The Fanboys Are Back In Town Dept.

Okay. This could get bristly.

A while back I started learning the C# programming language —

(okay, okay, don't freak out, this is going somewhere)

— for the sake of rewriting a major website project which had been languishing in disrepair for entirely too long. I had a good teacher — or at the very least, a good inspirational guru, a professional programmer who was as interested in the philosophy of programming as the mechanics. This was, as I found, a fancy way of saying he had a morbid fascination with the way programming as a job can turn into a sixteen-car pileup.

I'd already known about the Mythical Man-Month long before I met him, so I was familiar with the whole fallacy of how throwing more programmers at a job that's behind schedule only tends to make it even more behind schedule. From him, though, I learned about Parkinson's Law of Triviality, a/k/a "bikeshedding". To quote Le Wiki:

Parkinson dramatizes his Law of Triviality with a committee's deliberations on a nuclear power plant, contrasting it to deliberation on a bicycle shed. A nuclear reactor is used as example because it is so vastly expensive and complicated that average people cannot understand it, so they assume that those working on it understand it. Even those with strong opinions often withhold them for fear of being shown to be insufficiently informed. On the other hand, everyone understands a bicycle shed (or thinks he or she does), so building one can result in endless discussions because everyone involved wants to add his or her touch and show that they have contributed.

You know what else that sounds like to me? Fandom, at its worst.

Most every fan discussion that generates heat turns into a bikeshed argument by default. The more of an emotional stake each side perceives to have in the argument, the faster this happens. The biggest reason it turns into a bikeshed argument is because fans believe they, of all people, understand the True Implications of the issue they are discussing by dint of merely being a fan. Their passion, in their minds, can be substituted one-for-one with actual experience with the topic at hand.

Because fandom is about passion, the more passionate the defense of a given position, the more right it is. This has led, in my time, to out-and-out screaming matches over any number of issues:

  • right-to-left printing vs. left-to-right
  • subs vs. dubs
  • the faithfulness vs. the readability of a translation
  • fansubs vs. piracy
  • the legitimacy of fanfiction
  • how members of a particular fandom are all clearly God's chosen idiots
  • why groping someone unsolicited at a con is not remotely excusable in any context

This isn't to say that any of these issues has been settled, save almost certainly the last one. (The fansub-vs.-piracy issue is still virulent as hell after all these decades, and I don't expect it to ever die down completely.)

It's that any discussion of them needs to be informed by both facts and a degree of respect for the other guy, which also means being willing to admit you're wrong. I prefer right-to-left formatting, but I'm not going to scream that the left-to-right formatted version of Blade of the Immortal is an abomination in the face of the Lord, especially not when the author himself asked that the book be released that way in English.

(This inevitably cues up another all-too-familiar argument: The Creator Doesn't Always Know Best, which is such a headache to even mention that I'll save detailed discussion of it for another essay.)

I learned the hard way that you cannot swap passion for experience, one-for-one, which is why I spend at least as much time reading about Japan generally, for context, as I do experiencing its actual cultural products. Not just for the sake of getting this or that in-joke, but so that I know when I'm obviously in over my head on a given subject and need to turn to an actual expert, instead of opening a Pandora's Box of wild-ass guesswork.

I also remind myself that a lot of what I know is not firsthand knowledge, but distillations (and sometimes distillations of distillations). With that will come bias that I might not even realize I have acquired. It helps to remember that your opinions are just that, opinions, and when the facts show them to be baseless you have to scrap them and move on. (To wit: Louis-Fedinand Céline's antisemitism, which I still find hard to deal with but at least I know now I have a context for it.)

More than almost anywhere else in manga/anime fandom, I see bikeshedding in the translation issue. This is something I have discussed before. I see fans with a working knowledge of Japanese made up mainly of trivia and footnotes arguing the finer points of translations with paid professionals who do more paid translating in a month than these people read in their entire career. This isn't to say that amateurs sometimes have a point about this or that translation being lousy, but it's bad faith to assume pros are a) malicious or b) have no idea what they're doing simply because they're "not a fan."

(As if being a fan and a pro, in different contexts, is somehow mutually exclusive.)

It's even worse when the translators cave in to such bitchery and start to believe that yes, they are Doing It Wrong, and the end result is translations that are fan-friendly without being reader-friendly. The less likely a title is to break wide, the greater the temptation to translate it in a fandom-centric way ... and the greater the chance of producing a translation that will be downright unreadable to anyone else. I don't know if this was what happened with Ōoku, but I'd bet at least my lunch money on it.

I'm not arguing that all fandom is like this, or that it is an inevitable consequence of fandom. I've been in more than a few tough, heated discussions that never sunk to that level.

But that requires some understanding on everyone's part that it can sink to that level, that you need to work to not let it sink to that level, and that the difference between a discussion and an argument is that everyone understands nobody needs to win at the former.

The arrogance of ignorance builds many nests in our world, but it seldom rests as comfortably in them as it does in fandom simply because there are so many opportunities for peer reinforcement.

To sum up: You can still be a fan without having anything to prove. All it takes is practice.

Tags: dharma fandom sociology

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This page contains a single entry by Serdar in the category Uncategorized / General, published on May 31, 2010 6:38 PM.

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