Judgement on Otaku

How should we judge other people?

In the past it was generally accepted in Western society that anyone not in your own group was a fair target for generalized criticism. Thus, jokes about blacks, Jews, Poles, Asians, Mexicans, etc. became commonplace – as did jokes about blondes, redheads, Catholics, Italians, and so forth.

Eventually we wised up to the fact that the butts of these jokes were actually people, and it was hurtful, cruel, or just downright counterproductive to continually bludgeon our neighbors with negative stereotypes. This may or may not have been assisted by a healthy dose of political mobilization on their parts, which brings me to the term “political correctness.” It is possible to avoid evoking damaging stereotypes for two different reasons. The first is purely pragmatic – not insulting minorities because the NAACP or the Anti-Defamation League will be after you – while the second is because you genuinely believe it’s not a good thing to judge people on what social identity group they belong to.

What’s the difference, really? Well, if we were to view peoples’ conduct towards some groups that did not have the protection of a large organization, we might be able to see whether or not we’ve truly internalized the idea that stereotyping can be harmful, or if we merely pay it lip service to avoid trouble.

This brings me to the “otaku” identity. It’s self-constructed, it’s voluntary, and it’s not a protected group the way racial or religious social constructs currently are. (Anyone who doesn’t understand “race” as a social construct is encouraged to look up historical examples. Try the miscegenation rules of the American South, which held that “one drop of blood” would make a person black rather than white, or the Nazi philosophy of “Aryan” race. Race has always been about social identity far more than biology.) Otaku identity is also the subject of dismissal, shaming, and mockery in the professional press, including – controversially – passing mentions in articles at Anime News Network.

Try as I might, I can’t really see picking on otaku, but trumpeting your sensitivity towards gays and lesbians, as any different from having learned what you can and can’t get away with. It doesn’t seem to indicate that you’ve actually internalized the idea that stereotypes can be damaging.

If you believe, honestly, that all that is so much rubbish, then that’s one thing. You are at least consistent in your denial that stereotypes have serious effects. But if you genuinely believe in the cruelty and harm caused by applying to stereotypes to other social groups – identified by gender, race, sexuality, or religion – and you then turn around and enjoy making people squirm based on their group identity as otaku (however spurious it might seem), then we have a problem. You can’t reconcile the idea that it’s NOT OK to make fun of people for who they are, and the idea that it’s fine to make fun of people for who they are.


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  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Mori, Social Psych. Social Psych said: SocialPsych.org news Judgement on Otaku: How should we judge other people? In the past it was generally accepted… http://bit.ly/ev4wYH […]

  2. Right on Mori. The more of Tim’s blog I read, the more he comes off as a chowderheaded puke. “Man up,” really? I’d rather be completely outcast than make a living acting like a 12 year old internet tough guy.

    • Thanks for reading!

  3. There is a vast different between making assumptions about someone based on their skin color or ethnic background and making assumptions about someone based on their consumer choices. So I would prefer you be a little more nuanced in what you’re saying. As you point out, being an otaku is a conscious consumer choice. Saying a person likes fried chicken because they’re African-American, is not the same as saying a person is a man-child for buying lolicon.
    I would like you to explain further why I can’t make assumptions about someone based on their buying patterns. Now if you’re argument is that the term ‘otaku’ embraces such a wide diversity of people, that to condemn all for the actions of a few is wrong, I can agree to that. If you’re argument is that we can’t make assumptions about subcultures with otakudom, then I don’t know about that. If someone tells me they are a mecha otaku, I don’t think it’s out of line to make some base line assumptions about what that person likes and doesn’t like. The same can be said of moe otaku and the infamous yaoi girls.
    Conversely, when I look at product I’m reviewing, I don’t think I’m out of line assuming who this product will appeal to and why. Let’s be honest, companies are profiling and stereotyping consumers in creating their products. Simply look at the current season of anime. There is a predominance of moe shows. Why? Because anime studios have studied the consumer patterns of Japanese otaku and know what shows will appeal to them. They know if they want to turn a profit, they will need to create a show with a certain style of character designs, storytelling, and character personalities.
    I can’t help but think it’s a bit naïve to buy specific DVDs and merchandise and not expect people to make judgments, good or bad. So if you have come out of the dealer’s room at Otakon with a bag filled with Gundam models, people are going to make assumptions about you. If your bag is filled with figures from Chu-bra, they’re going to make very different assumptions. If they are moe otaku, they might belittle the Gundam and congratulate the Chu-bra fan. If they are a yaoi girl, they might mock both.
    I’m sorry. I simply don’t see calling someone out for what they purchase the kind of hate crime you do. I think you’re being overly sensitive here. I would argue your reaction is as extreme as the people you are condemning.

    • Where do you draw the line between “calling someone out” for their actions which seem bizarre and incomprehensible due to their different culture/mindset and, say, unleashing a pogrom against them? One is clearly not the other, but one, given lots of time and repetition, leads to the other. It’s a slippery slope, and neither I nor anyone else can say with certainty where the one turns into the other – to say nothing of the fact that living in a culture hostile to your culture is itself considered oppression in many circumstances.

      Obviously otaku aren’t oppressed in the way that, say, homosexuals in America have been. But just as obviously it’s ludicrous to demand that they undergo that kind of marginalization and suffering before recognizing them as people. Given that you are, at this moment, preparing a panel for a con about how people are being arrested for having manga of the “wrong kind,” I think you recognize that certain outcomes of a mainstream bias against self-identifying otaku are deplorable. It’s not about expecting people not to make certain judgments. It’s about the idea that our society has as a core tenet that you are free to be who you want to be without suffering negative consequences for it.

      Yes, companies profile people. Yes, it’s effective at making them money. Companies also spam people, kill off hundreds of thousands in industrial accidents, buy elections in foreign countries, and all sorts of other things that I would think is not really model behavior. What works and what is right are often unrelated.

  4. Thank you Mori. This has been an eye-opener. You are clearly right.

    I realise know that I am, in effect, a racist. In fact I may be history’s greatest racist.

    After much soul seeking I have realised that I have spent far to much of my life – however light-heartedly I thought at the time – unfairly judging groups of people for their tastes or views. With this in mind I humbly offer my sincerest apologies to anyone that self-identifies as one of the following groups I may have heartlessly lampooned:

    Tea Party members
    Sarah Palin supporters
    Eden of the East fans
    The Pro-Censorship lobby
    Holocaust deniers
    Filthy Communists
    Dirty Capitalists
    The Welsh
    J-Pop fans
    Twilight fans
    People that call anime fans ‘TEH GAYS’
    The cast of ‘Glee’
    The producers of ‘Glee’
    The fans of ‘Glee’
    Men-Children of all ages, races and levels of sexual maturity
    That cunt from ‘Ask John’
    People that are pro Wikileaks
    People that are anti Wikileaks
    Danny Choo
    Nick Clegg supporters
    People with female anime characters as their Twitter avatars
    My family and loved ones
    All major religions
    Zac Bertschy
    Uncle Yo
    People that bomb abortion clinics
    Any one in marketing
    The V for Vendetta Guy
    Grammar Nazis
    Ugly Betty
    Social Media Gurus
    Old MacDonald
    Climate Change deniers
    Miley Cyrus stalkers

    I may have missed some, in which case please accept my apologies for any past or future offensive I may have caused to any spurious cultural identity or ill-concieved artificial world view you may hold.

    Yours most humbly,

    Your servant and scribe
    Tim Mahjong

    • Tim, I’m glad we had subsequent talks, because I used to find your resorting to mockery rather than engaging issues seriously infuriating. Now I know that – by your own admission over twitter – you never take any of this seriously, because you don’t believe in ideals anyway, and you know that you can provoke lots of talk about your articles if you pick on people. So, I’m glad that it’s working for you, but don’t come here and comment unless you’re actually going to address the topic.

  5. I have to agree with everything Ed said above, but more importantly, I feel “otaku” doesn’t come into the equation when I put down people who are behaving poorly via their hobbies and consumer interests.
    If you are oogling an underage girl’s body, it’s not going to matter to me whether you’re an otaku or not or whether that girl is 2d or flesh and blood, you’re behaving in a manner that’s disgusting to me. Similarly, if you’re putting someone down because they like some anime or manga you don’t like, I’m going to think poorly of you for behaving like a bully. (No matter what I think of that manga or anime.) It’s much further from disliking someone because they were born into a culture or an ethnicity, something they cannot help at all. Consumer choices are choices. I’m going to dislike someone who buys guns for sport or for violent reasons just as much as I’m going to dislike someone for buying moe blob anime that’s demeaning to females, but outside of those choices I might still like them. It may be just me, but my “discrimination” is against voluntary behavior and voluntary choices, not just everyone who falls under the social identity of otaku.

    • If you think that putting someone down for liking specific manga or anime is being a bully, then – by your own rules – doesn’t that make you a bully if you categorically disparage people who like moe manga?

      • Uh, you’re just responding to this now?

        Like I said in my comment, I’ll dislike someone’s consumer choices, but that doesn’t mean I’ll dislike them when you take away those consumer choices.
        I *will* tell them as much, that doesn’t mean I’m necessarily bullying them. I was a victim of bullying all throughout my grade school years. You can politely and firmly disagree with someone’s choice to be into underage moe blob girls. People agree to disagree all the time. Case in point, our previous conversations. Would you say I was bullying you then?

      • Yes; my response is late because these comments happened during a time I was away from the Internet and not checking my blog.

        I would say that we were having a disagreement of ideals, or possibly of implementation of ideals. But that’s not really pertinent because (as far as I remember) you were never attacking me or accusing me of being a bad person. (I don’t personally like moe manga; I just think that all people with all manner of tastes should be left to do their thing in peace, and to not allow that in America is an absurd level of hypocrisy.)

        Ultimately my discussion is aimed at the mainstream reaction to anime otaku that goes, “We don’t understand anime/manga and so therefore we will assume you are some kind of sexual deviant and/or dangerous to our person.” It is this kind of reaction that enables laws to pass that result in arrests of people for having the wrong kind of manga.

        Manga fans may call each other perverts and pedophiles half-jokingly, in good fun, the way that girls who are very good friends sometimes call each other sluts or other disparaging terms, or guys often refer to each other as, well, various homophobic terms meant as insults to masculinity. However, outsiders take it seriously because they lack context. I don’t think you or Edsizemore would suggest locking someone up as a result of your appraisal of their tastes. Mainstream society has far less hesitation in doing so, especially if they think the tastes indicate someone is weird and unstable.

  6. Political affiliation is also a “social construct,” but like being otaku, is is a conscious choice. Is it wrong for me to write an article that is (cheekily) critical of Republicans? By your standards, Mori, that would constitute me unfairly judging people who self-identify as Republicans.

    You’re taking political correctness to the extreme, which leaves you with a world in which EVERYONE is protected from any sort of criticism or satire. You have to draw the line somewhere, and I think that conscious consumer choices is a damn good spot to draw it.

    • No, I’m only taking seriously one of the core tenets of Western society, which is that you’re free to be your own person without suffering for it, as long as your choices don’t hurt other people.

      For as much as you might give Republicans grief, do you suspect them all of being pedophiles, as allaboutmanga obliquely alluded to above when she talked about people who like moe manga? Because that’s the actual context of this discussion. Would you be more likely to call the police on Republicans, be less comfortable leaving your kids around them, and so forth? Because to me it seems like “I think your politics are wrong; that’s a categorical judgment” and “I know nothing about manga so I’m going to assume you molest children; that’s a categorical judgment” are two very, very different sorts of categorical reactions. The latter is the problem we are discussing.

  7. […] been blogging more (and not just re-posting arguments, either). He just posted a gem, Judgement on Otaku. An excerpt: Otaku identity is also the subject of dismissal, shaming, […]

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