Social and political movements eventually reach a point where they cease being about helping people and shift focus toward perpetuating the movement itself. In addition to making them more extreme, this causes them to be more insular and less accepting of people who don’t fit the mold of the ideal member of the movement.
Otaku have endured decades as a social and political scapegoat. Ever since the Tsutomu Miyazaki killings of 1988 and 1989, it’s been a back-and-forth between vilifying otaku and using their culture and cultural products to help the Japanese economy. This occurs on both sides of the Pacific, where Western anime fans are quick to inaccurately assert that “otaku” is a heinous insult in Japan, while continuing to consume media made by and for Japanese otaku.
In today’s politicized world, the habit of politicizing everything has found its way into many niche spaces, including anime. This manifests in many ways, from the political outspoken-ness of prominent figures and the birth of outlets with clear social and political agendas, to the rise of opposition movements and websites, taking opposite political views.
In reality, anime and the culture surrounding it contain plenty of reasons for both ends of the political spectrum to find them objectionable. What’s more, both ends of the spectrum can find enough useful elements of anime culture to use the medium to recruit for their side.
As a result, subcultures external to anime are willing to use it on a surface level in order to advance their own subcultures, but are unwilling to give anything back to anime. Further, political interests, in particular, are especially fickle, as they’ll use the anime subculture to the extent of its usefulness, only to turn around an attack it once it does something that disagrees with the ideology.
Feminists will attack Girls Bravo for its depiction of women, while men’s rights activists will attack Love Hina for its abuse of men. And all the while, otaku are caught in the middle, not knowing which way to look.
In reality all this is not only a distraction, it’s a lure. Movements try to draw us away from our hobbies, promising to advocate for us and our interests in exchange for us dedicating our energy to helping the movement.
And yet, when it comes time to go to bat for otaku, these movements are nowhere to be found. Or worse, they end up our opposition.
Most established social and political movements can easily find reasons to unite against otaku culture. And when they can’t, individuals in leadership roles of those movements will vilify otaku based solely on personal taste. Even those who fight tooth and nail for “free speech” can often be found subjecting otaku culture to undue scrutiny.
Otaku have no political allies. Our culture may find itself in the crosshairs of groups that seek to take shots at it to gain political status. It’s our responsibility to defend our own culture. The enemy of our enemy is not always our friend. We can’t expect those outside our subculture to defend something they have no stake in, no matter how intellectually dishonest it may be for them not to.
Sociopolitical interests have chipped away at otaku culture before, and the only reason they are emboldened to continue doing so is because otaku themselves so rarely fight back. Without true allies, we must be our own advocates. Defense of otaku culture for its own sake, not for the advancement of another ideology that will only betray it down the road. We have a responsibility to preserve our own culture, because nobody will preserve it for us.
For more on this concept, you can listen to NTR Radio episode 80 below.