Following my questions from last week about the relationship between mainstream and subcultures, I’d like to raise the question of the power of xenophobia. As the Chinpokomon episode accurately depicted, intense xenophobic anxiety usually surrounds the prevalence of an emerging foreign pop culture. Is it possible that xenophobia (not just of the nationally foreign, but also of that which is foreign to the mainstream) is a fueling force for cult followings to become the cool new mainstream trend? In other words, the very definition of various forms of “coolness” is that whatever is trendy is relatively obscure or inaccessible. So isn’t the existence of xenophobia something that could drive the popularity of a foreign conception of “cool”? (Case and point: the minute the South Park parents lost their xenophobic attitude toward Chinpokomon and seemingly embraced it, it stopped being cool.)
I thought the analogy that “butler/maid cafes are to otome as hostess bars are to salary men” is quite fascinating. It never occurred to me that for some people, butler/maid cafes can be as much of an everyday (and necessary) escape into a fantasy land. What is the otome aversion to “reality,” or any other more common form of escape? On a similar note, do mass/mainstream pop culture and subcultures (or high cultures) exist in opposite binaries? Can all subcultures be lumped into one social force opposing pop culture? What does the fluidity and permeability of a culture have to do with the authenticity of its “essence”?
Given the increasingly global presence of anime/manga, especially in America, I had to ask week 10’s guest Beryl Turner—the head of ACEN, anime/manga aficionado and historian extraordinaire—whether he sees anime and manga in America losing its Japanese connection and become totally subsumed into mainstream American pop culture. His answer? Absolutely. According to Beryl Turner anime and manga will be a prototype for what globalization is touted to do in the best sense—create a sort of world citizenry. He believes that manga and anime as an art form will eventually lose its nationality, and I am inclined to agree. The one issue, however, is the nature of anime/manga fans in America in the past and at present. Even Beryl acknowledged, giving this breakdown of the road map to mainstream status—innovation/discovery, dissemination through the underground as a fringe movement, (re)discovery and tentative investment from Big Business and the explosion—that anime and manga has its roots in the underground. Furthermore, considering that anime/manga fans while extremely inclusive of fans of other genres such as science fiction, still refer to the collective other as “mundanes.” It is hard to see this group of people forgetting the history behind their beloved art form.
I suppose then, that the key to transforming anime/manga into a global commodity sans national boundaries, lies in the unwitting masses who never touch the underground and never make it to a convention like ACEN, those who flip to Cartoon Network and get their first glimpse of Bleach, then head to a bookstore like Barnes and Nobles or Borders and pick up a copy of the manga along with a title by an American author and never bother to dig further. Is this positive? Negative? I can’t say. I am all for the more prevalent exposure of anime and manga in the West and around the world, but then I am also one of those people who likes to stick to the facts, and for me one of the facts here is that manga is Japanese. Still, I would hate to see an authenticity debate rear its head in this quarter. Maybe I should say manga was Japanese, but today and in the future it can and will go in whatever direction its progressively more global fans pull.
Today’s discussion with Addie and Beryl was pretty interesting, and brought to light a number of things that I wouldn’t have guessed. For instance, that all of the staff and volunteers at ACen, including those who would probably be considered “higher-ups”, were unpaid volunteers; Anime Central, then, is most definitely a labor of love (or obsession/addiction, haha. But I like to think of it as love. ^^). Though I think that the only difference in atmosphere that I felt at ACen vs. Anime Expo, a commercially sponsored Con, was mainly in the dealers room, where there would be HUGE booths for each sponsoring company, as well as the number of panels on “what’s coming up for [company name] in anime” type things, as well as a larger number of advertisements in general (programming booklet etc.). However, the fan interaction, I found is this pretty much the same, which is somewhat reassuring (of the fact that an increased sense of commercialism in the exhibit hall does not equal a different kind of fan-base.)
I really enjoyed talking to Beryl today. He was a fun person to talk to and it was awesome to get a behind the scenes look at the con. Addie was awesome, too, and his artwork was great.
It was funny when someone asked Beryl if he considered himself an otaku, he responded with a “DAMN STRAIGHT!” It really reinforced the idea that in America, cons and otaku are all about community. I could really sense a strong sense of community at ACEN.
I had no idea ACEN could draw around 12,000~14,000 people. That number is INSANE. It really put things into perspective about the popularity of manga and anime today. It was also interesting that Beryl mentioned how science fiction cons that have existed for over 10 years cannot match the attendance rate at ACEN. To be fair, I think a lot more young people are into manga/anime than science fiction today, which could be a reason for their mass appeal.
All in all, Beryl’s visit was fun and he was really friendly. ACEN was lucky to have him as the chairperson this year!
Names have representative and constitutive power, and the name of the convention tells it all: “Anime Central: the Midwest Anime and Manga Convention.” At once, it recognizes the regional significance this event has for anime and manga fans in the Midwest United States; at the same time, it embeds itself in a national and, by extension, global nation of fandom through explicit “glocalization.” Anime and manga are transnational commodities now, both in their material commercial manifestation and as a social consumer lifestyle that includes all sorts of standards of behavior. These behaviors are mediated and recycled through the convention, a word stressing the normalization of action, or an interface through which normalized individuals can reaffirm their homogenous normalcy. To this extent, a convention of anime fans (“otaku,” to use a purposefully othering term) seems like a contradiction, but the continuity of ordered society, however far it may fall from the beaten path, calls for the maintenance of conventions of normalcy.
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Rather than spending a single day at the Anime Central Convention, I effectively spent the entire weekend there with my roommate, who has been to the past four conventions. Because my roommate and her sisters enjoy many of the different panels and events during the convention, they always book a hotel room so that they can enjoy the convention in leisure. At first I thought this was a bit extreme and only people from out-of-town would do so, but when I arrived, I found out I was wrong.
I took public transportation to the convention Friday afternoon, May 11th. Nothing was out of the ordinary in the beginning, but I found that with each stop of the Blue Line, rather than emptying out as tremendously as I thought it would, the train cars stayed at about the same capacity, and many passengers were around my own age, most of them wearing or carrying something that I recognized as something to do with either anime, video games, or both. I got off at the Rosemont stop, and found many of the passengers getting off as well, all of them walking in the direction of the main road leading towards the Hyatt. As I walked along the road, I kept to myself, concentrating only on getting to the hotel to meet up with my roommate so that I could leave my things in the hotel room. However, I was soon distracted by the people walking past me in the street—some going to other hotels, others just out for a walk in the sunshine. It wasn’t that I was surprised to see so many people—after all, it was a convention. Rather, more than half of them were in costume. Having watched some of the popular anime in the past few years, I recognized some of the costumes, but others were elaborate affairs that I knew nothing about. Some were extremely detailed and obviously handmade, while others were obviously factory-made for mass consumption. Most of the characters I recognized were of the latter quality, which made sense. After all, I watched only the more popular anime series—they were the mass-marketed shows, and so costumes made by Japanese companies and American licensers are marketed for fans more, too.