Dig Deep and Specialize

I remember some years ago I made some sort of proclamation to myself that I was “done with surface-level bulls**t.”

I don’t remember the context, but I do remember that I meant it as a commitment to depth in my hobbies.

As “nerd culture” becomes more commoditized, it begins to attract the equivalent of “fair-weather” fans: People who only engage with it as the social consequences for doing so become less severe. In so many words, more people get into “nerd culture” as it becomes less “nerdy” to do so.

The same is happening in anime. As anime becomes easier to get, more people (people who previously weren’t committed enough when anime was harder to get) jump in. While many positives can result from this, one negative result is that the influx of less-committed people alienates those who came to the anime fandom seeking like-minded nerds, as they feel their refuge is suddenly inundated with people who will judge them.

It’s a solvable problem, however, and the solution lies in the very quality that sets the nerds apart from more normal folk: Their level of commitment to the culture.

Nerds can dig deeper.

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It takes a special kind of person to want to spend $150 on an anime figure, or to want to deck their car out in anime girl decals, or to want to learn Japanese. It takes a special kind of person to want to specialize.

As a community’s barriers to entry lower, the likelihood of people with low commitment joining increases. This isn’t a bad thing on its own, but when low commitment people are also closed-minded and have no respect for the culture (Or worse, are exploiting the culture for personal gain), it can damage the community.

The commitment necessary to engage in deeper, more specialized aspects of the fandom is a natural barrier to entry. And because that barrier is there, it’s easier to find like-minded people once on the inside.

Outcasts seek the company of other outcasts, because they understand each other. So too do specialists seek the company of other specialists. The folks at the surface level just can’t understand them in the same way. It’s not a value-judgment, it’s just a fact.

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Nor is it a value-judgment when nerds want to move away from aspects of their culture that have become commoditized and popular with people who weren’t “nerds” a few years ago. They want to be understood, and (often for good reason) feel like people less committed to the culture won’t understand them. So they dig, build, and fortify.

Dig: They specialize, fleshing out the more performative, skill-based, or expensive aspects of their subculture.

Build: They create their own cultures around the sub-aspects of fandom they’ve chosen to specialize in.

Fortify: They maintain the barriers of entry to their culture, both by embracing the natural barriers that come with specialization, and by enforcing the standards and practices of the cultures they created.

Anyone can specialize, as long as they’re committed enough. And those who specialize can always return to the surface level. But the specialized depths of fandom are the domain of the highly committed. It’s not to keep people out, but to keep commitment, passion, and a non-judgmental atmosphere in.