The Importance of Context

Based on our discussion of ACen at the beginning of class today, it’s occurred to me just how important the context of conventions is to anime consumerism and otaku culture. Anime conventions like ACen really do provide a safe setting for otaku to do the things they love – collect, cosplay, and commiserate. Granted, any otaku can purchase anime/manga media and toys from the anonymity of their own home…but the convention provides a sense of normalcy for one’s passion. Everyone else is dressed up in costumes, everyone else has bags of products recently purchased, and no one is going to look at you funny when you pose in some practiced position for a photo. Conventions like ACen also seem to provide the means for otaku to fade away into their own little worlds – as Sarah experienced. If a response does not fit their cosplayed character, the person will probably not utter or act it. I guess that no one in the group of critters or characters that saw her twist her ankle was known for compassion…maybe it’s too human or “real” for many of them. Alternatively, those I interviewed in the safe context of message boards were extremely helpful, friendly, and open. They responded as their human self (and were not acting as any given character), and provided much insight into their motivations for going to ACen and their experiences there. I received much of the help I required, and was welcomed to solicit further information. Maybe it has something to do with self-proclaimed (or publicly observed) otaku awkwardness…or maybe Sarah and I just came across the two extreme ends of the spectrum. Whatever the case, otaku society mimics “normal” society in that it has its good and bad…

Furthermore, I’m not trying to say that conventions are just a place for weirdos and people that have too much time on their hands. People from class that attended ACen noted the abundance of normal looking people in costumes or just walking around. However, it seems that not all of those people were so thrilled to be there – what about the “Oh, my friend just dragged me along” excuses? It’s possible that the speakers of such phrases were actually very excited to be there, but were afraid of seeming overly eager or lame to an uncostumed outsider. The convention scene provides a safe haven for their general fantasies, though attendees still seem wary of interlopers and outsiders. I don’t think that true acceptance into anime convention society is based on an entry fee, but instead on one’s anime expertise. What does it take to truly fit in to the convention community? It’s apparently not a certain look, but maybe more of an attitude or enthusiasm some of us entering this community for the sole purpose of research lack…

The conventions seem to have “in-crowds” that mimic playground politics – only certain people are welcomed into the tight-knit social circles and cliques. Everyone “speaks the same language”of an anime obsession; but just like the jocks, nerds, and stoners found in every schoolyard, convention social society seems equally stratified.

With regard to the economic aspects of conventions, they really do seem like bull pits for mass consumption. Based on my survey, a lot of convention goers felt that it was okay to spend gobs of money on “things that can’t be found anyplace else.” Even though similar items can be purchased online for much less, the air of the convention lends to buying and having. Maybe it’s a strange need to fit in with the rest of the crowd carrying plastic baggies of stuff (the NRI talks about the otaku’s need to collect or hoard material goods), or maybe it just has to do with the fact that it’s convenient. Additionally, there is some strange notion of authenticity floating around – a toy or manga must come from Japan in order to be considered authentic and of the best quality. Maybe it’s the what-you-see-is-what-you-get phenomenon that so many convention attendees buy into that makes their purchases seem so sensical…or maybe it’s simply the advertising and rolling assurance of booth owners and vendors that make it seem like the smart thing to do when one desires the “real thing.” One thing is for certain, though…a good majority of those vendors must make a pretty penny for their miniature plastic toys and swords. Prices at conventions can be astronomical (it’s because these toys are authentic limited signed super platinum plus edition – you can’t find them anyplace else!), and if you don’t shop smartly, you’re bound to walk away that much poorer. It’s a shame that one of the original tenets of conventions seems to have died out: What happened to fan production? The characters of Genshiken would be disappointed at the reported lack of doujinshi and fan-created material. Unfortunately, it appears that money burning holes in the pockets of the “domestic enthusiast consumer group” (NRI 2005) has triumphed for the time being.

– Jorie


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