The Fandom of Plenty, the Fandom of Scarcity

In a previous post, I discussed what I believed to be one of the properties of moe as an industry to garner a fanbase: constant output of purchasable material to reinforce those feelings of devotion obsession. In this sense, moe can be thought of as a kind of “fandom of plenty,” a fandom whose existence is actively supported by an abundance of material easily obtained. Anime fandom in the United States over the past ten years has been characterized as such, where it’s so incredibly easy to watch a show and to move on to the next one without looking back that it becomes somewhat difficult to find something not to watch.

In contrast to the “fandom of plenty,” then, might be the  “fandom of scarcity.” The image of the anime fandom of yesteryear, from the tape-trading era and back, is one where each episode, each scrap of merchandise was so precious that being a fan was not only about watching as much as you can, but also about the lengths you’d go to in order to obtain that material, as well as the degree to which those small bits of treasure could be explored and scrutinized.

When I compare my experiences in both the former and the latter, I have to wonder to what extent it changes my own experiences as a fan. I am both the person who found Spring 2012 season to have so many worthwhile shows that I had to place some on the backburner in the hopes that I could reach them later, as well as the person who watched his VHS tape of some episodes of the middle of Nadesico over and over again just because there was nothing else quite like it for me. Are these ideas of abundance and rarity simply in the mind of the beholder? Certain the level of access I had in that Nadesico era was much greater than many, but it still felt like every tape was precious.

I also have to wonder to what extent these environments shape fandom itself. Just how much does scarcity shape an unofficial canonical list of works among fans? Is it possible for another Voltron, that is to say a show which was largely unremarkable in Japan which is considered seminal abroad, to exist? What shows would’ve been more popular and beloved had they not been shoved by the torrential downpour of a season of anime? How do these different environments influence what we value and why?

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7 thoughts on “The Fandom of Plenty, the Fandom of Scarcity

  1. We — in the west — have come a long way from fansubs on VHS and renting episodes out of order from the local video store. We need to make that distinction, though: in the west. I assume that in Japan, if you wanted the most recently-released show, you’ve always been able to just run to the store and pick it up. Or turn on the TV.

    “A fandom whose existence is actively supported by an abundance of material easily obtained” — that really is the perfect way of characterizing what has happened to the western fandom in the past ten years. How much of a coincidence is it that international availability coincided with the rise of moe? Or, if we assume that moe fandom is indeed characterized by access, maybe both late-stage moe and the western fandom of accessibility are both attributable to the rise of the internet.

    I like these posts — you raise a lot of questions, which themselves raise a lot of questions. I wonder, though, whether we’ll only be able to solve this stuff in hindsight.

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    • To use this categorization, the Japanese otaku fandom was a fandom of scarcity in its founding years (see Okada Toshio’s account of proto-otaku recording anime and reciting Star Wars in its entirety, sound effects included), and became a fandom of plenty in the 1980s, when the economy was booming.

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  2. I have a very hard time buying in your notion of scarcity or plenty. The way I see it is that the amount of “fan activity” I do 15 years ago versus now, is about the same. I will go through fewer commercial properties in a given time period back then, but I would end up doing more for each specific one back then. There was nothing special about having more or less anime or manga (actually, are there even more manga titles these days than 10-15 years ago?). In other words, the nature of my fandom has not changed, and what has changed is the way it is expressed because of various commercial factors.

    The way I see it is more about the increasing commercialization of fandom in which different interested businesses create substitutes for things fans do. It’s the commercialization of the meta. To give you a very concrete example, I used to work with fansubbers and parody subbers. That is time consuming work. But with Crunchyroll and the like, that stuff is definitely diminished and I personally just am not so interested in that. Instead, I can watch more shows. Things like the growth of the anison business, wotagei culture, growth of the con circuit, even the development of fan studies in academics all cut into this notion of scarcity to me.

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    • Not sure about that. I do have memories of the time when the fandoms of anime or video games were small in China, and there are… important differences from today?

      I need to think more about it.

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      • I guess there is something to be said of the mode of fandom when you are engaged in a limited manner (in terms of being limited) versus unlimited manner. The fact is today’s gamer is often unengaged and rely on mass marketing to get their fill of what’s interesting, to use that as an example. A very engaged fan today probably won’t be any more or less engaged than they were 20 years ago, that’s my take. Having additional “stuff” to mull over may or may not change the nature of this engagement, though, and I think that’s something to examine.

        I suppose a better way to look at it is to examine fandom’s interaction with the “non” fandom in the case where there exists an infrastructure in which commercial interests live off of the fandom in the meta, versus those fandoms that do not.

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  3. This is really interesting. I remember first getting into chiptune when a[l I knew about anything was 8bitpeoples. Now, there are so many netlabels and releases that I haven’t been able to keep up. It ties into feelings of elitism and your fandom being a niche.

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  4. Pingback: AMV chronicles #16: “Book Lovers” (untitled AMV) « Cutfilm Tovent

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