Being “True to Oneself” and the Necessity of Criticism

Ever since my teenage years, I’ve believed it important for nerds and geeks, otaku and gamers, to be proud of who they are. Back then, from seeing my own experience as well as that of others both online and off, it hurt me to witness people continuously talk about how they have to hide their hobbies. You’d find posts on forums of people talking about how they had to abandon their nerdy interests in order to make friends and get a significant other. And while I’m sure there are more than a few who found greater happiness this way, I could also see plenty who basically lived as frail shadows. As frivolous something like a love of RPGs or an attraction to anime girls could be, I saw it doing subtle psychological damage to those who forced themselves to abandon their passions, and I didn’t want to see people like me be hurt.

A lot of things have changed in the years since. Gaming is undoubtedly mainstream. Shows like The Big Bang Theory have, for better or worse, made the lives of nerds “hip” to watch. People needlessly worry about “fake geek girls.” One of the consequences of the prominence of geek culture is that, where once the main issue for many nerds was trying to get their voices out there, now the latent misogyny of gamer culture has become a real problem. Given this current environment, is it okay to just say, “Be confident and declare to the world that you’re proud to be who you are!” if it means that people are incentivized to harass others?

I understand that there are some generalizations I’m putting forward that are inevitably full of exceptions. Geek culture and fandoms are many-armed and camaraderie across different interests can be fractured. One does not even need to be a “social outcast” anymore to be considered an avid player of video games. Perhaps most importantly, it’s not like asking people to have confidence automatically leads to influencing people to attack others. Nevertheless, I think there is a potential path from self confidence and pride to anger towards and mistreatment of others, one that is dimly lit yet still visible upon closer observation.

To some extent, I think this wraps into the idea of variety of expression as a strength, be it in fiction or in, say, speech and dialogue. Much like freedom of speech, the difficult thing about supporting and celebrating it is that you have to accept that you can’t agree with every opinion or belief, even if you swear that it’s wrong with every fiber of your being. It is the constant potential for change that gives both art and speech strength, and for every poorly conceived anime that might exist there can also exist a work of endless wonder, broadly speaking.

That being said, criticism is necessary, and dissent towards ideas believed to be harmful should not be silenced just for the sake of variety. And I think this is where I find myself when it comes to people found in fandoms who continue to espouse racist, misogynistic ideas. I disagree vehemently with those ideas, but they are beliefs legitimately held by people, and to silence them is to build resentment. At the same time, giving them license to run their mouths and spread hate and harassment isn’t the right thing to do either. Ideally, conversations on matters such as the portrayal of male and female characters in games should happen in the open, rather than as rocks volleyed from across a chasm, but that might be wishful thinking.

I’ve increasingly thought about how wanting to make the world a better place and embracing all the beauty and ugliness of the world requires living a contradiction. However, I don’t believe that this is inherently a problem. Perhaps we try too hard to make every aspect of our life consistent, or to expect our thoughts and beliefs to line up perfectly with each other. If that’s the case, then I can continue to cheer for those who are able to express themselves, while putting more effort to guide those who I believe need it.

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5 thoughts on “Being “True to Oneself” and the Necessity of Criticism

  1. The world does require living in an contradiction. Everyone has some sort of bias towards something. I think a big problem is that we don’t know how to give feedback/criticism in a manner that helps the person that needs it. It just comes down to saying “you’re a horrible person,” which just adds unnecessary fuel to the fire.

    I’ve come to a conclusion that we need to criticize the ideas, not the person saying them. There’s always a system behind the words.

    I think expressing yourself is fine. I do feel that the whole Western mentality of positivity and self-esteem that preaches ideas that you can do whatever you want and no one should stop you is a bit poisonous. I once thought my own happiness was everything, but the thing is your personal happiness CAN mean squashing other’s happiness. Plus there’s the paradox where the more you aim for happiness, the more you become depressed or anxious. That whole culture spreads to all aspects of life.

    I sense this with some members of the anime community and slowly distanced myself from geek culture, though geek culture is not immune to common cognitive bias. We’re all humans.

    And if you think about what geek culture is at its base, it’s based around consumer consumption despite whatever intellectual thought you put into it. There’s nothing wrong with having meaningful discussion about tropes/ideas/themes though. I support that because people like you and many others are needed. It’s just I have to reminder myself that it’s still entertainment first and foremost and I shouldn’t push my ideas (even if they may be right) onto others if they do not want to hear it.

    If I did that, it doesn’t make me any better than anyone who harasses others. You can’t be yourself all the time because while it’s great to be an individual, we’re all still dependent on one another because our species was built on collaboration for the greater good.

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    • Hi, I agree with your conclusions above. You´re not alone in these thoughts.

      Another thing I´ve noticed is that every (not) so often, works from mangakas and anime take a long and hardy look upon “otaku-ism”, and even try to drift appart from the mainstream (and that comes to a price, even so…). I remember to see Hideaki Anno enraged at his fans for not understanding the underlying theme of Evangelion; and how that was basically both a deconstruction of many genres, archetypes repeated in manga and anime, and (also)a jab directed to the “otaku -ism” and what he called “self-defeated” (very low esteem) attitude he saw inside of these circles of youth he himself remembered to be when younger (if you need an example in fiction: Madarame from Genshiken). He himself tried to cope with depresion (related to his goals in the same industry) and wanted to translate that into this particular work, universal themes were shown that reflected upon that. Guess what: most of the critical aclaim from both the public and his fans ignored that, and just assumed it was a revival of the giant robot theme mixed with psychological exploration, and some religious references. Should he have been more direct?

      On the other hand, “otaku-ism” (open display of one´s preferences, or simply wholesome acceptance of one´s tastes and interests) is the new normal in some parts, at least in the West (in most of Asia, these changes are dim: it takes a lot of heart not to be simply open about it with friends or family; in the work place, open display of such interests is merely disallowed or frowned upon). Even when accepted wholeheartedly, otakus aren´t necessarily role models to society right now (regarding this topic, Hideaki Anno was very harsh). Obviously, that´s a consecuence of how societies see “otakus”, individuals totally absorbed into what seems a virtual subterfuge of solace, neglecting other areas of life over these “distractions”. Regardless of this assumption (which I think it is a bad generalization), there´s that undeniable public image issue, softened by the media as of recently, but in everyday reality, not so much. The “nerd” in the West, is a figure that may or not may elicit good vibes, but I don´t see it as an enduring trend for the media, because the public image of some general archetypes of what “type of person” we see as a whole in society, is an easy thing to shift, in my view.

      The article, and your comment, may point into some origins of such worrysome public image: the rampant consumerism of merchandising related to anime, and somehow, some imagery choices (since the “moe” theme became mainstream into commercial anime (around the early 90´s ), and likely, the upfront image of what most westerners and asian citizens see as anime and manga) are a bit shocking if seen from a neutral perspective. It´s entertainment, and yet… I think that your reflection that we need to put it on perspective is something necessary, and part of having a balanced view of what we make out of it as individuals.

      In the end, it´s better to balance than to overarch ourselves into our obsessions or desires; a theme very old yet since the dawn of times. Let´s hope that as we mature, the anime/manga industry and many of our lest than common interests, will be seen as totally legit, more so than today. Perhaps, as @sdshamshel hints, social issues could be a good bridge to connect the “normal” with the “otaku”, and more realistic narratives based into contemporary issues (avoiding phsycological solipsysm, relying in the mere internal issues of the characters, please) coming to the storefront and less fantasy ones would help. Would that be commercially attractive? Perhaps, or perhaps not . : ) But there´s that to try.

      Cheers!

      Like

  2. Embracing all the beauty and ugliness of the world requires an acceptance of
    things as they are regardless of personal interest which most sapient creatures
    would find hard to do. Most of our ideas of good and evil are based on human
    self-interest or attachment to things we like and hatred of what we do not like.

    To attain this state requires consideration, reflection and meditation in my not so
    humble opinion. You must remember that our lives are dependent on the functioning
    of tiny organisms both interior to our bodies and exterior, producing oxygen and
    absorbing carbon dioxide. If you are religious you can say when you have learned
    enough that the Divine Being has ordered it thus from the creation of the Universe.

    bliss

    Like

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