A couple of days ago I made a post discussing the way in which the purchase of anime-related goods often transcends the purchase of anime itself. I didn’t concentrate much on the act of buying anime, and was planning a follow-up post, but Omo over at Omonomono beat me to the punch. He brings up some good points that I want to touch upon while also elaborating on this whole idea of what it means to “buy anime.”
First, a story.
I once told someone that I pretty much only buy DVDs of things with which I’m already familiar, to which he simply responded, “Why would you buy something you’ve already seen?”
Whereas I saw my ownership of DVDs as a testament of sorts to the shows I felt were good and enjoyable enough for me to have them in my collection, the other person saw DVDs simply as a way to try new things out. In the end, we agreed to disagree.
While this person was not what you’d call a hardcore fan of any kind of media, I think his philosophy applies to a lot of how anime fandom sees anime: Why spend money to see something that isn’t new to you?
Omo hit upon a simple, yet profound idea: the act of purchasing DVDs is “meta.” Anime fans generally love anime because it presents a world to them with a story and characters to whom they can relate or from which they can derive some kind of enjoyment or escapism. They become fans of the anime, but not necessarily fans of the anime as a creative work. If most anime fans find some way of watching their favorite anime for free, and they subscribe to the idea of not paying for shows already viewed, then it is difficult to see why they would purchase a DVD of it, as that would require them seeing their favorite show not necessarily as a window into another world, but as an endeavor born out of the thoughts and efforts of its creators. In other words, on some level, they would have to appreciate their favorite anime as a work of art, which I have to ask, how often does that happen with entertainment in general, let alone anime?
Are anime fans actually less likely to appreciate their favorite shows as works of art? I believe so, and I use anime conventions as an example. When it comes to anime convention guests, the people who get by far the biggest crowds are the voice actors. On the one hand this tells us that a lot of fans can at least see past the character the actor portrays to the individual performer, but on the other hand the voice of a character is directly a part of the show itself. The influence a producer or a director or even a writer has upon a work is less readily noticeable by someone viewing a show, and as such these guests tend to get fewer sheer numbers. Is this any more or less than the audiences who see actors over directors for live-action movies? I don’t think so, but I wanted to show that as far as anime is concerned, this is the kind of thing that happens.
My words bring up another potential conflict: is there something bad about being one of those fans who sees anime purely as a window into another world? My answer is that I do not find anything necessarily wrong with not engaging one’s favorite shows on that “meta” level. Nor is seeing the strings necessarily a good thing; it’s pretty much all subjective in the end. Actually, if you want to see a good example of a fandom which balances the meta with the immersive, then look no further than professional wrestling.
In pro wrestling, there traditionally have been two terms used to describe people who enjoy it: marks and smarts. Marks are people who believe wrestling is 100% real, that the Hulk Hogan in the ring is actually who he’s supposed to be. They see pro wrestling as a venue for good to defeat evil, or at least for bad-good to defeat namby-pamby-evil. Smarts on the other hand are fans who know that wrestling is all staged. They know that there are writers and scripts and politics behind the facade of Nothern Light Suplexes and Shining Wizards, and having a keen understanding of the backstage actions is where they derive their enjoyment.
But those are the two extremes, and in this age where the cat is completely out of the bag about wrestling being “sports entertainment,” there arises a new category of fan: the “smart mark,” otherwise known as the “smark.” Like smarts, they seek the truth of what goes on with the wrestlers as actors, but are also eager to suspend their disbelief just long enough for them to cheer for the good guys and boo the bad guys.
So who is the “better” fan? Is it the mark for his genuine immersion, or is it the smart who appreciates the performance? Or is it the smark who tries to combine both worlds, arguably at the expense of either side?
And how do you get all of them to buy your stuff to keep you afloat?