Sunday, August 16, 2009

RE: Getting Our Geek On

Part One: Conflict and Experience

A few weeks ago, manga blogger and fellow reviewer Melinda Beasi posted a fantastic feature write-up on outwardly expressing fandom (shirts, jewelry, license plates, etc), yet feeling awkward or out of place when asked by non-fans to explain the significance of such objects. (Link is here)

I've been letting a response article (okay, so it's more of a tangent response) brew in my brain for a little while, because she touched on an aspect of fandom that I feel most of us deal with on a semi-regular basis ("us" referring to geeks and gamers of all varieties). If you haven't read it already, it's a highly recommended read before you proceed further.

There is, in my experience, a prevailing sense of being put on the defensive when my anime/manga fandom is brought up in conversation. There are a few front-runner reasons that pop into my mind. The first is that I think everyone I know expected me to "outgrow" both hobbies long before I graduated from high school. Still, I stuck with it through college and came to the realization that it was something that would always keep my interest. I'm lucky enough that my room-mate for most of college was one of my best friends from childhood. He never made any protest over my Trigun posters, anime desktops, or stacks of manga.

As a teacher, I have found a little more support for my hobby, as many counties are turning to graphic novels to inject new life into reading curriculum. I was very happy to hear a handful of my colleagues discussing how they had registered for a summer course in teaching graphic novels. One of them even told me that she felt graphic novels were going to be a big part of education in the near future. That was a cool moment.

The Otakon nalgene I used to carry everywhere drew some very curious glances and comments. It led to discussions with all sorts of people, but most of the time these conversations started with "Why not read real books instead?" or "Aren't those for kids?" In many cases, it was clear from the onset that I was going to have to put up a counter-argument. Occasionally I would get someone who was simply genuinely curious as to why I like manga, and that is always a real treat. (Thank you!)

The funniest (saddest?) part is that most of the time, these conversations are all based on the person's preconceived notions of graphic novels. And what really gets to me is the complete and utter revulsion many people exhibit when I even suggest picking one up and giving it a try. People very close to me, who have seen me reading manga for years, very rarely take some initiative and read one. Yes, we'll trade book and movie recommendations all the time, but graphic novel (or anime) recommendations almost always fall on deaf ears. This is why when last week a friend of mine told me he decided to read Watchmen, I was ecstatic. The best part? Not only did he love it, but afterward, he referred to it as a complex piece of literature.

I know people who actively hide their fandom, simply because they have met people who got "weirded-out" when they found out they were fans of manga. Frankly, I can't blame them. I'm sure you have seen it happen, too. Hell, I brought an entire table of co-workers to a halt once when I casually mentioned the fact that I was a fan of Japanese animation. There were no follow-up questions, just empty stares, and an abrupt change of topic.

The difficult part is addressing the reasons for why this happens. I had a good conversation about it this afternoon that needs some time to sink in before I start typing. Check back soon for further thoughts!

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