In My View: The Weaboo Menace?

Okay, so I feel like I need to explain my last post a bit. My intention was not to defend Weaboo actions (although arguably I did.) My intention was to point out the inherit flaw in elitist arguments and specifically pick apart an argument which seemed to say the only people who can create a product is the culture that developed it. And people who attempted to do otherwise were exploiting the culture and therefore bad people.

However, I do think the responses are interesting and I find myself torn on the issue of Weaboos.


The issue of race

The fact that Weaboo came from the word Wapanese is not lost on me. With any discussion of culture clashes like this, race is going to come up.

I’ll be honest, I’m a little uncomfortable talking about race. Not because I don’t have opinions about race in America, but because I’m still bitter about being a white male going to a four-year university and being told I was a closet racist. So any opinion I have is tainted by my dislike of my liberal arts education. Also my inherent dislike of the idea of there being a singular white culture devoid of regionalism and class.

That said, there are some important issues revolving around race in this country. They’re issues which need to be discussed on a country-wide scale.

However, bringing race into a discussion about Weaboo bothers me for a couple reasons. First, it muddies the waters of what we’re talking about. What we seem to be talking about has less to do with race and more to do with people behaving badly.

While I can understand why someone self-identifying outside of their culture does seem disingenuous, I have a hard time thinking it’s racist. It’s like the white suburban kids who pretended to be black in the 90s, before rap became acceptable to the mainstream. Sure they were posers, but are they any different than the hipsters who pretend to be nerds because intellectualism is cool? I dismiss them, but I’m not offended by them.

Obsessive fanboyism and social ineptness

What I find interesting is the discussion of Weaboo could really only come out of geek culture. We wouldn’t blink twice if some tweenie thought Fall Out Boy was the BESTEST THING EVAR. We might scoff a bit at the emo eyeliner, but in general, we’d accept it. We don’t balk at someone who is obsessive about their football team to the exclusion of all other football teams. We might even chuckle if they get half-naked and put paint on themselves. The thing is obsessive fanboys (or girls) don’t bother most people.

But when we start talking about obsessive fans in geek culture, well there’s something different. Now in all fairness, I haven’t dealt with too many Weaboos. I’ve dealt with a few here and there, but judging by what people have said the ones I’ve dealt with seem to be pretty mild.

I have dealt with a lot of D&D geeks though.

When I started playing D&D, I was desperate for something to take me out of the hell that was middle school. (I used to do some pretty bad things to myself in hopes of getting sick so I wouldn’t have to go.) I needed the escapism D&D offered and I became obsessive about it and by extension the fantasy genre. And in a lot of ways, I became the stereotypical D&D geek.

I breathed, ate and slept D&D for about two years. It was the only thing I could talk about. I was socially inept on a monumental scale. I’d say I was self-absorbed, but I think that would understate the problem. Even when my utter obsession faded, I was still horribly socially inept.

Now like most geeks, I grew out of it (at about 21 or 22.) I developed some level of social skills so I could pass in the normal world. My geeky hobbies because, well, geeky hobbies. I still have a certain level of embarrassment about being that kid, but I understand it too.

This leads me to my thoughts about Weaboos.

The Weaboo Menace?

When I see people who are as socially inept as I was at 13 trying to operate in polite society, I’m torn.

On the one hand, I’m embarrassed. I don’t want to be associated with some guy who can’t talk to a girl without staring at her breasts and talking about how amazing his Great sword +5 is. Much like the embarrassment I felt watching the Sakuracon commercial, I didn’t want to be associated with those people either. (Although I think for a 30-second ad, it didn’t deserve the sheer amount of analysis it got.)

I want my geeky hobbies out of the eyes of people who are going to judge me for them, or at the very least I don’t want to wave my freak flag in everyone’s faces.

On the other hand, I understand the obsessive behavior. I understand wanting to identify with something when you’ve essentially been outcast from everything else. I understand taking a romanticized version of reality and believing it’s true. And not only believing it’s true, but not accepting any other fact to dispute it. I understand not being considerate of other people’s opinions and feelings and just being a jerk.

I can understand why a certain subset of people acts obnoxious because I’ve done it too.

So while I can’t completely condemn them because they’re ignorant of what they’re doing. I can’t really condone their ignorance.

While I agree it’s bad behavior, I have a problem saying they’re bad people for it, just misguided and misinformed.

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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.

In My View: What the heck is a “trainwreck?”

Okay, I’m confused.

I’ll freely admit I don’t have taste and there’s a lot of people in the Otakusphere who are smarter than me, so maybe I’m just not bright enough to get it.

But what the heck is a “trainwreck” and how do people figure out what constitutes one?

First, let me give you some background. I’ve read a lot of fantasy novels, but there are a few novels which have defined my reading experiences. One of those was a book I read back when I was in high school called “The Little Country” by Charles DeLint. It was set somewhere in England. (I think it was either northern England or maybe Wales, but I know it was England.) It contained two plots revolving around a magic book. Both stories were drastically different in tone, setting, structure and plot, but they each shared a common element.

They were set in a “real” world and contained magic.

It was my first encounter with genre blending and I loved it. The setting didn’t hurt the story. It enhanced it. It was a fantasy less about elves, knights, kings and the sinister evil living in Mount Doom, and more of a fantasy about love, laundry, dinner and sinister cats. I was so enraptured with this idea about fantasy happening in the real world; I started hunting all over for books like it.

As it turns out, I was about 10 years ahead of my time.

Now genre blended fantasy is the norm and I still feel the same about it. I like the idea of a wizard in Chicago who solves crimes, while dealing with wizardly politics. I like the idea of a vampire hunter in St. Louis (even if the execution of that idea isn’t really all that good.) It’s interesting to see these genres juxtaposed and see what comes out.

It’s not horribly surprising I like the same thing when anime does it. To be honest, I like “Full Metal Panic” because of the combination of Mecha with wacky high school hijinks. It makes the hijinks more meaningful when you know a secret agent might be right around the corner and it makes the battles more meaningful when there’s something to return to.

I like the first season of Code Geass because of the interplay between what was happening in the war and what was happening at the high school. It brings in dramatic irony, which raises the tension. In fact, I’d go so far as to say Code Geass wouldn’t have been nearly as good without it.

I’ll admit, I’m biased, so maybe that’s why I don’t understand it. Is it a difference in tone? Is it a difference in style? What is it about these genre-blended shows makes them so offensive?

And even more importantly, how is a genre supposed to grow if it doesn’t experiment? I’ll admit I’m all for a well-told genre story even if it’s essentially the same as other genre stories, but I also think this experimentation is good for any type of fiction.

But maybe I’m just crazy.

In My View: What you’re expecting me to have standards?

So I spent my last post talking about the nature of “good” shows, but I haven’t really addressed Coburn’s fundamental conundrum.

What makes a show an all-time favorite? Or put better, what measures do I use to judge a show?

Now, I’ll admit this is a hard question to answer because when I watch a show, I’m reacting to the show. I’m not trying to dissect exactly what I like about the show. I don’t tend to categorize my complaints when I get around to dissecting the show. All of that makes this a tough question to answer.

Expectations, Standards and Biases

Recently, I watched Tokko. Now all-in-all, I enjoyed watching it, which got me thinking. What was it about the show I liked? That answer was pretty simple, I expected the main character to get superpowers about two episodes into the show. Instead, he spent half of the series without any kind of superpowers at all. Then after spending a long time developing the characters, building suspense and creating a level of excitement, he got superpowers.

In short, Tokko exceeded my expectations. For the sake of the argument, expectations are what I expect to see either after the preview or the first episode. My expectations are usually pretty low. If I’m watching a shounen fighting show, I expect to have a young plucky hero who will eventually have to fight a menacing bad guy after discovering his hidden reserves. If I get that, I’m happy.

So if a show does something I’m not expecting it to, then it can end one of two ways. Either I liked it, and the show exceeded my expectations, or I hated it, and the show fell below my expectations. Now my expectations aren’t set in stone, if a show exceeds my expectations, then I expect it to continue to exceed my expectations. (That said, I’ll usually forgive a show for having a few bad episodes.)

Now standards are what I want a show to do. I want a show to have a multi-layered, character-driven plot. I want shows to have flawed heroes. I want characters to be noticeably different at the end of the show then they were at the beginning of the show. To be honest, I don’t expect these things. If I expected them, then they would be, well, expectations.

Standards aren’t an all or nothing category. If a show meets one or two of my standards, I’m impressed.

On a side note, I’ve found a lot of long-term reviewers tend to start replacing their expectations with their standards. Honestly, I find it a bit sad because they’re always going to be disappointed.

On the other hand, biases are just stuff I like. For instance, I like fanatics. I find them fascinating. If a show has a fanatic then I’m probably going to like it. But I don’t expect a show to have a fanatic.

Now it is kind of tricky to separate biases and standards. Standards apply to any fiction. While biases are just things I like, such as fanatics or war epics or WWI-style dogfights or dark, brooding anti-heroes.

What makes an all-time favorite show for me

So how does all of this sort out? Pretty simply actually, but a lot depends on the show. In all of the cases, these shows exceeded my expectations. In most of the cases, they hit at least one or two of my standards and they all featured at least one (or in the case of Last Exile A LOT) of my biases.

In My View: Coburn you have drug me out of the shadows

Coburn, Coburn, Coburn…

You’ve managed to drag me out of the shadows.

Anyway, I came across Coburn’s post when DrmChsr0 linked it, and to be honest it’s a subject I’ve thought a lot about. Of course that subject being favorite shows. Now I’ve didn’t read the responses, mostly because I didn’t really feel like it at the time, but I thought since this blog was the impetus for the original post, I should reply.

Okay, so how I define all time favorite shows is kind of tricky, and it’ll take more than one post. I do want to start where Coburn started because I think we need a frame for what we’re talking about when we talk about good, so I’m going to tread some tired ground and talk about rating systems.

Now Coburn opened by saying he was looking for a perfect “10” series. When he said that I started thinking: What defines a “10” anyway? Can I even classify series I watch as “10s” or without flaws. The assumption Coburn made was, I think of my all time favorite shows as “10s” and I find them flawless.

That isn’t the case.

When I see a rating system, I see a completely arbitrary set of numbers. The problem with applying a rating to anything is it isn’t just a measure of how much you enjoyed the show. It’s a measure of how much you enjoyed the show at the time and in the mental state you watched it in. So if I’m tired and feeling grouchy and don’t particularly feel like watching X giant robot show, and I watch X giant robot show I’m not going to like it as much as if I wanted to watch it. The same holds true if a show doesn’t match my tastes, or if I got into a fight at work, or if I’m just feeling unpleaseant, or if I happened to give something else a low mark right before it. Or I happened to read lolkit’s comment about how low his MAL average was before I went on a rating spree.

In fact, it’s affected by so many factors any rating is largely a useless number if taken on its own. The only time a rating is useful to the average reader is when you have a whole bunch of them so you can see what the mean rating is (this is why ANN’s encyclopedia is useful.)

Not only is a rating arbitrary, it’s a cop out. All a rating says is how much the viewer enjoyed the show at the particular time he rated it.

It doesn’t define good.

The problem with defining good

 

The problem we face when we start trying to define what is good probably can be summed up in a quote I’m stealing from iKnight (who stole it from someone else)

“There is a difference between something being good and liking it.”

Now, I agree there is a difference. A rating system defines how much a person liked a show. However, I don’t believe there is an empirical way to prove how “good” something is. Sure I could point out plot, character, world-building, theme, etc. and say they are “good.” But what does that really mean? What if someone disagrees? Is their opinion less valid if they offer proof I’m wrong? Isn’t any judgment on these issues simply a matter of taste?

So I’m left with a conundrum. Intuitively, I think iKnight is right, but, objectively, I can’t prove it.

But I do think there’s a solution. While I don’t believe there is an empirical “good” like this quote seems to hint at, I do believe there is a more honest “good.” The reason why I called any ratings system a cop out is because there’s no accountability. If I say a show is a seven and someone says, “Well I think it’s a nine.” All I have to do is wave my hand and say, “Well it’s just my opinion.”

But if I say, “You should watch this show because I think it’s good.” You have to take responsibility for it one way or the other and on some level that is more pressure than simply saying, “Well it’s good.” There in lies the difference between something being good and just liking a show (or at least I think so.)

Now with my favorites, in most cases, I would say they are good and people should watch them.

But that isn’t why they’re my favorites. They’re my favorites because their flaws are minor in comparison to what I like about them. Now that discussion is going to have to come later.

In My View: I fail (Now with pictures!)

I was wrong.

I’ll admit it. It has happened before, and it’ll happen again. Part of the reason I write in this blog is to present arguments that strike me at the time as valid, and see how well they fly.

And to be honest, on the whole fansub ethical issue I ignored the third option: to not buy it. Which is really the only ethical option in my argument.

But I did get a lot of interesting comments that I think deserve a full response.

Point One: Buying is not an ethical action

Now I’ve made this argument before, but I think it bears repeating. The exchange of money for goods is not an ethical action. It’s not an unethical action either. Now I’m not going to go as far as to say that the person who’s selling a product is not entitled to set a price on a product. But the only person who can set a value on a product is the individual consumer.

Now Sagacious1 brought up a good point that the value of a product can’t be generalized. But just because it can’t be generalized doesn’t mean the final arbiter of the value should be the person who made it. Because that means if I buy a product on sale or used or rent it than it’s unethical (or at the very least less ethical than buying it at MSRP).This opens up a whole bag of worms which I think is both unnecessary and frankly a little insulting. Because if I can’t determine the worth of a product than who should? The anime industry? The animators? The distributors?

Now the big problem with my argument is that it’s quite possible that you might pay less than what the product is worth to you (which would mean it’s actually an unethical action), but that’s a better result than the alternative.

The other reason why considering buying an ethical action is a problem is that it legimatizes “Buyer Beware” as an ethical argument. If I buy a product that isn’t worth what I paid for it, then the seller does have an ethical obligation to take it back. (Strange how this doesn’t seem to work in the real world.) To go back to Sagacious1’s Bentley argument, if I buy a car and it’s a lemon, it’s not my fault that the car was a lemon and I was definitely harmed if the seller isn’t willing to give me my money back.

Point Two: Zero Sum Gained and Selfishness

The problem with not buying being the only ethical action in my case, is that there is a zero sum gained for the anime industry. Now I’ll admit that this really was my only problem with Ayres argument. I do respect that he’s right in the end, but if I don’t buy and I don’t watch fansubs (of shows that aren’t released in the United States) then where does that leave the anime industry.

Really, the big reason I don’t have a problem with watching shows like Legend of the Galactic Heroes or Monster or Rose of Versailles is that I wouldn’t buy them (unless by some miracle they get a US release). Now that doesn’t justify stealing them (omo and Sagacious1 are completely correct on that point.) Sure I ought to pay what they’re worth to me, but without a means to do that I’m left on the wrong side of my ethics without a way out. Now Scott’s all or nothing approach does appeal to me, but I guess I have to admit that DrmChsr0 is right. I am selfish.

Now that is a bitter pill to swallow.

Point Three: The Monetizing of Enjoyment

The big reason I didn’t touch on the economic issue is that what is happening in the anime industry is a microcosm of what is happening in the larger entertainment industry. Network television is struggling. DVD sales are down. All around we can see the signs of media saturation. And when you combine that with the ever blurring line between professional and amateur content, the rapid devaluation of entertainment and throw in a healthy dose of entitlement (which is not just a symptom of “this” generation. Spend some time working retail and you’ll see what I mean) you get a problem which is both cultural and economic. And it’s hard to split those two apart.

The only difference is that the anime industry presents an even more convoluted, almost labyrinthine, business model. It’s almost impossible to follow the money from a release because part of it is through DVD sales, part of it is through figures, part of it is through general merchandise and part of it is through ad revenue and part of it is through licensing fees. Even renting doesn’t provide a simple one to one ratio because most of the time the studio still “owns” the product, the rental company is just borrowing it. (Although this may or may not hold true with the anime industry.)

But to be honest, when I read the Ayres interview my initial reaction (and some of a lot of commenters) was, “Hey wait, I spend money.” And to be honest, I spend a quarter of my disposable income a month to buy anime. Again, this doesn’t justify stealing, but it does dishearten me when someone comes along and says, “You’re not doing enough” or “You don’t have a right to watch that show.” Because while they may be right, I feel like I’m being denied and dismissed.

This isn’t really the way you want to treat your customers.

Point Four: The Customer isn’t always right, but they’re still the customer

Now using customer in this context is a little disingenuous. Customers buy stuff. But for argument’s sake, let’s replace customer with consumer. The thing about consumers is that they feel entitled to what they consume. This goes for every age bracket, every generation and pretty much the majority of America. And if you pay attention to politics you’ll notice that not only do they feel entitled to what they consume they also feel that they pay too much for it. Is this a bit elitist of me to say? I’ll let other people decide that.

The thing is that all of that is right, but no one likes being told that. There’s got to be a more politic way to go about it. Brandishing swords (in a panel or on the Internet) will not solve this problem for the industry. Trading invectives is not going to change anything. All it’s going to do is make both sides dig their trenches a little deeper and make people like me make faulty arguments and splash them into the Internet.

But the other side of that argument is that people do have to buy. Now you don’t have to buy everything. You don’t have to put yourself out on the street. And you certainly don’t have to buy stuff that isn’t worth buying. But for any entitlement argument to work, there has to be a concerted effort to actually purchase stuff. Well unless we all decide to go and shoot the creators. That’s always an option.

Point Five: All of this makes me depressed.

To be fair, talking about fansubs and the industry makes me depressed. Because it feels like there’s an overemphasis on what I do wrong and no emphasis on what I do right. Almost every argument made against downloading fansubs is valid. But a lot of the arguments for downloading them are valid too (at least in the case of shows that aren’t going to be released in the United States). Granted, none of the ethical ones really stand up (at least from what I can tell.) Maybe omo can give me a better metaphor.

All this said, a lot of this discussion has left me feeling a bit helpless and definitely hopeless. I’m not really seeing a solution.

And what’s worse, is the admission that downloading isn’t really ethically justified (something I knew before but hadn’t really thought about) really set my brain in gear. Now my Dad has instilled into me the credo that as long as you admit what you’re doing is wrong and can accept the consequences then do it. But on the other hand, what exactly are the consequences of admitting what your doing is wrong and then doing it anyway.

I guess that makes me a hypocrite.

And that is really the hardest pill to swallow of all.

In My View: Fansubs? Again?

So there’s been a lot of drama around Scott’s post about Greg Ayres panel. And granted, I know I’m writing this pretty late in the game, but it’s taken me a while to get my thoughts into a coherent form on this subject.

The problem with fansubs and the industry is not a simple one. And there isn’t a simple fix for it (well except for shooting all of the downloaders). To be frank, I’m not qualified to talk about this problem on a business level. I don’t even think the industry really knows how to make money in this new market. Most of the arguments I’ve heard sound like people taking their personal experiences and trying to generalize them to the wider populace (including mine.) While they certainly sound nice, there isn’t enough evidence one way or the other to really talk about the issue. Especially since it seems that even providing fans with anime straight from Japan wasn’t enough to save GDH from the threat of getting taken off of the stock index for Japan.

And I’m certainly not qualified to talk about copyright from a legal angle. Despite what people may think, the law is neither simple nor clear-cut on ANYTHING. Even something as simple as, “the right to free speech” depends on time, place, manner, medium and content. Case law is often contradictory and occasionally flat out confusing. And copyright law is no less labyrinthine.

So we’re left with one thing I can discuss with some level of intelligence.

Ethics.

Now, I’ll freely admit, I wasn’t a philosophy major. I did take a few classes in college and my sister did major in it, so I’m arguing based on what I know. If anyone wants to correct me, please feel free. But as far as ethics go, I’m a Libertarian. So your mileage may vary, depending on how your feel.

The Problem with Stealing

Now, omo is certainly right. Stealing is an easy metaphor when we’re dealing with downloading copyrighted material. But in my mind, it’s also the correct one. I mean, anime IS a product. It is meant for sale. Taking a product that is meant for sale is, well, stealing. The thing is that all stealing isn’t equal. What if I steal the denotation device from a nuclear bomb? What if I steal food that’s going to be thrown away? What if I steal a five-dollar bill off of the side of the road? What if I steal clothes out of a dumpster and then sell them to a thrift store?

And I have to admit that Ayres’s argument is compelling. I don’t want to put anyone out street. I don’t think any of us do. But just like anime consumers can be accused of seeing the industry as one faceless mass of people, the industry can be accused of seeing consumers as one open wallet that should be willing to give them cash.

So the question becomes, who’s right? And the answer is it depends on who is getting harmed more.

Like it or not, anime has no intrinsic worth beyond the plastic it’s printed on and the packaging it comes in. Any worth it has must be determined by the consumer. Period. And just like Ayres (and to a lesser extent Scott) seem to think that, “We owe it to the creators to give them money.” The anime industry owes it to the consumer to give them a product that’s worth buying (this is why I don’t like the ‘Save the Industry’ argument.) Now Scott is certainly right. If a show has come out in the United States and you live in the United States than for God’s sake rent it. If $9 a month is going to put you out on the street than you’ve got bigger problems than watching anime. And to be honest, the majority of anime series are worth what you’d pay for Netflix.

The problem starts though when the show is not available in the United States (or in whatever country you happen to be in.)

Because in a perfect world, you, the consumer, would be able to decide whether a show is worth buying or watching on TV or through Hulu without having to wait and wonder if it’ll be released in the States. In a perfect world, you wouldn’t have to choose between importing the disk (not to mention hunting down a region free player) and stealing it off the Internet.

But we don’t live in a perfect world.

No matter how much we want to.

So the question is no longer which one is more right, and becomes which one is less wrong. And that answer depends on how much anime is worth to you.

Frankly, it’s worth $7.50 an episode for a show I REALLY like on DVD. It’s not worth $30. So I have to balance out the harms. I’m hurting the industry $7.50 an episode when I download and they’re hurting me $22.50 an episode if I import it.

It’s that simple.

Why this matters and why it doesn’t

The classic arguments against what I just said are, “You’re just making justifications,” or “You just do it because you know there won’t be any consequences.” And they’re right to a degree. I can do it because there aren’t any consequences and I am making an ethical argument (which is in a way a justification.) But when the law doesn’t provide you with a deterrent for your actions, and the anime companies haven’t started hiring mercenaries to enforce their vision of the “proper” consumer, all you have left is ethics.

And ethics like it or not, are personal. I can argue with people. I can disagree with people. But in the end, I can’t expect people to see things my way. The only person who can decide whether or not you should click that torrent link is you.

For anyone who finished reading this, I apologize for the length. I had a lot to say, and I couldn’t figure out how to shorten it down.