Some friends posted something the other day that berated American “otaku” for their ignorant, naïve obsession with Japan and living there. The article went into detail on how different things are from the perception of anime fans. Although harsh, the post spoke truth about the unrealistic perceptions of many enthusiasts… but did little to wonder “Why?” I posit two important reasons why anime nerds live in this dream world.
Americans Love to Romanticize Everything
Actually, most countries do, from England’s obsession with the Wild West and American Indians to the global appropriation of Hip-Hop and African-American Culture. Americans, however, really take the cake for their ridiculous fantasies. We think Japan is a non-stop anime convention, with shows on every channel, vending machines selling dealer goods on every corner, and regularly seeing people in cosplay. Of course, we also think the British Isles and Ireland are one giant Renaissance Festival, where the pagan traditions are alive, mead and turkey legs abound, and it’s perfectly acceptable to speak in Shakespearean English. Hell, even in our own backyards, we think Native American culture is all about holding pow-wows, living as one with about Mother Nature, and wise sayings.
The truth is most Americans don’t have a clue about anything beyond their immediate surroundings. The majority of us live in a white-washed world, where Hollywood and the Internet are their only exposure to foreign cultures. Most are simply ignorant, raised on stereotypes and rumor, as that’s all they’ve ever known. You can almost forgive these uneducated individuals, although their lack of motivation to actually learn is still reprehensible. The worst, though, are the half-educated, who spout opinions based on biased nonsense they found in some book or website. They stand tall on their “expertise”, created from their own preconceptions and reinforced by only surrounding themselves with similar, ignorant social circles.
So, Americans go on with their fantasies, so sure in their subjective truth that they remain oblivious to how wrong they are. They prefer the comfortable, romantic vision because it includes them and allows them ignore one simple fact: they are outsiders. Americans can’t stand being excluded because it triggers their inferiority complex, so their defense mechanism is to develop this ridiculous fiction where everything they want is true. We’re like the spoiled brat having a birthday party, but when people start to play games that we suck at, we make up our own rules… and then whine when no one wants to play by them.
The Socially Inept Exacerbate Everything
Nerds, dorks, etc. take this messed up American viewpoint and blow it up even worse. They not only romanticize other cultures, they externalize their self-identity into that fantasy. Their entire psychology is based on escaping the real world that has so often disappointed them. They develop a schema through the lens of their obsession and are reinforced by like-minded social circles. It’s hard to tell an otaku they’re wrong when they only hang around other fans who assure them they’re right.
Of course, when the fantasy and reality don’t mesh, they react like their very reason for living has been attacked. You could explain that no, people don’t walk around with Naruto headbands or cat ears, and they’ll claim that you don’t know what you’re talking about. These individuals often react with the emotional maturity of a toddler, including tears, raised voices, angry outbursts, and even full-blown temper tantrums. They’ll even rationalize their own poor experiences, claiming a conflictive incident was the exception and maintaining their belief in the fantasy. When an otaku tries to speak their broken Japanese in some street restaurant and treated poorly, they claim that it was just that restaurant and not their own lack of cultural understanding.
American nerds really don’t have a clue, even more-so than others of the same country. They are so entrenched in their fantasy world that they can’t accept reality, even when confronted with it. Thus, they cling to the romanticized fantasy of Japan and other locations like an extreme fundamentalist Christian clings to their belief that gays will burn in Hell. Which makes it all the harder when the reality is encountered….
I’ll fully admit, I do relish when someone gets a healthy dose of the real world. Native American-lovers who find out not everyone has descriptive names and many nations were violent, full of warmongering and slavery. Celtophiles who find out it’s not all about Guinness and faeries, and that few people actually speak Gaelic or practice paganism. Like a child who finally learns they can’t get their way, some people need to be taught a lesson. My hope is that, with enough wake-up calls, they’ll realize the difference between appreciating and participating in a culture… and simply obsessing or appropriating it.