions about themselves and the world, and then we follow them in seeing their defense mechanisms pierced, their back stories expanded upon, and eventually them coming to know themselves for what they truly are. The climax is, not when some outside threat is defeated, but rather when acceptance and understanding is reached and a new path forward is resolved upon. The whole experience is rather like sitting in on a series of sessions with a therapist.

Although this is a different approach to managing conflict in a story, it is not by nature good or bad. Those of us who find the process of understanding others to be interesting can often get into these shows. What is more, if the viewer is able to identify with the characters in question, the resonance of the series becomes even stronger, because the very process of watching the show can help the watcher gain insight into his or her own issues. On the other hand, those with no particular bond with the characters can feel alienated from the process, as such a show has nothing particular to say to them (in the same way that, for instance, someone who hates sports might not want to watch a sports anime.)

I think that this diagnosis style can be powerful, and that the value of these sorts of shows should not be marginalized. (There is a reason why Evangelion is still popular, when other, newer shows with way fewer flaws are all but forgotten). The criticisms such shows do tend to come under is that an accurate diagnosis is not enough to make a satisfying story, and that true understanding is only valuable if it leads to a change in action (a treatment). While this claim has merit, it does point in my mind to the real area where anime falls short — social commentary. After all, almost no one actually chooses to become isolated. Instead, there are social forces that reward some behaviors and punish others, and this does not always follow from how 'good' or 'bad' the behavior is. (It's not a coincidence that the worlds such 'otaku' shows are set in are often full of conspiricies making it impossible for the characters to trust society.)

Perhaps the next step for 'otaku' shows, then, is to critique the social pressures that push some people to retreat to fantasy worlds. The protagonists could be people who would have already gone through the diagnosis stage to have gained a realistic perspective of themselves, and, while realizing that they have flaws like everyone else, also accept their strengths and reject society's condemnation of such behavior. The plot would then consist of them pushing back against these negative pressures that had hurt them in the past (for example, social conformity, materialism, or superficiality.) These stories might also have more resonance with the non-otaku crowd. On the other hand, to make such a story engaging but not preachy requires a large amount of skill. What is more, while anime directors have shown some interest in psychological and philosophical themes, social ones still tend to be left alone.

First they ignore you. Then they laugh at you. Then they fight you. Then you win.
msq
Feb 20th 2013 at 8:45:59 AM

Admittedly, it's really difficult to stay neutral in commenting on an essay like this.

For instance, I couldn't help but find the author's critique on otaku fandom (which could just as well refer to other fandoms in the way it's framed) and the nature of creativity to be at once hypocritical and condescending. For all his/her talk of the fan being closed-minded, the alternative and frame it's put in isn't exactly so open or accommodating either.

Iaculus Pronounced YAK-you-luss from England
Pronounced YAK-you-luss
Feb 20th 2013 at 10:28:06 AM

That wasn't really an essay, more a collection of notes and brainstorming. I'd be interested to see the finished version, though.

What's precedent ever done for us?
Feb 20th 2013 at 7:12:32 PM

Geez guys, it's obviously not done. Don't expect too much of some notes.

—-

Bokhura Burnes: That's not a bad description of it. But I think there's more to this 'diagnosis' genre than just psychological issues (otherwise we would label all the anime "psychological drama" and move on), and there are specifically otaku-related aspects which connect the anime we're looking at on on a deeper level than simply "the characters like anime or cosplay".

Feb 21st 2013 at 5:14:37 AM

First of all, his definition of otaku is the Japanese version which is much more narrow then how Americans interpret it. To Americans "otaku" seems to be another word for "geek." Yet only the most extreme of comic book geeks might qualify for the "otaku" label if using the Japanese understanding of the word.

I think the focus on how Eva appeals to otaku glosses over the more salient point about how Eva deals with a universal struggle called the human condition.

All people feel like Shinji or Asuka at some point in their lives (usually during adolescence). Just most people tend to handle it better then otakus. But that isn't because of something unique to otakus, but rather a trait that otakus share with other groups:

A strong romanticism. (In the old meaning of the word).

For example, I'm not the classic otaku (in the Japanese sense). I'm your typical nerd. Yet I am a romantic. Which is why EVA spoke so strongly to me, and probably why many anime appeal to me.

To me this effect of EVA on otaku is evidence of how otaku and non-otakus actually have a lot in common.

BokhuraBurnes Radical Moderate from Inside the Bug Pit
Radical Moderate
Feb 21st 2013 at 9:52:31 AM

I think the key here is that shows such as Eva or NHK are critiquing the tendency of the otaku or hard-core geek (as opposed to someone who happens to like science fiction or anime, say) to retreat into a fantasy world with little or no connection to reality as a way of avoiding their pain. This is a very specific type of unhealthy coping mechanism. I would agree that all people go through periods of insecurity in their life, but that there are also other ways people can try to deal with this existential loneliness (such as conformity or attempts to dominate others). While these attempts may be similarly unhealthy, the shows mentioned in the article don't have much more than a passive critique of them.

That's not to say that non-geeks deal with these issues better than geeks, but that everyone has their own path to maturity, and that we tend to resonate more with art that speaks to our own condition. One of the reasons I love Eva so much is that I myself tended in the 'unhealthy geek' direction when I was younger, and I saw Eva at a time in my life (freshman year of college) when it really spoke to the issues I had been facing. If I had seen a series with a different message (such as 'you don't always need to be in control, you can feel more content with your life when you treat other people as people rather than objects') it would have moved me less, not because it was a worse message, but because it would have been obvious to me. Similarly, when I've tried to get friends into Eva, I've noticed the extent to which they like the show (which, let's face it, artistically has several flaws alongside some skillfully done moments) is DIRECTLY related to the extent with which they can identify with the struggles of the characters.

What I'd perhaps like more is a work of art that addressed some of the meta-questions involved: why, for example, do we see the otaku mode of coping with loneliness as pathetic, while giving more of a pass to that of the heroic sociopath, despite both of them being incredibly problematic?

edited 21st Feb '13 9:56:11 AM by BokhuraBurnes

First they ignore you. Then they laugh at you. Then they fight you. Then you win.
Desertopa Not Actually Indie
Not Actually Indie
Feb 21st 2013 at 10:49:22 AM

What I'd perhaps like more is a work of art that addressed some of the meta-questions involved: why, for example, do we see the otaku mode of coping with loneliness as pathetic, while giving more of a pass to that of the heroic sociopath, despite both of them being incredibly problematic?

What behaviors people regard as attractive in general has little to do with what behaviors are socially constructive. Dark triad personality traits tend to be socially destructive, for example, but are generally not associated with decreased attractiveness (we have a couple related pages.)

When people view others as "pathetic," it usually has more to do with attractiveness, both social and sexual, than constructiveness.

...eventually, we will reach a maximum entropy state where nobody has their own socks or underwear, or knows who to ask to get them back.
BokhuraBurnes Radical Moderate from Inside the Bug Pit
Radical Moderate
Feb 21st 2013 at 3:43:46 PM

That's what I'm talking about; the next step to move beyond 'diagnosis' shows such as Eva might be to create a show questioning this popular tendency to evaluate characters on coolness, rather than constructiveness.

Take Shinji for an example. Shinji is kind, empathetic, and, when push comes to shove, has an inner core of determination. He's also whiny, insecure, and suffering from serious depression and anxiety issues. I don't think that, for Eva to have wider resonance, Shinji needs to be turned into an ice-cold badass (that would be unfair to his character); instead, it could show how Shinji's good qualities can make him just as much of a hero should he manage to overcome his flaws.

First they ignore you. Then they laugh at you. Then they fight you. Then you win.
Feb 21st 2013 at 5:52:24 PM

Which is what Eva does indeed show. Shinji is weak, but he is still a hero.

The only thing I think might help a wider audience is to spend some more time developing the change in Shinji as it happens so quickly (during Instrumentality) that I think a lot of people miss it. I think a single groundhog day loop inside of instrumentality would have been useful in showing how Shinji had changed in his approach to life.

Also, I find it confusing that you think EVA is saying that retreating into fantasy is a terrible thing, but does not address compliance or dominance, or other unhealthy methods of dealing with alienation.

EVA does have anti-fantasy as an issue for Shinji, but really all the other issues are there too. Who tries to deal with alienation through dominance? Asuka. Who deals with it by compliance? Rei. Misato deals with alienation through alcohol and possibly sex.

It even addresses the dark triad: Narcissistic: Asuka Machiavellian: Gendo and to a lesser extent Shinji, (he is his father's son). Psychopathic: Misato

I guess I just feel that EVA is a lot more general then otakus or geeks. Any romantic ought to be impacted by EVA. Even most non-romantics ought to have one character that they really identify with.

It's just the vehicle the medicine comes in is targeted at otakus. (Particularly mecha otakus, who back in the 90s were the dominant otakus.)

I actually think a more broad base adaptation of EVA is possible, in the same way that superhero movies now reach well beyond the typical superhero geek.

BokhuraBurnes Radical Moderate from Inside the Bug Pit
Radical Moderate
Feb 21st 2013 at 6:28:53 PM

I agree that Eva (ultimately) shows Shinji as heroic, but it's a very different type of heroism than in other shows. It consists of Shinji (in rejecting instrumentality) accepting the critique of himself and deciding to move onwards, rather than in him having seen this move to its eventual success or failure. It's as if the climax comes in finally agreeing to accept The Call, rather than telling the story of what happened afterwards. Nothing wrong with that as a story-telling technique, but it does put the series in the realm of diagnosis rather than treatment — which might turn off some people.

And yes, other sorts of alienation are addressed in the series as well, but by making him the main character Anno puts Shinji front and center in the show. As one of the subtitles in the 26th episode so helpfully points out, this is in the end 'the case of Shinji Ikari'. For this reason, I think it's easy for someone to watch the show who might identify with the struggles of, say, Misato, but gets turned off by the wimpy boy who happens to be the main protagonist.

In short, Eva does have things to say beyond the otaku/geek crowd, but that crowd also is its 'natural' audience.

First they ignore you. Then they laugh at you. Then they fight you. Then you win.
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