The Identity Crisis of Twitter

To a great many, social media is just a part of life now. Whether it’s Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, or Twitter, these websites and apps are practically glued to us due to the ever-increasing ubiquity of smartphones. But each form of social media in certain ways replicates the online communication tools of old, and I find that with Twitter in particular, its strengths and weaknesses come from being essentially a highly modular chatroom. The problem is that, while the scope of this “chatroom” can be large or small, individual users only have so much control once it gets beyond a certain size, which leads to Twitter and its users running into an identity crisis of sorts.

It’s true that if you want an absolutely private experience on Twitter, you can more or less make it happen. Set your account to private, only follow a handful of people, and maybe even communicate primarily through direct messages. You can actually just make it about you and your friends. However, there are a few aspects that limit the Twitter experience once you move past that point and want to utilize the site as most others do, which is to operate in this massive space where you can instantly search for what people are saying about any given topic.

Traditionally, chatrooms were less people-focused and more concept-focused. Even in the earliest days of AOL, you scrolled through a potential list of chats, picked one that matched your interests or desires, and then joined. Even if it was just to ask A/S/L to everyone, there was a sense that you were stepping into a shared, localized space. Web 1.0 had this feeling in general. With Twitter, you are essentially your own chatroom moderator, and it’s up to you to constantly manage who you want to listen to and who you want to interact with. This kind of customization certainly has its merits, as it lets you really control your experience on Twitter to a certain degree, but having to potentially police your own twitter feed constantly is practically a recipe for decision fatigue. A user doesn’t have to care that much, but that can lead to the next problem: if you choose to take a relatively hands-off approach, that means you can’t control the people who are peering inside.

A common story of many a Twitter faux pas is that a user (often a fairly prominent one) treats their very public and well-known account like it’s still a small, localized experience when things have in fact changed. This person might be using in-jokes that appear crass or downright offensive to outsiders, but is considered to be innocuous teasing by their more immediate circle. They might even get called out by their followers for those words and asked to apologize, and those followers might even have a point. Even so, it can feel like there’s a disconnect between what this particular user thinks is their Twitter experience (shooting the breeze with friends) and what the users at large think is the Twitter experience (a public forum where any and every statement hangs in the air for all to see).

Consider two scenarios of a person in real life who says something racist, not expecting it to be an issue, only to be reprimanded by someone listening. In scenario #1, it’s a private setting where a friend is warning this person that what they’re saying is messed up, and they need to watch how they think and use words. In scenario #2, it’s an open space where everybody’s listening and a stranger shouts down the speaker for being so damn racist. Both cases involve someone rightly pointing out racist speech and that it needs correcting, but there’s a fundamentally different experience between someone who says something around those with whom they’re familiar and while surrounded mostly by strangers. The issue with Twitter is that it can seem like the former on the surface, only for a user to discover that it’s been a public square all along. The perception of extremely public vs. relatively private space explodes and collapses in a way that doesn’t happen when you actively search for servers and chatrooms on IRC or the more modern Discord.

I believe that this folding of public and private on Twitter is also what makes harassment on the platform especially insidious. It’s no secret that certain groups (especially the alt-right) have learned to almost weaponize Twitter’s idiosyncratic behavior. They can make a statement, “innocently” @ another user, and sit back and let their followers dog-pile that user. They can search out people who are discussing a topic, and attack total strangers in their replies. Users might want to interact through Twitter as if they’re just talking to their friends and acquainances, but the search function makes it possible to seek out holders of different opinions and try to verbally abuse them. It’s all too easy to find someone you disagree with on Twitter, and to see them as the enemy.

Chatrooms aren’t and weren’t ever peaches and rainbows. They come with their own hosts of problems, from power-abusing moderators to the active nurturing of toxic spaces by users if they should so choose. I used to be part of a chatroom or two where there were some people with gigantic chips on their shoulders—folks who seemed a little too trigger-happy with their hostilities. I remember a time where I talked about my surprise that a couple of anime voice actors were married to each other, only to get shouted at about how I must be one of those shallow folks obsessed with following the frivolous minutiae of celebrities (but of course said in a much less polite way). I thought the guy was being an asshole, but I also went into that chat knowing that this was a possibility, and that I was ready to fight back and call him out on being unnecessarily angry. Not everyone is willing or should be willing to have to fend off trolls and angry mobs, but Twitter’s public/private collapse makes that fight all the more inevitable for anyone discussing a controversial topic.

I’ve been on Twitter for over ten years now, but I’ve come to realize that I’ve reduced my utilization of its chatroom-esque qualities a long time ago. I still do communicate with friends and mutuals to an extent, but a lot of it is me shouting into the wind and seeing what sticks. Much like this blog here, I use it as a place to experiment with an express thoughts and ideas. Analyzing this shift in Twitter behavior, I think it’s largely because a certain degree of distance is necessary. Those who jump onto Twitter with bleeding hearts inevitably attract sharks. But while there were always sharks, even among the islands of Web 1.0 and 2.0, the social media age means being surrounded by potential predators on all sides.

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The Pressure to Morally Justify One’s Fandom Tastes

When I first began to formulate this blog post in my head, the core of what I wanted to write about was something I observed in online fandom: the policing of preference and desire, and the seeming need to couch fandom debates in moral rhetoric. My desire was to focus on the absurd degree by which fans try to justify their tastes by presenting some greater benefit or boon to humankind.

However, I’m not the only one who’s been ruminating on the subject. A recent article about essentially weaponized anti-fandom had explored the subject in depth, the author tracing their observation of this disturbing trend through the pains of trying to transplant the islands of LiveJournal to the complex web of Tumblr. Anti-fandom goes from being passion with a negative bent to a cold and calculated scalpel designed to influence and threaten fans, critics, and creators alike. The article has forced me to approach this post a little differently than I had intended. To that end, I still want to think out loud about that concept of forced justification, but more as the other side of the coin compared to what is described by that author.

Critical analysis of preferences in storytelling and art, be they one’s own or the preferences of others, is an important part of the relationship between creative endeavors and their effects on people and society. It’s not wrong that a series like Tintin, which early on featured racist caricatures, would fall under rightful scrutiny, and that those decisions open up important conversations, or that superhero comics are having to confront the sexism and racism that has been entrenched in its veins on both content and creator levels. However, there has been a trend of fans who try very hard to prove that their particular fandoms are fundamentally superior (or indeed that others are inferior), as if fandom reflects wholly one’s dedication to the moral fiber of society. Perhaps it’s all an act, as the article implies, a feigning of outrage to achieve a selfish goal, but I believe there are also fans who feel that they cannot like something unless it gels 100% with how they view themselves on that moral level.

This is a potentially harmful philosophy to abide by, not just for those who are potentially attacked by this sort of fan, but directly dangerous to the fan themselves. When a  “problematic fave” enters the conversation, the situation descends to  whether or not liking something in fantasy reflects some moral or personal shortcoming. From there, it’s a short step to accusing each other of not believing in the greater good strongly enough.

When we still don’t have real answers as to how people’s relationship with fiction affects everyone (whether broadly or on an individual basis), it comes across as a desperate desire to not be on the wrong side of the barrel. Either that, or they risk ending up like the character Nishikinomiya Anna from the anime/light novel Shimoneta. Anna, who was raised from childhood to be the perfect representative of moral fastidiousness, turns out to be dangerous and depraved in certain ways. However, because she was brought up to believe that she is pure and just, she rationalizes her behavior as being inherently moral because she is inherently moral herself.

My concern is that in an environment where there is (rightful) social pressure to be more open and to not hold beliefs that demean other people, it can become all too easy to believe that every word you say carries deep significance to such an extent that people feel they cannot be frivolous. If one feels that their words must reflect their fundamental being, then it also becomes dangerous to think that every piece of entertainment you consume has to be morally justified, as if it fits into a greater picture of a consistent and righteous self. It makes me think that these fans feel disdain for the fact that humans are often contradictory, and rather than understand and accept that, they see admonishing their peers for their inconsistency as the better choice.

One-One Chuushingura: Ogiue Maniax 11th Anniversary

11 years of Ogiue Maniax feels…strange. Because it comes right after the 10th anniversary milestone, it feels a bit like a new beginning. I’m honestly not entirely sure how to approach celebrating 11 years, so I’m going to be pretty off-the-cuff with this post.

Sometimes it hits me just how much time has passed. Titles that I remember being the hot new thing back in 2007 are now seen as retro classics by a huge portion of anime and manga fandom. What’s more, the way we approach fandom has changed entirely—case in point, YouTube has gone from being the strange new thing to being the place fans go to for anime reviews. As someone who stuck with writing for the most part, it’s been interesting to see the rise and fall of anime blogging. The fact that my blog views are roughly around where they were in 2008 feels like I’ve made a return back to the early days, but everything’s different. The world, the internet, even I’m not what I was 10 or 11 years ago. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, mind.

As much as I’d like to be able to reach more people, I’ve come to realize that trying to follow the trends of what you should talk about can be like a shackle on your creativity and autonomy as a creator of content. It’s not necessarily easy to talk only about the latest and hottest thing, but on a personal level, I would find it to be stifling. If I’m interested enough in a current show to say a couple of things, then that’s great. But I’d rather not feel forced or compelled to hit on a specific subject just because it would get more eyeballs on me in the short term. Besides, you never know when the thing you did in the past will come sliding back into the spotlight. Just this past month, I suddenly saw a huge uptick in visitors to Ogiue Maniax. The reason: LeSean Thomas linked to my interview with him from Otakon 2016.

This might all seem unusual to say when I’ve had my own Patreon for the past few years, but there’s a reason I’ve set up my highest-tier reward in a particular way. It’s $30 because I don’t want it to be absolutely impossible for the typical anime fan to afford, but I don’t want it to necessarily take over the blog either. I also give myself the freedom to approach any and all topic requests on my own terms, so I can take these requests as both a way to give back to any patrons who decide to take me up on that offer and as a personal learning experience. It’s very easy to get trapped in a particular mindset or view, and having someone literally say, “Well, why not check this out?” can be very helpful.

That all said, I have had to make adjustments to Ogiue Maniax, especially in being careful with my language and approach to writing. This blog, at its core, is a way for me to explore ideas, and it’s part of the process to throw out half-formed ideas to see whether or not they stick. However, as I get older, and as the world around me changes, I feel a greater responsibility in terms of how my words (or lack thereof) might encourage harmful behavior from others. I still feel it important to ask questions about how we as people interact with anime, manga, and all threads related to those topics, but there’s a certain benefit of the doubt I can no longer give to geek culture as a whole. I saw the early seeds planted in fandom that have driven campaigns of racism, misogyny, and downright misanthropy in this world, and I considered myself separate. I keep thinking about all the times I failed to speak up, or all the times I may have inadvertently defended dangerous mindsets, and I feel almost compelled to make up for my errors.

Man, that got heavy.

I guess I’ll end off by saying this: Ogiue Maniax has been an 11-year reflection of myself as a work in progress. It’s an experiment full of successes and failures (and increasingly fewer Fujoshi Files…) where a conclusion still cannot be seen. But I’m also encouraged by this, and I feel that it’s taught me some important life lessons. No matter where we are, we always have the chance to change and to better ourselves. Don’t base your own worth or the worth of your achievements on comparing yourself to others. See only who you were yesterday, and try to move forward from there.

SSSS.GRIDMAN and Character Design (In)consistency

Takarada Rikka and Shinjou Akane are the two female leads of SSSS.Gridman who are grabbing the attention of fans due to their extreme attractiveness. The characters were clearly designed with the other in mind, as their proportions are more or less inverse from each other. Rikka is more bottom-heavy, with bigger thighs and a slim torso. Akane’s design emphasizes her upper body by having a large chest and skinny legs. They’re made for thirsty fans to draw lines in the sand, based on which features they’re truly drawn to.

The decision to create these contrasting designs might be a bit of a double-edged sword for the staff, however. What I’ve noticed is that the anime itself, as well as its merchandise, has trouble keeping track of the visual distinctions between Rikka and Akane. In any given image, Rikka might be portrayed as extra busty, or Akane might be drawn as voluptuous from top to bottom. If this were fanart, it wouldn’t be much of a surprise—it’s not uncommon to see fanartists give characters whatever proportions they want. But these are the show’s own artists and animators flubbing.

Anime, because it involves so many hands and a whole lot of outsourcing, is prone to inconsistencies, so this is not a criticism of the skills of any of the staff. What I am saying, then, is that Rikka’s and Akane’s designs are especially troublesome for animators and artists because they’re not how anime typically creates contrasting female characters. Usually, busty girls are thicker all over, and less chesty girls are more svelte all around. If not that, then designs will feature the same basic body type overall, even as the characters change in specific areas.

Because anime TV production is notoriously crunch-heavy, I could see a lot of artists and animators having to default to their natural instincts when drawing characters. If they’re not accustomed to drawing characters with such clearly defined proportions like Rikka and Akane, then it would be all too easy to draw what “seems right.” And because Rikka and Akane are not wildly different from each other (unless we’re talking fanart), they also can’t exaggerate to the point of caricature either. It’s a tough middle ground to strike.

How Hugtto! Precure Tackles Childbirth and C-Section Controversy in Japan

Episode 35 of Hugtto! Precure was the second time the anime dedicated an episode to childbirth. It makes sense, given that much of the series is about raising a magical baby who might just be the key to saving the future. What makes this particular episode different, however, is that it actually tackles a serious topic in Japan: the stigma against “unnatural births.”

In the episode, Hana and the other Precures help out at a hospital, where they meet a mother who’s there to get a C-section, and is feeling nervous about it. She talks about how she feels like she made a lot of mistakes with her and her husband’s first daughter, and she wants to do anything right this time. Childbirth can be an especially difficult experience (to put it mildly), so it’s only natural that a mother would be anxious about it, but her expressions in the episode seem to indicate something deeper.

As it turns out, Japan has one of the lowest C-section rates in the world (about 10-20%), reflecting a culture that believes that “natural births” are inherently better. Most hospitals in Japan apparently do not even give epidurals to deal with pain, under the belief that the pain felt during labor is supposed to connect a mother to her child.

The mother in Hugtto! Precure wants to correct all the mistakes she made in raising her first child, but C-sections are viewed by many in Japan as an inherent mistake. It’s a challenging position to be in, to say the least. It’s the sort of difficult story that director Satou Junichi is famous for, as seen in his work on Ojamajo Doremi.

At the same time, the anime shows the doctor encouraging the use of C-sections, describing them as safe, and the mother does ultimately go through with it. By portraying the mother’s decision in a positive light, the episode reveals that it’s actually about trying to remove the negative association Japanese people have with C-sections. Moreover, Hugtto! Precure is a show that’s watched by young girls and most likely their parents, so it has the potential to educate two different generations to not look upon medical intervention during childbirth with disdain—a viewpoint that can potentially save lives.

Geek Reference Culture vs. Rap Reference Culture: A Personal and Meandering Comparison

Introduction

Geek culture has a conflicted relationship with making references. It can be the lingua franca of geeks—reciting lines wholesale from Star Trek, Monty Python, The Simpsons, Mystery Science Theater 3000, and other nerd favorites has long been a way to identify like-minded individuals, especially when those interests might not have been considered popular in a schoolyard or office. But that same geek culture, once characterized by references to living in family basements, is now integrated into mainstream culture. It’s to the point that the distinction between hardcore and casual is blurred, inviting never-ending debates about whether that line truly exists, let alone where it might fall. The most successful sitcom ever is The Big Bang Theory, a show about a bunch of brainy dorks who hit every stereotype this side of Steve Urkel.

In this environment, reference humor in geek culture is now being criticized in popular culture as overly insular, perhaps even symptomatic of gate-keeping out women and certain ethnic groups. References are seen as a crutch, a way to siphon off the value and humor of others in absence of one’s own. Unfavorable reviews of the book Ready Player One may be justified in pointing out its misogynistic themes and awkward prose, but it’s also viewed as a prime example of reference subculture gone too far in its arrogance and alienation.

Yet, there’s another example of a once relatively small cultural movement that has established itself in mainstream culture, one that also thrives on references to itself in ways that can seem inaccessible to outsiders: rap and hip hop. In that respect, I find it fascinating that both geek and rap cultures share a lot of similarities. In addition to the heavy focus on references, they’re also grappling with the fact that while they have helped to provide voices to the voiceless, they’re also avenues for misogyny and racism to rear their ugly heads. Despite their stereotypes being virtual opposites of each other—the 98 lb. pasty white nerd living in soul-crushing suburbia vs. the hard-edged gangsta in the life-threatening inner city—there’s a good deal of resonance between the two, and that’s before taking into account the fact that nerd references actually do show up in rap on a regular basis. However, while the use of references in hip hop seems to elevate it in the eyes of the general public, it’s considered something of a strike against geek culture. The question is then, what causes this difference in perception?

Hip Hop’s Reference Culture

The spark for this essay came to me thanks to a book I recently read: Original Gangstas: Tupac Shakur, Dr. Dre, Eazy-E, Ice Cube, and the Birth of West Coast Rap. Among other informative things for someone unknowledgeable about the subject like myself, one aspect it points out about west coast rap and hip hop is that it grew partly out of the rappers’ desire to make songs that spoke to their lived experiences, as opposed to what they were getting from New York City, where rap originated.

The key example the book gives of this desire to express west coast authenticity comes from a line in Eazy-E’s “Boyz-n-the-Hood”: Cruisin’ down the street in my ’64. Westhoff himself describes his youth, listening to this song and dreaming of riding a “Six-four” without knowing what that actually was. But to a certain audience, especially those who grew up in areas like Compton, Eazy-E was quite obviously talking about a 1964 Chevy Impala. Though more a way to speak to those on the streets, there was perhaps another inadvertent takeaway for those who weren’t familiar with this experience: “This is a west coast thing. You probably wouldn’t understand.”

Information like what “six-four” means might be taken for granted by those intimately familiar with rap and hip hop. But speaking personally, my relationship with these genres was, for the longest time, largely limited to memories of what my siblings would listen to. It’s why I found Original Gangstas so potent, as it helped give me perspective on things I only tangentially understood: the significance of Dr. Dre’s “The Chronic” in popularizing the style known as G-Funk, the old differences between east coast and west coast styles, etc. As a relative outsider, I’ve long found that the propensity for rap to throw out references to culture without explanation, couch them in rhythm and lyrics, and use callbacks to other songs (whether in praise or as an insult) made it difficult for me (who grew up not terribly music-inclined in general) to make heads or tails of. I didn’t reject it as music I was supposed to “hate,” nor did I believe that “rap isn’t real music.” Rather, I felt that it was the popular kids’ music, and that it spoke of things I, as an out-of-shape Asian kid who couldn’t win a fight against a hamster, perhaps wasn’t “supposed” to be able to connect to.

That was the past, and I now feel more open and receptive to hip hop, thanks in part to David Brothers, who writes about the connection between geek culture and rap on a regular basis. Yet, I still feel that time away has affected me by stunting not just the potential knowledge of hip hop that’s in my head, but also the potential feeling of it in my heart and soul. With respect to this complicated sensation, one song I keep coming back to is Jay-Z and Alicia Keys’s “Empire State of Mind.” It’s about as famous and popular a rap song as it gets, but as someone who was born and raised in New York City, there are references in it I intrinsically understand and some that I had to look up. I know that going from Harlem to Tribeca is essentially traveling from the top to the bottom of Manhattan. I know that being so “Spike’d out I can trip a referee” is referring to Spike Lee’s propensity for getting front-row tickets to Knicks games while simultaneously talking up Jay-Z’s swagger. I had no clue what “paying Lebron” and “paying Dwyane Wade” meant, having next to no knowledge of drug culture, nor did I know that “BK” being from Texas is about Beyoncé, Jay-Z’s wife. Listening to the song feels somehow both deeply familiar and unusually foreign.

Contemplating “Empire State of Mind” relative to other rap songs, it makes me wonder if this is how many people feel similarly about nerd reference culture. If there’s enough to chew on, it becomes a relatable experience. If there isn’t, it might be downright alienating. “It’s a geek thing. You probably wouldn’t understand.” Whether by accident or by intent, this can transform into “You’re not supposed to understand.” But unlike west coast rap, which was originally tied to a certain region and its surrounding cultural and economic situation, the fuel for geek culture was all over the place. I was surprised to find out (thanks again to Original Gangstas) that a young Snoop Dogg and Warren G were in a group called Voltron Crew. (There’s also a video of Snoop Dogg reminiscing about playing with Voltron toys and pretending they could move.) Moreover, at a panel at New York Comic Con 2018, DMC (of Run-DMC) talked about how he was inspired to express through his rap the entertainment culture he saw: Godzilla, Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff movies, etc. One gets the impression that geek culture was never truly rooted in those pasty white suburbs, and with each passing generation that image gets reclaimed and transformed.

Rap’s references don’t just end with talking about the streets or various aspects of pop culture, either. There’s also a tradition of calling back to previous rap songs, which rewards those fans and listeners who avidly follow the genre. Original Gangstas describes how “Hit ’em Up,” the infamous diss track that is just five minutes of venom directed at the Notorious B.I.G., Tupac makes numerous references to the enemy camp’s music, twisting them into dark parodies such that anyone who recognizes the originals can feel the vitriol hitting even harder. Notably, the line “Grab your dick if you love hip hop” from “Player’s Anthem” by Notorious B.I.G. and Junior Mafia becomes “Grab your glocks when you see Tupac.” You don’t need to know the specific references to pick up on the sheer anger Tupac has for Biggie, but it helps.

The Desire to Affirm Geek Identity, and the Hurdles Created in Consequence

Geek reference culture still carries a legacy of wanting to legitimize one’s own experiences, and in that respect it mirrors a lot of what rap and hip hop have done. However, where I find the key dissimilarities begin to manifest is in how attached the purveyors and fans of geekdom and rap get to their source materials. While plenty of creators allow their influences to show through in subtle ways—Steven Universe clearly has the DNA of Sailor Moon in it—the most visible parts of geekdom are those whose umbilical cords have never fully detached from the things they reference. Many of these works, while excellent in their own right, fall apart almost completely when divorced from their immediate contexts. The ones most absolutely dependent on showing off their callbacks, i.e. the Ready Player One‘s of the world, are too busy showing themselves as “nerdy” to build towards anything more. There’s a kind of clumsiness that makes people bristle.

In contrast, rap, even when one doesn’t get all of the in-jokes and shout-outs, still tend to convey enough meaning in other ways that those songs don’t live or die by the number of references contained within. But that might just be because referencing and remixing have been a part of hip hop since day one, before rappers even rose to prominence. In the earliest days, it was the DJs who commanded all the attention, and their craft is based in mixing together bits and pieces of various existing soundtracks. When Grandmaster Flash talks about getting rid of the “wack parts” to make a more enjoyable experience, he’s recalling making those old vinyls into his own. Incidentally, in this same video, he talks about the science of DJing being this incredibly geeky thing, but that he couldn’t express it as such back then because it wasn’t cool to be a geek. Hip hop has a legacy of creators not being afraid to take what’s out there and put it directly into a song, but also trying to transform them for their own unique purposes.

One point of convergence and then divergence is how nerd references get into rap and hip hop. Along this vein are two general categories: nerdy rapping and nerdcore rapping, i.e. songs with nerdy callbacks in them vs. songs where geek culture is the primary subject matter. Before I proceed, however, I want to make one thing clear: What I’m discussing is not a matter of talent of performer or quality of song; I have neither the musical expertise nor the familiarity with hip hop to cast that kind of high-and-mighty judgment. It would also be quite unfair to pit a small-time YouTuber against Snoop Dogg literally doing a song for Tekken and expect the former to live up to the latter in terms of raw ability and experience.

However, if we look beyond talent or quality and just at subject matter, nerdcore’s reputation (for better or worse) is that it’s hyper-focused on celebrating nerdiness. In contrast, nerdy rapping is about incorporating those geek references to make a point. MC Frontalot is not considered to be unskilled as a rapper, but “I’ll Form the Head” mainly requires the listener to be in on the joke—that it’s a parody of Voltron. On the other hand, when Soulja Boy raps, “Bitch I look like Goku,” he’s likening himself to the Dragon Ball protagonist to instantly communicate his power and confidence. Even if you don’t know who Goku is, the delivery tells you that it’s someone who’s a big deal. The same song (titled “Goku” of course) also references the 1964 Chevy Impala, as if to equate their cultural symbolism. It’s not a matter of “reality” vs. “fiction,” either. A lot of non-nerdy hip hop is about presenting fictionalized versions of oneself, such as Eminem’s Slim Shady.

A Crucial Difference?

One major disparity might be that while references in hip hop convey a sense of mutual understanding and experience to often self-aggrandize, traditional geek culture places much of its subcultural cache in the accumulation of nerdy knowledge—i.e. nerd cred. It’s one thing for Jay-Z to talk about how he “made the Yankee hat more famous than a Yankee can,” or for Snoop Dogg to explain, “I got the Rolly [Rolex] on my arm and I’m pouring Chandon [an expensive sparkling wine].” It’s another to operate as Ready Player One does, and tie the hero’s success to his mastery of 80s pop culture. This even extends to how hip hop and geek cultures try to suss out “fake” fans. In hip hop, like with other forms of music, a lot of it has to do with taste. If you like Macklemore or Vanilla Ice, you’re supposedly not a “real” fan because you can’t handle the hard stuff. However, it’s not like hip hop fans expect everyone to have encyclopedic knowledge of rap. In contrast, when someone is accused of being a “fake geek” or a “fake geek girl,” it’s more to do with the idea that their kung-fu isn’t strong enough—that they lack the extensive study of trivia and information that’s long been expected of nerds. For hip hop and rap, references are the doorway. For geek culture, it can often feel like the destination, and as long as that reputation persists, there will always be a sense of impermeability between geek and non-geek cultures.

The Final Smash Ultimate Direct and the Cost of Following Leaks

For the past month or so, much of the online Smash Community was consumed by the so-called “Grinch Leak,” whose promises of revealing new characters dominated conversation. Then the November 1 Smash Bros Nintendo Direct revealed the last tidbits of information before launch (new playable characters, DLC on the way, a story mode, etc.), dashing the hopes of many of the leak’s believers. Given the sadness and rage expressed by those who trusted the leak, it makes me wonder about why people continue to set themselves up for disappointment through following Smash leaks, and the only answer I can think of is that they consider it worthwhile. In a way, researching leaks and getting invested in them is almost a form of emotional gambling.

I understand that people are different when it comes to spoilers—some even readily welcome them. But the Grinch Leak interacted with the Smash community in an odd way that goes beyond just knowing something in advance. First, it came at a time when some fans felt starved for information, despite Isabelle from Animal Crossing being announced less than two months ago. It was as if people were so desperate for news that they’d glom onto anything convincing, and to spice it up, the Grinch Leak dropped a bunch of “reveals” for characters with very vocal and loyal fanbases. It’s not just that people thought the leak to be believable—many clearly wanted to believe.

And then the Direct hit, and the characters shown were not what Grinch supporters were expecting. In came the comments. “How could the final Smash Direct be this anticlimactic? Ken? Incineroar?! PIRANHA PLANT??!!” The Smash community has always had problems with getting excessively overhyped, and this was no exception. But I also wonder about the way fans seem to actively trying to to hit these dramatic emotional highs at the possible risk of plummeting into equally drastic lows. After all, one doesn’t necessarily need to pay attention to these leaks, and one can simply hope for their favorite character to be added to the roster without the additional backup of some “inside scoop.” That’s what makes it feel akin to gambling, albeit a much safer, cost-free form. There’s a risk and a payoff for wanting to believe.

It also reminds me of how popular conspiracy theories can be. “Some employee leaked information about a game that’s not out yet” is nowhere close to “the United States government faked the moon landing,” but there is a similar idea at play here: there’s inside information they don’t want you to know about, and by having the real info, you have the edge over the others. And much like conspiracy theories, the fact that some leaks actually turn out to be true only adds fuel to the fire.

In a certain sense, following leaks and getting into arguments over them is another form of community interaction, and it’s largely harmless fun. Even so, because of how they monopolized the Smash community’s general consciousness, I do have to wonder if there might be a better use of people’s time and emotional energy.