Good day and sorry for the delay,
As you’re aware, I’m an unabashed fan of many things. Years ago, admitting something like this would be a slight against one’s character. Flights of fancy are usually seen as escape methods by people who couldn’t be arsed with reality. As comics and video games become part of mainstream popular culture, however, we find a wide variety of fans emerging. These days, you’re as likely to see someone in a business suit reading Secret Avengers as you are someone who has not seen the sunlight in years attempting a Madoka cosplay.
Fandom is evolving. It’s evolving in much the same way our species interbred with different species of humanoid and representatives of other races and ethnicities. By drawing the attention of people from different walks of life, new perspectives on existence and on media blossom from the mixing.
The way I see it, fandom or being a fan of something these days has three levels. These are not developmental stages, per se, but you can certainly transition from being one to being another. These levels, to me, are as follows: The Geek, The Nerd, and The Otaku (pardon my use of loan words). To better understand one’s relationship to their hobby, I have to ask you picture a hobby or a franchise or whatever as a lake.
The Geek is someone who visits the lake. The Geek drives out there, spends a few hours there, swimming and soaking in the sun, maybe even sleeps over, but eventually goes back to his life. The lake is far from home, after all, and Geeks know that spending too much time there will detach them from their jobs and families. Even if The Geek were to move closer to the lake, being there so much would spoil his or her love of its beauty and splendour.
The Nerd is someone who lives at the lake. The Nerd owns beachfront property, goes swimming or canoeing every day, fishes, works nearby and raises families in the area. This person can’t get enough of the lake. Every day, something new and glorious about it unfolds and he or she finds new reasons to love it. The Nerd knows its ins and outs, knows the way the waves roll in and what kind of fish swim beneath the water. Maybe The Nerd leads a normal life, but The Nerd is never far from what he or she loves.
The Otaku is someone to lives in the lake. The Otaku lives in a houseboat, feeds off of fish, seaweed and bits of driftwood, making money by selling empty cans at a local marketplace. Social interactions are rare, unless it’s with other houseboat-dwellers, and their chances of procreation or stable employment are low. The Otaku might know more about the lake and its depths, but has sacrificed much by being so far from the land.
Many factors determine whether or not you’re one of these three or if you move from one to another. I say that your social circles and mental health are big factors. We’re a social animal. We survive by connecting with people, stumbling over our own words and actions and learning from our mistakes. Having someone to vent our thoughts at is therapeutic. It’s even stronger when we have friends who don’t serve as yes-men. Being challenged is important, so long as the intent of the challenger is made clear.
This is why I’m bothered by Otaku. Okay, bothered isn’t the right word; I’d say I’m concerned about Otaku. Otaku are generally sedentary beings, confined to basements and subhuman habitats, only coming out to purge money from their wallets and yell at the guy at the comic shop. If they’re happy, I can’t complain, but if they do want more out of life it’s harder for them than other fans.
It’s easy to get lost in the labyrinth of fiction, after all. The escapist angle is strong for many aficionados. Something in the alchemy of dialogue, the architecture and geology of an alien world, and the dynamic pace of a plot draws people in like flytraps. The sensitive-minded can be overwhelmed by the right word in the right place. Would-be artists and writers can get stuck in any number of creative canyons. That’s because our species is obsessed with stories. Right from our inception, we occupied our time with fables and folk heroes; travelers would return with tales from afar. Monsters and gods of every shape and size were born or shaped by our minds, and the more fantastical they were, the more we loved them.
Breaking people out of storytellers’ traps is easier said than done, but how? Well, for one, the outside world has to be made as appealing as – or more appealing than – fiction. Our species loves stories, right? Encourage fans to leave the nest, then, and to have adventures of their own. Let them become their own storytellers, sharing their yarns around the campfires and dinner tables of today. Maybe, then, they will find themselves along the roads they travel and they’ll find out what to do with their lives.
It’s good to dream, but it’s easy to get stuck in someone else’s.
See you next time,
EDIT: July 31 2013. One part bothered me. It is gone now.