A while ago, I was linked by a blog which laments the state of anime fandom as a kind of “frivolous space” in which those without confidence try to shelter themselves, those with confidence try to assert a paper-thin authority in the form of blogging, and that in general geekdom is tending away from originality and towards imitation. Going into detail, it links to one of my old posts, in which I talk about a time when I was having difficulty engaging in a conversation because the people I was speaking to seemed to be without interests, and states that I am an example of the problem with geeks, who define people by their interest first and their actual selves second. Seeing as I am being pointed out as an example of what’s wrong with “nerds,” I feel I should respond to this “manifesto” and to take it as sincere (even if it might not be entirely so), not simply to act as a counter-argument but to clarify some of my own views on the ideas proposed by the post in question.
First, I’d like to address the accusation directed at me in particular, where the blogger points out that people should not be defined by their interests and that geeks should not think that having a hobby is priority one. For one thing, I agree. I think that it is a trap a lot of nerds fall into, thinking that their friendships and relationships should be predicated on common hobbies and tastes. However, that does not mean that it is an illegitimate way to begin to know someone, and the original point of my post was not to say that people who did not come prepared to talk about their interests were somehow lesser as individuals. Rather, as Starcraft commentator Day once said, I like hearing people talk about things they’re passionate about.
It’s not about a specific hobby or activity or some kind of material substance, but that I find the best conversations to be ones where people are expressing something they love so much that you can see it in their faces. The “interests” in that sense are just a conduit to seeing the manifestation of joy and drive and desire, and it is how I personally connect with people best. While in hindsight I am aware that I could’ve approached that original conversation better in the first place, if wanting to hear people be passionate about something is a problem, then I am glad to be problematic. Perhaps I need to improve my own conversational abilities further, but I never claimed to be perfect.
Second, I’d like to respond to the title, “Real Life Isn’t Graded On a Curve.” And once again, I agree. Real life isn’t graded on a curve. That’s because real life isn’t graded at all unless you want it to be. Barring extreme situations like poverty leading to malnutrition, there is no rubric that the whole of mankind can reference for an exchange rate between money, health, passion, friends, family, whatever. But if you want to rank your life to see if you’ve hit a passing mark, then that “world” opens up to you, for better or worse. That’s not to say that people shouldn’t try to improve their lives or that they should be content to just coast along in life, but accomplishments are self-defined.
So when the post accuses artists on Deviantart of using art as an excuse for social interaction rather than a desire to perfect their craft, I have to simply ask, what is wrong with that? Yes, Deviantart has a sizable population of people who draw but may not have the training, talent, or desire to learn that will allow them to improve upon their mistakes and grow increasingly adept at making art. However, art, whether you believe in divisions of high and low and whether or not you believe it should have some higher purpose, is not so narrow and simple as to not have room for both those looking to perfect their craft and those who are using it as a conduit for social interaction and many other types of people as well. For some, it is an ends, for others, a means to an end, and it is short-sighted to believe that the only type of artist that should exist is one who seeks only perfection, or seeks only originality.
This applies more broadly to fandom (and people) in general. Occasionally I find myself wishing that anime and manga fans would engage their hobby more actively, with a greater desire to learn and to grow, and in that I can find some common ground with a person who wishes to see only the best of fandom and the best in fandom. However, I think it is a big mistake to disregard the ability for an online space to make people feel comfortable as some kind of “hugbox.” Competition is fantastic, but it is not the end-all be-all, and there is no absolute need to inject competition into a space where people do not need to be graded for performance.