In My View: Why elitist arguments suck

(Please note: I use the editorial “he” in this post.)

So I recently came across this post complaining about anime fans and it reminded me of this exchange between a commenter named meiko and the folks at the Anime Roundtable podcast.

All of this reminded me of something which has been bugging me for a long time.

Elitist arguments.

Now I think there are some “good” elitist arguments. By good, I mean there’s a nugget of truth which can be taken out of the argument. Say, if someone complained about reviewers and how they all suck and an elitist came along and said, “Well they’re professionals, so they’re opinion is better than yours.” There’s a nugget of truth in there: “Complaining about other people’s opinions is useless unless you’re going to present an opinion of your own.” That’s a good piece of wisdom to take away from the argument.

However, with any elitist arguments (even the good ones) they all fall prey to the same two word counter-argument: So what? So what if someone gets paid to have an opinion? It doesn’t make it any better. So what if 12- to 15-year-old boys act like 12- to 15-year-old boys? Expecting teenagers to not act like teenagers is like expecting the sun not to shine. So what if fansubbers screw up a translation? They’re doing it for free and people aren’t getting charged for it.

But for fun, I want to pick apart probably the most egregious elitist comment I’ve heard to date. This is from the life in motion post I linked in the beginning.

5. They EXPLOIT Japanese culture for money and/or fame
Hell, remember MegaTokyo? I fucking hate MegaTokyo. It’s a bunch of Japanophiles writing about being Japanophiles that just gets scarfed up by other Japanophiles – and they MAKE MONEY OFF OF IT. If you aren’t of Japanese descent, you have no idea how ridiculously offensive that concept is. Though maybe I can put it into a more familiar parallel – if I were a young black man growing up in the ghetto, and some suburban rich white boy started making rap albums about growing up in the ghetto when he’s never even set foot in one, and he subsequently sold millions of albums to other suburban rich white boys who wished THEY were rappers… yeah, that’s about the same level of pissed that I am about things like MegaTokyo.

 

Ok, there are so many things wrong with this “argument,” I’m not sure where to start. But for fun, let’s start with the beginning. Before I wrote this post, I read all of MegaTokyo (just going to prove there’s no such thing as bad publicity.) In all honesty, it has the formula every successful Web comic has, one part comedy to one-and-a-half parts melodrama, make it appeal to a certain type (or all of) nerd culture, throw in a lot of quirky characters and stir evenly. I enjoyed reading it and even found some parts really good.

But it doesn’t make it any less fiction. In fact, anyone who couldn’t tell MegaTokyo isn’t fiction really has some more severe problems than just being a “Japanophile.”

For a moment, I’ll pretend the argument is, “This comic presents a slanted view of Japan, which is untrue, and they make a profit off of selling the stereotype to other people who want to believe it’s true.” (By the way, this would be a better argument.) There are two problems with this. The first is selling a stereotype is bad when it’s a bad stereotype (this is even questionable.) Essentially, if MegaTokyo presented a version of Japan worse than reality I could buy the argument.

The fact is it doesn’t.

In fact, I would love to live in MegaTokyo. It has romance and adventure and the ability to be amazing if you want to be. Hell, you can even date cute Japanese girls, and if you didn’t want to do that there is a PS2 attachment you can buy. It is exactly like the anime it’s trying to emulate. When I compare this to stories I hear about Americans living in Japan, it makes me sad Japan is such a lousy place for foreigners. In MegaTokyo, there is no rampant xenophobia, no foreigner profiling, no social frigidness. In fact, if Japan was more like MegaTokyo, it would be a better place.

The second problem with this argument is where we get to the “So what?” This is fiction. Fiction does not present a realistic view of anything. Setting is used as a tool for the story. Is there someone who thinks New Jersey is as wonderful as Elizabethtown makes it seem? Is there some confusion the Boston in Dennis Lehane novels is the Boston of reality? I mean do you really think it’s realistic five white people live in an apartment in New York, but almost never see a black person? So what if MegaTokyo presents a skewed version of Japan? Every other piece of fiction does it, so why would MegaTokyo be different?

And here’s where we get the classic elitist defense.

“You don’t get it because you’re not me.”

This is not even a bad argument. This is not an argument at all. It’s a deflection. A way of saying someone is too stupid to understand. I’ll even admit, I’ve used it once or twice out of frustration, and it wasn’t good then. Frankly, I’m embarrassed to even admit I’ve used it. If people can’t understand how “ridiculously offensive” it is without being of “Japanese descent” then it must not be that offensive.

What really amazes me though is he tries to back peddle it into an analogy. For a second, I’m going ignore the racist undertones in there (because it would be impossible for people to be WHITE, HISPANIC or, even, ASIAN in the ghetto.) I’m also going to ignore the fact every culture in the world has adapted rap music for their culture (including the Japanese) and I’m going to stick to what I think he’s arguing here.

First every type of music has a particular stereotype and, even though I’m loathe to do it, I’ll even kowtow to his “I’m too stupid to get it” argument. For most of my life I’ve lived in suburban or rural areas. Essentially country music is my cultural heritage. It is primarily white and sells itself on being patriotic, God-fearing, gun-toting music from the Heartland. So if anyone was going to be upset if a black liberal, gun-fearing, atheist from the coast decided he wanted to play cowboy, it should be me, right?

Personally, I say more power to him and if he can make a profit off of it that’s great. According to this analogy, the only people who should play punk are white Englishmen (and men specifically) and the only people who should play rock should be American (or English,) and the only people who should play rap music should be black and American. The idea any type of cultural product is specifically reserved for the race or country that created it is, at best, ridiculous and, at worst, dangerous.

But maybe I just think that because I’m a white guy who likes watching Japanese cartoons.

20 Comments

  1. Great post. I agree completely. Look at all the Japanese anime that appropriated other cultures, be they American, Chinese, English, German, or Brazilian. Some of those works are great works or art. Cultural cross-pollination is usually a good thing.

    Off-topic, the third illustration is wonderful. Is it Abe or fan-art? Can you tell me the source?

  2. You can spew your fancy logic and pretty words, but I still think he’s right about “japanophiles” being annoying as all hell.

  3. @KoRoMi – Even when it doesn’t come out well, I think it’s just the natural evolution of things. I mean the Mesopatamians did it to the Sumerians and so on from the beginning of time. I just wonder why Japan would be any different.

    I believe it’s from a doujinshi I found online when I was searching for fan art. It was on the third page of images when I searched for MegaTokyo fanart.

    @Mr. T – So what if they are?

  4. There wasn’t meant to be any deeper meaning beyond that. They annoy me. That’s all there is to it.

  5. @Mr. T – Well, why do they annoy you?

    Anyways, there’s a difference between someone who annoys you and pretty much calling someone a horrible person for being the way you are. I mean people who panhandle in the middle of an intersection annoy me. People who argue with cashiers annoy me. That doesn’t make them bad people. My take on the life in motion post is he was calling “Japanophiles” bad people.

  6. On the topic of “Japanophiles,” if the word “Japanophile” was replaced by “weaboo,” would it make it easier to understand why they (as in the weaboos) annoy people? =D I mean, just look at the hilariously stupid outrage that came out of ANN’s Chicks on whatever feature about the Sakuracon commercial!

  7. Who said they’re “bad” or “horrible” people? I don’t feel like re-reading life-in-motion’s entire ramblings, but my take on it (and it’s the part that I agree with) is that “Japanophiles” are an obnoxious and ignorant bunch. Whether or not that also makes them bad is probably an argument for another time.

  8. @nckl – Ah, I didn’t actually pay attention to the whole conflict about the Sakuracon commercial. I’ve actually tried to read Chicks on Anime once and I got ticked off at some really silly attitude and it bugged me enough I just stopped.

    I knew he was talking about Weaboos, but really, I’m not so much sure they (Weaboos) annoy me as much as I just don’t care. I tend to think people can do whatever they want to do and they’re responsible for their stupidity. I guess after playing D&D so long, the relatively sane antics of Weaboos aren’t really worth noticing. I mean there’s some people who play D&D who make me uncomfortable to see them in a social situation outside of the game.

    That doesn’t make them bad people, just people I don’t want to hang out with at the party.

  9. Occasionally, when I am perusing the usual entries from AnimeNano, I find enlightening articles like this one, talking about aspects of the entertainment subculture I have interest in, yet somehow are able to apply sense and wisdom to the greater scope of real life. Written by people not so different than me, these discoveries are cause for me to pause, and think to myself, “this blog-o-sphere thing ain’t so bad after all.”

  10. @ Mr. T – Eh, I’d go with ignorant. I don’t have enough interaction with them to say they’re obnoxious, which of course makes me doubt their prevalance. Although, that might just be that no one wants to self-identify themselves as a Weaboo. Hell, I don’t.
    What bugs me is I feel like he crosses the line between saying they’re obnoxious to they’re bad. I mean he certainly does in the part I picked on in particular. I believe he calls it “ridiculously offensive.” And gives a half-assed reason why he feels like that.

    Granted, that could just be my slick logic and fancy words, but personally I don’t see any problem with someone trying to earn a living.

  11. I wouldn’t want to live in Megatokyo, because it would take like a year for a day to pass.

  12. Quite an interesting read there, mister. Being someone who works around people deeply familiar with the Japanese culture it piques my interest knowing how others feel about someone assimilating aspects of a culture completely unlike their own(though I still find the Sakuracon commercial quite distasteful). I personally love how people can absorb so many other kinds of cultures and ways of life nowadays, especially with the staggering about of information available at our fingertips. If it wasn’t for cross cultural exchange I sincerely doubt the world would be as integrated as it is, hell I doubt a lot of us would’ve even been born. I’ll definitely keep this stuff in mind as I absorb more of the different sides of Japanese life into my daily life.

    Best regards,
    A writer for the Akagenoan blog
    (bonus points if you guess what the blog’s name references)

  13. How is that a bad thing.

    It’s more like I don’t want to live in Megatokyo because there’s this group of people that some call “SDers” and they scare the crap out of me.

  14. omo: lol Being scared of people who are too obsessed with something makes sense. I can understand that (iniksbane: SDers = Story discussioners, people who discuss and dissect the MegaTokyo stories on the MegaTokyo Forums. Can be very zealous about it).

    I can’t understand when that fear becomes irrational hate, though. :P

  15. So it’s kind of like when I go to the mall. I’m afraid of the crowds, and especially the daunting pro-style female shoppers who tsun on me for not knowing what’s in fashion each season…

    … I avoid malls, but I still like to look at the kira-kira magazine ads.

  16. [...] complete digression, feel free to ignore: It’s supposed to be utter fail to relate to oneself as weaboo, but here I am surprising my Japanese guest at how I happily admit to being otaku. And while mai [...]

  17. My problems with Megatokyo would most probably lie with the art and story direction. Nothing wrong with emo drama, but unless Fred has improved BOTH in the years I stopped reading…

    Also I lost the point of the argument. If we’re talking about stupid elitist arguments, well, at least he doesn’t turn it into a 6000+ word essay that’s pretty much a selfjerk.

    …In fact, that’s what Japan is trying to do to the otaku. Exploiting them for their personal gain. Just to get rid of them. D:

  18. The problem is, the commenter was heavily implying that Japanophiles are racist on some level, without saying it outright.

    You can call them annoying, ignorant, creepy, whatever, but when you try to say that someone is being outright offensive, you kind of have to back that up with something better than “I’m Japanese and they’re not”.

  19. [...] In Search of Number Nine: Why Elitist Arguments Suck Lupin III vs Detective Conan OVA info Article on Japanese Students getting H1N1 in Canada Followup article on Students with H1N1 [...]

  20. Can I represent the other 3 countries of the UK here and ask Americans not to label us all English. (Throughout posts you say English where you mean Brittish) It’s insulting as the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish already get treated like second class citizens in our own country, please try and buck the trend over in your respective countries :-)


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