Real Life Isn’t Graded

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[9] 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.


4 thoughts on “Real Life Isn’t Graded

  1. That whole manifesto post seems to be the author name-calling in order to disassociate himself from what he thinks is the average anime fan. Feeling a bit self-conscious about watching cartoons, Mr. No First Prize?


  2. BINGO! I called it!

    Even before I went to read that guy, a little voice in my head was yelling: “troll simplifies Database Animals” A few paragraphs in.. Jackpot! OK, the database AKA the echo chamber is a neato social observation, but the other dude, from Gainax had an equally interesting observation, that a “social” can civilize, redeem and empower. The entire Genshiken saga restates this argument, (which ^%&^%&% article in which Vol of mechademia did I read the compare and contrast in.. damn! Hate it when I lose references), I think Shimoku has mentioned this enough himself in interviews.

    So… the echo chamber leads to mediocrity and weirdness… where have I seen this plot before?

    As for angerboy’s throwing stones at deviantart types, cheap shot, but also indicative of a greater folly: All of his examples of ‘excellence” are in a fantasy version of narrow fields with reassuring hard+fast rules, and his disdain barely masks a howling fear of a world where the rules are fluid, and the contests , not just the goalposts keep getting moved around.

    Damn! all that new stuff that comes out of such a mess is scary!
    Degenerate even . . . .

    I have listened to “real” artists talk about their work, and the one thing that defines mastery, especially in late high modern art is their silly insistence – the promise they made to themselves – that they just keep doing it, because they really really enjoy producing their stuff, no matter how effing odd it looks to the rest of known space.

    I should be so lucky as to fail that way. Oh.. just ran across OM V1 on Blogspot.. You have been at this HOW long ??? Lotsa stuff that’s meaty in your considered response, as always.. .


  3. Haven’t read such an unprovoked, vitriolic diatribe on the Internet in a long time. This joker is just another Tumblr zombie, this one posting hip-hop slang and pictures of Eastern European writers in an attempt to say something about himself and associate his persona with both street culture and academia. It’s funny how he writes a screed about everything that’s wrong with the blogosphere when all he needs to do is look at his own site and read his own pompous hot air.”Though it might read like The Atlantic, this is more like the Bermuda Triangle.” Gag me with a stick. His belief in his own “authenticity” is funnier than any of the straw man blogs he thinks he’s actually taking down here.


  4. Thank you for your detailed reply, dude. My post was 100% serious, and I appreciate the fact that you honored it with an equally serious response. I’d like provide several clarifications of my own, to the points made in the manifesto.

    Part of what made your 2010 article a posterboy for “hobby as identity” myopia is that the girls’ curt responses were used to infer so much about them. To me, it seemed more simply weren’t interested in conversation (at a “nerd-geek” boardgame party… what a surprise). You even gathered the necessary clues yourself, with the “‘more about “feeling it out’ than it was an opportunity to know more” remark, and then seeing “nothing in their words that we could take a hold of in order to carry the conversation” – it’s more than likely they “felt it out” and didn’t feel comfortable enough feel to reach out. It’s what girls – it’s what humans – do in an unfamiliar setting. Imagine yourself in a roomful of Guidos arguing about brands of Creatine to get “fuckin’ diesel, yo” and think of how you’d respond to being engaged.

    And oh yes — just because there’s no report card or teacher, doesn’t mean life isn’t being graded. Your grades are the things you get (or don’t get) from life itself, including the judgment and attitude of people around you who, as social animals, judge and evaluate every single moment, no matter how wholesome they might feel from denying that fact. And guess what — when it comes to depend on those people (society) — THEY, not you, will define, rank and analyze your accomplishments (for a real-life example of a rubric, think back to the last time you applied for a job). Nerds of all people are very well aware of this, with formative early experiences of cognitive dissonance from being made fun of for being SMARTER and knowing MORE — which is why the whole point of the manifesto is for them, no-skill blogging (or no-skill anything) is an opportunity to create a pillow fort insulated against such judgment.

    You ask me what’s wrong with “using art as an excuse for social interaction rather than a desire to perfect their craft”? Nothing – it’s a social strategy for a crowd to find fellow souls to communicate with. What’s wrong here is that they end up generating a critical mass defined by a context where they FEED INTO THEIR OWN SHIT and put on airs. This results in them dominating the discourse and repelling those who want to take the craft seriously. When a retarded kid is drawing crooked squiggles, nobody cares. When he puts on his fanciest helmet and drools over the podium at an NEA symposium, it’s a problem.

    Thus, it’s what I’m doing – pointing out that the retard is a retard (and laughing at him for being so hilariously retarded). I’d like to reiterate that I’m not trolling anyone (otherwise I’d put far more effort in self-promotion and visibility than writing). My opinions are sincere.

    I agree that competition is not “end-all, be-all” – but I think you’ll also agree that neither is “mak[ing] people feel comfortable.” And so, you and I will each take from the internet that which entertains and compels us the most – you’ll defend these people and their bubbles, and I’ll burst them open and shove dirt in their faces.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s