How Not to Man Up

Let’s face it: quite a few anime and manga otaku could benefit from manning up. Why do I say this? I don’t look at otaku with the stink-eye that Japanese society reserves for crack addicts and indigents (which it lumps such otaku with), nor do I harbor the gentler, kinder prejudice of the Americas (which considers them socially retarded geeks.) Rather, I think that everyone should man up. Anime otaku simply happen to be the audience I write for.

That said, in their hasty attempts to help, otaku are creating images like these:

which do more harm to their cause than good.

Why would I say that?

1. The evidence we see is counter to the arguments involved.

In this comic, the protagonist John has lost Sarah’s heart to an off-screen man named Jason. Sarah berates John for being unmanly and not asserting himself. What’s the problem? Well, we only ever see John being assertive, as we see him in the process of asking Sarah out. We only ever hear about Jason being unassertive, as he was basically moping about when Sarah dropped into his life and practically threw herself at him.

What kind of doubletalk is that? Sure, John was probably much less assertive in the past, and Jason is no doubt taller and better looking or something, but if you’re going to use this as a “WRONG THING TO DO” example, why not show him ACTUALLY DOING THE WRONG THING?

2. The prize is of dubious value.

We don’t really know much about Sarah. However, she probably has some self-esteem issues, because she wound up dating – by her own admission – a near-endless stream of “countless dickheaded guys.” She’s also long-winded, needlessly abrasive, and hypocritical – why criticize “B grade English” when you use statements like “me and my boyfriend are going out for dinner”?

She likes drama, defends the practice of dating assholes in the same breath that she complains about them, and caps it off by insulting John’s “pathetic lust for a pure, innocent virgin.” This is about as coherent as insulting him for liking the color blue. Hilariously, she takes as a superior virtue “impregnating women and thus contributing to the continuation of the human race.” This from a grade school girl (or at the oldest, college student – “Remember Jason, from school?”)

The statement is about as ignorant as they come, both in terms of population dynamics and the female mindset. Humanity is in no danger of running low on people; quite the contrary, by most estimates, population growth is a problem.  We have too many people. Sarah isn’t really looking out for the population, as evinced by the very personal nature of her criticisms, and she doesn’t really know what she’s talking about. Furthermore, she’s insincere – it takes losing her patience to actually give John her honest opinion. Isn’t this all stuff she just slammed him for?

If Sarah were a level-headed, mature individual, she would not have exploded at John when he made his awkward confession. If she truly hated him, she would have gotten rid of him sooner, and if she truly cared for him, she wouldn’t have been needlessly insulting and confrontational turning him down.

3. The characterization of the otaku is so hyperbolic as to not apply to most readers, and the affliction of otaku is not unique.

Statistically, I have no doubt that some manga readers/anime watchers probably will be complete social failures. Guess what? They aren’t nearly as articulate as the John we see in the comic. Perhaps that can be overlooked as a bit of implicit fear-mongering – “if you are less articulate than this, then you must be even worse off socially!”

However, are all otaku like this? No way. Even if your addiction to anime is crippling, that in no way implies that you can’t be socialized or productive. People drink and drug themselves to death still clutching Grammys and Nobel Prizes; I refuse to believe that anime can be more debilitating than alcoholism and crack cocaine. William Faulkner, for instance, had to be told the date of the Nobel Prize ceremony was a month before it really was, so that he could sober up enough to not be kicked off the boat to Europe. For an example of a high-functioning otaku, how about former Japanese Prime Minister Taro “Rozen Maiden” Aso? It’s possible that his political career can be largely discounted as the work of his family, but how about his becoming an Olympic-level athelete as a young adult, well after his manga addiction had started?

Take the reverse, as well: are all non-otaku not like this? Does otaku correlate with “abnormal” and “non-otaku” correlate with “normal”? Again, no. There are plenty of socially unacceptable people who are not anime/manga otaku, and there are plenty of otaku who get married and otherwise appear normal.

There’s nothing about being an anime/manga otaku that will keep you behind any more than other leisure addictions.

4. The values are inconsistent, and the message is ultimately mixed.

Look carefully at the rant. In particular, look at the part about “a guy who tells me I’m interesting and cute when he really thinks I’m neurotic and not intelligent enough to pick up on his true intention of having sex with me . . . ”

Well, let’s face it. Sarah is a bit neurotic, or she wouldn’t have been with so many assholes. But the major issue here is that Sarah is telling the otaku, “Don’t do things just to get laid! Be your own man!”

And that’s what got a lot of otaku into anime to begin with. They didn’t want to try out for football, learn to swing dance, etc. just to try to impress the pretty girls (or guys.) Other things were more interesting and ultimately more important.

And Sarah? Sarah doesn’t really care about all that. She just wants what she wants: men who aren’t dull, men who are assholes (which she interprets as being sincere), men who are impulsive and confident and great in bed. That’s okay, I suppose – but why should John necessarily want that?

The only reason John would have to want to mold himself to what Sarah wants is – wait for it – because he wants to get in bed with her. Which, as you’ll recall, is the thing we’re trying to avoid – doing things you have no real interest in, just to impress girls. This self-contradictory rant is just an excuse for Sarah to bite John’s head off for not happening to be her ideal man.

Man up. But not as suggested in the comic. That isn’t manning up at all.

Published in: on June 17, 2010 at 12:49 AM  Comments (46)  
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  1. I do agree with all your points here. I feel though that the comic in question who ever made it is part of a growing cancer I see among self proclaimed “otaku”. They are so hurt and disillusioned with their bad life experiences they have become so unattached to real life. They have become socially dysfunctional even though they won’t admit it and think everyone else are the socially dysfunctional ones.

    • Most “otaku” are introverts. Introverts are socially retarded by nature. Just because you’re socially dysfunctional, doesn’t mean you can’t contribute to society.

      • Just because I tend to be an introvert doesn’t mean I’m socially dysfunctional. Also I never said that socially dysfunctional people can’t contribute to society. You’re missing the whole point of what I’m trying to say. Sure socially dysfunctional people can contribute to society but their relationships are another story.

      • Also don’t make the assumption that most “otaku” are introverts. Stop stereotyping “otaku”.

      • This article, I submit, is the definitive word on introversion. It rang very true to me, at least. And I’m a raging introvert.

    • Thanks.

      In reading your assessment I’m reminded of the statement that a liar never trusts other people, because he assumes they are also liars.

  2. I think whoever made that had this xkcd strip in mind.

  3. Bitches and whores.

  4. Thank you for that inspiring and well thought out rebuttal to what would normally be a spirit crushing verbal assault. And I liked your comments on how this doesn’t just apply to a love of one subject. I’ve known women like the fictitious one here and nice to see that someone else gets it. You’re not a better person because you think your life sucks less than mine or anyone else’s. Awesome.

    • Thank you for reading it all.

  5. I do believe there is more to this image than you initially see. It seems to me that it is a critique of several types of behaviour as well as a critique of stereotypes.

    First: The “Whiny Guy / Antisocial” type person. That part is pretty obvious, and pretty correct. Doing things soley to please someone else, and then expecting to get something back, is a pretty dick type of behavior. And to learn how to swim, you pretty much have to throw yourself in the water, you have to pretty much get out and throw yourself at people, even if you do not particularily like to do that.

    Second: The “Shallow Guy / Girl” type person. Date other shallow guy / girl for fear of being alone, be unable to make any sort of connection – mostly catching assholes, because people who skip the asshole part but still have the qualities that make any person, male or female, interesting (Confidence, intelligence, physical prowess and some kind of sense of self-worth, really) don’t really care about them, drop, repeat. I don’t think that needs any more explanation.

    Then, the stereotypes themselves. The guy and girl each are written as seen by the other stereotype, respectively, and taken to the extreme, ridiculing the stereotypes themselves.

    IMHO, it’s either that, or whoever wrote that image was kind of a butt.

    • I don’t know the history of the image so I can’t comment on that; presumably Tim Maughan or digiwombat would know. It was presented as a straightforward thing that otaku should read.

      • The image was just making the rounds on Reddit and I thought it fit the #otakumanup tag.

        That said, there are lots of ways to man up and lots of different people in our community who probably need to do it. This image was just sort of half-jokingly aimed at the sort of people who have this sort of problem, which is also one I have covered on my podcasts tons of times. But I guess if they knew how to manage their own shit comics like that and #otakumanup wouldn’t need to exist, eh? Hahaha.

      • Thanks for dropping by to explain, Randall.

  6. It’s telling that I once wrote a story where a ghost met his ghost wife when they were both crushed to death by the same bookshelf. Sometimes you gotta put yourself out there.

    I don’t really understand the aims of that comic, it seems both parties in that comic fail to understand each other on any mature level.

    Don’t have much more to say about the comic other than it is probably made by an angry, angry person.

    • The author is angry? That is probably true.

  7. WOW. This was a long post. Maybe you should have gone outside instead?

    All joking aside (and I was joking) I think – somewhat depressingly – you’ve missed the point of the comic. It’s not just about relationships. It’s about the nerd curse (and I say nerd as an umbrella term; not sure of origins of the comic and doubt was written specifically about otaku – but applies) that because ‘you’ consider yourself intelligent that you stop taking what you deem to be unnessary risks. You start over-calculating everything. You think too much before grabbing the bill by the horn and doing nothing except only what you enjoy.

    And by ‘you’. I mean ‘me’. I’ve lived both sides of this. Still do. Somethings I regret, somethings I celebrate. And I still have to fight myself to take risks. Sometimes they fuck up. But when they don’t? Always worth it.

    • My argument here is that the author of the comic didn’t do what he or she presumably set out to do. Your argument presupposes that the comic does successfully do that, and takes it from there.

      In short – we appear to be focusing on different things.

  8. As someone who also has been in that same situation way too many times, I’d say just appreciate the humour in it and laugh.
    I think when people are saying “man up” all they are saying is ‘be confident in yourself’.
    Would you agree too many otaku carry inferiority complexes, and hate the ‘dickhead’ guys simply because they are oozing it while we aren’t?
    Doesn’t matter if you’re a geek, nerd, otaku, or anyone else for that matter, unless you have confidence in yourself then no-one else will. Humility and social graces will hopefully follow…

  9. Also: I do hope that for every ten people her or on Twitter sitting around picking this cartoon apart there is at least one person going ‘fuck. Maybe that *is* the point. I’m going to go out and do something extraordinary’.

    It’s a vain hope..but still..

  10. This was nice, but picking comics apart aside, webcomics aim straight for the goal rather than worry about the details; one could hardily expect literary award from them for correct portrayal.

    The main part is already said: otaku are introverts, they just don’t go out enough, or try enough things. All the info gathering and ‘intelligence’ can be said just as much for popular guys as for an introvert. I’d argue there are just as much stupid bookworm geeks as there are stupid jocks, but stupid jocks at least have the charisma to cover themselves.

    • I’m a critic; picking things apart is what I do. That said, if you want to make a point, surely it’s fair to say that you ought to make it consistently and coherently?

      • I’m not saying picking things apart is wrong. I’m saying that expecting everyone to be perfectly consistent is bit much; especially when it comes to webcomics where TL;DRness is the last thing they want.

      • Fair enough – but I don’t think I’m asking for perfection. I’m asking for a pretty minimal level of coherence that is absent.

        It’s not like they avoided extreme wordiness either way 😛

  11. I only read the comic – what if I LIKE my men to be docile, brainy and submissive? :3 Maybe I DON’T want a douchebag who makes me rage, who pisses me off and make me want to smash their head into a wall. Maybe I like it when the other half is boring so that I can focus on my personal hobbies without worrying about him going off and fucking some whore!

    Honestly, if the otaku guy wants a girl who wants a douchebag, they obviously aren’t meant to be.

    • Indeed. And since that is a valid conclusion the reader can draw from the comic, I submit that the comic is not good at conveying the specific message Maughan wants it to convey.

      EDIT: Tim Maughan has stated that he didn’t actually mean to endorse every point in the comic. Be that as it may, it’s a train wreck of an argument, whoever wrote it.

  12. The whole thing kind of subverts itself when John asks Sarah face to face if she’d like to go do something, together, away from the computer. No matter what he does in his off hours, that takes some courage, especially since he was obviously crushing on her.

    I think the real takeaway here is that you shouldn’t try to pick up girls who hang out in parks, because (as you’d already know if you watched/read Welcome to the N.H.K.) they’re obviously all crazy.

    • This is, indeed, not a bad takeaway lesson.

  13. “But the major issue here is that Sarah is telling the otaku, “Don’t do things just to get laid! Be your own man!”

    And that’s what got a lot of otaku into anime to begin with. They didn’t want to try out for football, learn to swing dance, etc. just to try to impress the pretty girls (or guys.) Other things were more interesting and ultimately more important.

    And Sarah? Sarah doesn’t really care about all that. She just wants what she wants: men who aren’t dull, men who are assholes (which she interprets as being sincere), men who are impulsive and confident and great in bed. That’s okay, I suppose – but why should John necessarily want that?”

    But here’s the thing: that’s what John’s been doing all along! He was doing all this stuff with her thinking that that’s what it will take to get her. He IS molding himself into what he thinks she wants, or perhaps better yet, what he wants her to want. And then he gets annoyed at how she both doesn’t want this and subtextually, that the failure of his not-so-cunning plan makes him and his vaunted brain to be not as great as he thought they were. Also, the fact that John is kind of an asshole for basically mentally projecting all sorts of stuff on to her.

  14. Or to look at it another way, what exactly does John have to offer Sarah? I don’t mean in the sense of having “game” or “moves” or whatever, but rather looking at the reasons why someone would or would not be interested in him, and honestly he has almost nothing going for him and a lot of negatives–and that’s even without defining things like liking anime as a negative. The “assholes” might be assholes, but they are also at least exciting or charismatic or good at peen0ring. John has none of those positives, but is also still an asshole.

    • Sarah is not necessarily any better than John. This makes her suboptimal as a figure of authority on how to not suck. The author could easily have created a less ambiguous situation.

      • I think it kind of matters that Sarah isn’t really that great because of the “nice guy” tendency to do a lot of projecting and assuming about the girls that they are attaching themselves too, and because if she were too with it, at best John would recognize that she’s out of his league and at worst she wouldn’t ever need to settle for “assholes”.

  15. You’ll find that most faults with anime fans of the male gender is the fact that they find themselves to be better than their female counterparts. You’ll find countless of anime fans in cons and mainly in Japanese society who find themselves too good to date a female anime fan. They have to deal with life and realize they aren’t like MTV’s RJ Berger and lack a redeemable quality or the galls to ask out a woman and have to date in their league. If you’re 30, a virgin, greased hair, and fat, you have to realize you are never going to get a hot girlfriend.

    Settle for Pikabellechu, otakus.

    • Or “man up” and upgrade to a better “league.” But my point above is – we shouldn’t suggest that doing a ton of things you don’t like to try to satisfy a woman who ultimately doesn’t want you is “manning up.”

      It is, at best, merely a different brand of failure.

  16. Man, Sarah doesn’t even nothing about other girls. As Hinano said, what if that’s what I want? Especially, if you know, that means he’s into the same things I do. And I’d rather be with a guy who treats me right, and well rage rage rage. I mean, a guy shouldn’t pretend he’s somewhere he’s not, but also, a arsehole isn’t automatically better then a nice guy.

    Oh well. I’m just gonna enjoy my relationship of ten months with a ‘boring’ guy now…

  17. Well, even though “Sarah” kind of ran off the mouth a bit (and could use a few tips on how to break up her thoughts into paragraphs instead of one mind-numbing giant box of text), I thought she made a good point.

    I’ve known shy guys who I liked as people, but they frankly bored me, intellectually, emotionally, and yes, sexually to the point where I couldn’t see them as boyfriend material. At all.

    They were puzzled at their lack of luck w/ the ladies — why, when they were so kind and sensitive? Isn’t that what women want? they’d ask me.

    Well, you don’t have to be a caveman, Tarzan or Superman, but be confident, but not totally arrogant. Be brave enough to speak your mind, and smart enough to know when it’s better to listen first. Just be real.

    • You don’t see her hypocrisy, ignorance, or unnecessary abrasiveness as even slightly detrimental to the points she’s making?

      I have no problem with simply giving anime otaku well-intentioned dating advice, because there are no doubt some that will benefit from it. But as I see it, that is not what this comic does.

  18. I have trouble with this comic on a structural level. It fails in its message for several reasons. In attempts to satirize a stereotype of social behavior the author overstretches themselves visually by one fatal flaw: a wall of text.

    It’s a comic. It should be communicating the message in words AND pictures. If they want to write a satirical social commentary essay, they should go do that. They want to do a comic, they should keep the text chunks shorter, actually illustrate in pictures the main points or the subtext of the message. They should not drown the reader in an overwhelming wave of exposition and opinion text. The writer tried to do too much. I stopped believing the two characters were having a conversation, and they became talking heads for the author’s message. The comic immediately failed, within less than a minute of reading time.

    I think you can have long comics. I think you can even have a lot of text in a comic. I don’t think this one needed to be that long. Visually the text wall made me lose focus of the message because I was looking for either the illustrations or use of paragraphs that naturally break up text on a page. Whoever edited it did not trim the fat enough. It overbalanced itself and attempted to communicate too much repetitive information to the reader.

    As for the message it clumsily tried to convey: I think it is wrong. I think first of all, the structure of the dialog was unnatural and not something I could imagine two people saying to one another. I couldn’t believe a word either character was saying. I couldn’t believe the scenario set up. Despite the wall of text the whole sequence of events and behaviors were too rushed: too much information being thrown between the characters with little expression of emotion between them.

    What *I* read: He gets the gumption to ask her out. She turns him down by throwing the fact that she has a boyfriend at him. She appears to me to be so insecure and threatened by his gesture which was actually polite and appropriately worded and timed that she not only turns him down, she uses her boyfriend whom he was unaware of, as a weapon against it–not a defensive reaction but an offensive reaction–to be unnecessarily cruel to someone (supposedly a longtime friend) who was taking a emotional risk, towards her no less. I don’t know about you guys but people rarely take emotional risks towards me, period, and lashing out is probably not the recourse I would take. Right There the comic ended for me. Her exposition into WHY she was uninterested in him did not actually address any believable, honest emotion that reflected their previously mentioned friendship. It was ALL her being defensively offensive (seemingly from NOWHERE), and insecure, and dishonest. Layers of his personality and interests and behaviors were set out before him like she’d been waiting to judge him all this time and never had a proper chance before. What the hell kind of long time friend is this?

    I’m Not saying people like this don’t exist, and that we don’t choose them as friends or romantic interests. But the message the comic was supposedly trying to convey said more about the author’s feelings and opinion towards romantically interacting with the opposite sex. It hid this in a facade of pretending to be illustrating stereotypical scenarios between men and women.

    I think people of all personality types and interests make declarations of affection and love all the time. I think people have awkward moments where they make such declarations and find that the person for whom they have just made this gesture to are unavailable for some reason be it a boyfriend, or girlfriend, or life situation. I believe people IN SOME CASES don’t want to express their actual emotion because what they honestly feel might result in unpleasantness for both themselves and another person. And I believe they ARE CAPABLE of throwing these life events around as weaponry to get the person expressing interest romantically to go away so they don’t have to deal with either their unpleasant emotion or the person who elicits it. So yes, the scenario in the comic is something people are capable of doing. But does it accurately reflect what a large portion of the population of women thinks when they turn down the stereotypical “nice guy?” No. It fails on a massive scale. And it fails as satire, as the author became too obvious in their emotional investment in conveying this scenario and these people’s behaviors. It lost sight of the satire.

    I emphatically don’t agree that this comic is a good example to the otaku community for “manning up.” and do agree with Moritheil on the subject that messages such as these, poorly constructed and sent out as some kind of statement are in fact damaging to encouraging the otaku community to socialize on any level, but especially romantically. Things like this comic attempt to lump a subculture in one long string of negative stereotypes, blaming these stereotypes as a reason for the ills of a culture that regularly defines itself as socially introverted. It critiques the community in an unfair way, saying all introversion is negative, and no introvert can ever be happy or romantically involved unless they change their behavior and personality to get with some status quo. It sets impossible goals and demoralizes everyone, introverted and extroverted into a paranoia about whether or not their behavior as otaku is directly synonymous with some horrible social subversion. This sentiment is coming from within the community, not outside the community. People outside your community don’t care nearly as much as people inside.

    In terms of romance you find what you are looking for ONLY if you go looking for it. If you go looking for nothing, you find nothing. And that is actually ok. You aren’t a bad person if you aren’t ready to go looking for people romantically. You aren’t a bad person if you don’t like crowds of people, lots of social events. And you aren’t bad if you do like those things. The morality issue with being introverted vs. extroverted really makes me nuts, because it is so damaging and wrong. Talk about your walls of text, I’m done.

  19. I’m not sure how much I buy this inferiority complex argument. If it was really easy for people to solve things by gaining self-confidence, I think a lot of people would be able to pick up after themselves. It’s not like just “manning up” solves societal problems.

    One reason why otaku might be so much more extreme behaviorally in Japan could be a number of factors, ranging from having a hyper-consumptive society to underlying cultural pressures. It’s quite easy for a perfectly normal, social person to eventually succumb to anti-social behavior as long as there’s an escape (namely modern day technology).

    In addition, I feel the whole argument about introverts being introverted is entirely mistaken. It’s far easier for us — as detached observers — to attribute some sort of personality fault to other individuals in order to justify our perception of others. For example, I generally consider myself to be introverted, but I have several friends that only know my extroverted side. I’m quite competitive in a lot of areas, and willing to talk, cooperate, be loud, and essentially interact with others. Some research data also suggests that personality attributions cannot predict behavior with any accuracy.

    For these reasons, I really don’t think it’s so much about “manning up”. However, I do agree with what you said in your post about not doing what the guy in the comic does. Socially awkward individuals that are craving sex often do the exact thing in the comic above, and that people in this position should strive to change themselves for different reasons besides getting laid.

    But to accuse said individuals of not “trying out for the football team, going to dances” etc. is a bit too hasty in my opinion. Before we blame the individuals for being the way they are, let’s take a look at what’s driving them to act in such a way.

    On a related note, I think the only way to “man up” (to use your words) is probably to change perception of society. Instead of viewing it as being oppressive and not understanding, the socially withdrawn need to have their conception of socializing changed all together.

    And as a final point, technology is much to blame for the extreme social awkwardness. I think this is worth looking to, especially due to the powerful influences modern day technology is having on people’s behavior. In the past, you couldn’t ignore society because you had no where to go. Now, with the internet and 2-D waifu, you never have to look at reality beyond how you want to personally. Thus, there’s no opportunities to change how people function in society.

  20. […] Perhaps, if we were to be less cavalier about other peoples’ lives, we might reserve the deepest skepticism for any philosophy that treats abnormal people as suffering from some kind of disease, and views their normalization as an inherently obvious improvement. Perhaps if we had true humility, we wouldn’t automatically assume that our own paths in life are the gold standard of success. But no matter. In this particular case, certainly there are many otaku who seek the company of other girls or guys. This has, unfortunately, resulted in fixation on only this issue. When I look at the attempts to “improve upon their lot,” time and time again, these attempts boil down to “I’m going to teach you how to get laid.” […]

  21. […] Now that it’s been established I have an actual hat to throw into the ring, I’ve established my credentials to comment on this post by Moritheil which comments on a certain web cartoon commenting on “Otaku needing to man … […]

  22. John just needs to leave that. She doesn’t have “the answers” anymore than he does.

    There were some good responses and some bad responses.

  23. I confess- I quit reading her long chain of insults at ‘B-grade English’. Still, it was quite refreshing for me, in a weird way, perhaps, as the otaku here isn’t the stereotypical fat, bespectacled, sweaty spare tire. Or maybe that’s just the Japanese stereo-otaku- I wouldn’t know about Western ones.

  24. I realized I’ve walked into this seriously late, but the version of this image that I saw first had two additional panels, one where John actually answers back, and a final which makes a farce of the entire discussion. It may have just been an edit, but it made more sense and was a more complete comic than this particular version here. I wish I could find it to share it, but I’ve never been able to track it down since the first time I saw it (which would have been almost a month ago now).

  25. […] Attitudes on Romance Deb Aoki responded to ‘How to Not Man Up‘ with actual tips on how men should act.  As it was representative of how female bloggers […]

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