Pretense is Not a Fandom Value
I’m talking about lying to ourselves as much as lying to others about our feelings, desires and interests. My first gut reaction is to blame the culture of the hipster that took hold in my generation, but it wouldn’t be fair to blame a single social group for the failings of all fandom. Looking back on it as an adult, and what the social movement has become it was surely an attempt by a seemingly emotionally and socio-economically fragile population of then adolescents and teens to guard against the callous cruelty of an unforgiving world. No one was allowed to “like” anything anymore; they became too afraid of getting mocked for it and too willing to be the ones doing the mocking instead. They would ironically like only what was deemed “garbage” and refuse to like anything that was deemed “mainstream.” They shut out or became defensive about their tastes, getting angry when their “favorite” properties got too popular and became no longer “cool.” I can’t blame these people for insulating themselves from emotional abuse, but at the same time what it means is that earnest and innocent subject matter gets trashed and earnest and innocent people get marginalized, doomed to suffer the same intoxicating temptation to join in on the insincerity. To feel the need to pretend as though we do not like things out of fear is a tragedy. The cacophony of hatred it has produced in our modern age is enough by itself to make me tired of the fandom altogether.
Furthermore, niche genres like BL can’t afford to be looking down their noses at niche genres like hentai, as if we are better than they are. I understand the issues that many have with the objectification of women, with historic misogyny, the glass ceiling, all of that, but seriously, the vast majority of BL is wank-fodder. Trying to pretend we read it for purely platonic enjoyment, and not to pull pruriently at our heartstrings is not only dishonest it is insulting. I observe and participate in communities comprised of adult women, many with active, healthy sex lives of their own, focus so directly and single-mindedly at how graphic the sex scenes in any given BL manga volume are or how awful any of the post-licensing censorship was and then turn around and gripe about how disgusting the cover is of some random hentai manga, of a drawing of some big-chested fantasy girl, and I want to rip out my hair. You don’t get to do that. You don’t get to judge others for how they beat off when you sit in oblivious fandom wankery over the things you clearly beat off to yourselves. There is a word for that: hypocrisy.
I understand the mainstream perception of pornography and sexuality are very repressed in our society, especially with regard to what women are perceived as being allowed to experience. However, while I won’t get into the specific details in this article (perhaps for a future one), blaming retailers and publishers for decisions to publish alternative content when our niche genre titles aren’t solely sufficient isn’t fair. Neither is it fair to the titles chosen, or to the people who read them. It is not constructive to be spitefully angry and parrot that anger in the same way as the societal dysfunction that created the situation in the first place.
Disparagement is Not a Fandom Value
Disparagement is probably the thing people think of first when they think of the problems with fandom. Fandom is full of trolls and insensitive people, shielded from their treatment of others by the apparent anonymity of the internet. It has made it very easy for a culture of condescension to grow. People decide what is right, what is good or what is valuable, and any outside viewpoint is wrong and anyone with that viewpoint is stupid.
It is one thing to talk critically or have narrow standards for quality. We don’t need to justify our tastes by calling everything we consume and enjoy “good.” However, treating anything that doesn’t meet those standards as garbage is unfair. For example, media created for and targeted at children (which encompasses most of anime and manga content localized in the west). Children have simpler tastes and narrower worldviews. They cleave enthusiastically to the polarization of good and evil. They are not yet beaten down or jaded by the callous and cruel world, mocking them for liking things that others do not. When I see reviews written by and for adults (and not for adults with children who are looking for innocuous titles to buy for them) about titles clearly geared towards kids, or really any review by a subset of fandom about a completely different demographic, I have to wonder, what is the point?
A good example of this was the reaction I passively observed to the movie Ponyo. A film obviously and specifically targeted towards a very young demographic. The movie was meant for five-year-olds, but the criticism over it seemingly used the lens of what makes good entertainment for adults. Of course it didn’t make good entertainment for adults, it was written for young children. Perhaps it was a dumbfounded reaction by a population of anime fans who grew up with Studio Ghibli classics like Grave of the Fireflies, Princess Mononoke and Nausicaa, but I feel that it is unfair to expect every title that is released by a production company to be meant for the same demographic as the ones that came before it and is certainly unfair to treat all titles as if they are meant for the same demographic, especially when they clearly are not.
Does that mean you can only write reviews for the genres you enjoy or the demographics of which you are a member? No, of course not, but to be honest, reading a review of a BL title by someone who is not a BL fan, for a community that includes no BL fandom, is screaming into a void. Rather than Sturgeon’s Revelation, I would argue that it is really only the 10% of the content in any genre that is not considered “crap” that is worth the time of anyone outside of that content’s intended demographic, or in this case, its niche genre. That is the only content that could be enjoyed outside of its core audience, breaking genre boundaries and crossing over into the mainstream. However, the other 90% that is created and consumed, most of which is actually enjoyed by even a small group of people isn’t necessarily worthless. To quote myself from last year’s more optimistic entry, media is meant to be consumed and enjoyed, not necessarily appreciated for its intellectual value.
That isn’t to say that we cannot agree about faults. A weak story, weak characterization, weak art or overuse of genre tropes are all valid criticisms of any title. We can’t simply ignore them away because the critic isn’t a fan of the genre. We should accept the failings of our favorite titles and the weaknesses of our favorite genres, but at the same time we shouldn’t have to stop liking what we like or be expected to defend ourselves against unwarranted attacks by people who believe anything “below” their standards isn’t worth anyone’s time.
If we allow the disparagement to continue unchecked we will find caught in it an increasingly younger internet fanbase, comprised of people who don’t have filters or really any mature social skills, being bombarded with vitriol, sheltering themselves with their fandom wank and attacking violently anyone who disagrees with their worldview.
And let’s talk about the wankers.