(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.
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.