Continuing World

12 Days of Stuff #3: On the labels we call ourselves

This year I read an essay that advised to keep your identity small, because the labels that we attach ourselves to can keep us from thinking objectively about stuff. A month later, some weirdo thing on the internet called *****gate happened, and I immediately thought, “well, if these people didn’t identify as *****s and took personal offense on an article proclaiming that *****s are over, then we wouldn’t be having this problem.”

(But that’s not the topic of this post.)

The word otaku is something I always see on my corner of the internet. There are anime otaku, manga otaku, military otaku, and some plainly call themselves “otaku”, as if it’s a catch-all term for “I like all sorts of Japanese stuff”. I confront myself on what kind of otaku I really am. Am I an anime otaku? Not only do I watch a lot of anime weekly, I analyze it and talk to people about it on a deeper level than <this is good, this is bad>. Am I a mecha otaku? I can name a whole lot of robots, have near-encyclopedic knowledge of fictional robot facts, and I can tell you if this particular robot appeared in this particular Super Robot Wars game. Around the third label I stop, ragged of mind if not breath, and decide that it isn’t worth worrying about much. I know what I like.

I like anime. I like mecha. I like both of these things passionately, but I don’t strongly label myself as an “anime fan” or “mecha fan”, much less an otaku. Am I being too self-conscious? Maybe. But I look at that weirdo internet thing and a younger, less wiser me could have been right at the thick of it and I just… NOPE.

I don’t argue on the internet anymore, but the moment one says X fans are Y, where Y is some disparaging or slanderous adjective, and you’re an X Fan (with the capitals), your response will be bound to be defensive from the outset. And I don’t just mean in the “how dare he claim that we’re Y!” reaction, but in the way that your brain thinks “is he talking about me?” (yes). Because when you associate with something on a personal level, you get affected when that something is attacked or criticized. (This is why all creative pursuit is hard, we treat our works as if they are our children.)

The next step is to not think of yourself as A Fan of X. When I tried this, it was like magic. I was a lot less affected from potentially offensive statements.

But does this mean that labels are bad? I still think they’re useful, especially when finding like-minded friends. You could write that you’re an X Fan in your Twitter profile or whatever, and it’ll let other X Fans find you. But make sure that you’re putting on a label, like it was a set of clothes, instead of grafting it to your skin. You know yourself best.

I have a headache, so I’m stopping here, but there’s a lot to be said about this topic. I also found a counterargument here.