The recent post poll results were unexpected.  It says something about the participants that the nearly universal suggestion was Plan 9 From Outer Space.  At some point, I’ll get into this more deeply (shortest: you guys are disturbed; less short: disturbed is okay – I am too – but you’re still disturbed).  That’s not where I’m going today, however.  For reasons difficult to explain, it made me think of this article by Patton Oswalt, which encouraged me to write this post to try and worm that out of my noggin.  Apologies for the resulting nature of the beast.  I’m all over the place here.

The problem with the Internet, however, is that it lets anyone become otaku about anything instantly. In the ’80s, you couldn’t get up to speed on an entire genre in a weekend. You had to wait, month to month, for the issues of Watchmen to come out. We couldn’t BitTorrent the latest John Woo film or digitally download an entire decade’s worth of grunge or hip hop. Hell, there were a few weeks during the spring of 1991 when we couldn’t tell whether Nirvana or Tad would be the next band to break big. Imagine the terror!

But then reflect on the advantages. Waiting for the next issue, movie, or album gave you time to reread, rewatch, reabsorb whatever you loved, so you brought your own idiosyncratic love of that thing to your thought-palace. People who were obsessed with Star Trek or the Ender’s Game books were all obsessed with the same object, but its light shone differently on each person. Everyone had to create in their mind unanswered questions or what-ifs. What if Leia, not Luke, had become a Jedi? What happens after Rorschach’s journal is found at the end of Watchmen? What the hell was The Prisoner about?

Now, with everyone more or less otaku and everything immediately awesome (or, if not, just as immediately rebooted or recut as a hilarious YouTube or Funny or Die spoof), the old inner longing for more or better that made our present pop culture so amazing is dwindling.

I have some issues with Patton’s piece, but I do think he is onto something.  The signaling devices are out of tune.  One cannot determine from the presence of a “Star Wars” t-shirt if the guy you just bumped into at a neighborhood gathering is a “weak otaku” or not.

But this doesn’t mean that all signaling is gone, which is where he goes south.

It just means that the noise is a bit more pervasive, and one must tune one’s instruments a tad… and really, Star Wars wasn’t a great signal to begin with, was it?  Comments like this one illustrate that there are still mighty otaku out there, and that there are in fact ways to spot them without huge difficulty.

This tied into the Plan 9 bit above when I thought of this:

Signals You Like Bad Movies

  • Worst sign: “I like Police Academy 4
  • Bad sign: “I like The Rocky Horror Picture Show
  • Good sign: “I like Plan 9 From Outer Space!”
  • Better sign: “I like Attack of the Killer Tomatoes!”
  • Best sign: “I like Cannibal Women in the Avocado Jungle Of Death!”

Plan 9 From Outer Space is indeed a bad movie.  It’s a really bad movie.  If you’re a fan of bad movies, you’ve probably seen it, and you’ve probably enjoyed it.  The problem, however, is that everyone knows it’s the quintessential bad science fiction movie.  So if your “bad movie otaku” is weak, you’ve probably still seen Plan 9 From Outer Space, and you’ll probably still say you like it.  On the other hand, if someone tells me, “I loved Cannibal Women in the Avocado Jungle of Death, because it’s terrible and it has Karen Waldron in it and I loved her in The New Adventures of Beans Baxter.  Plus, Shannon Tweed!  Adrienne Barbeau!  ADRIENNE MOFREAKIN’ BARBEAU!”… well, that tells me the “bad movie otaku” is freaking strong with this one.

Of course, I immediately became enamored of this idea, and I came up with a few others.

Signals You Like Comic Books

  • Worst sign: “I like the Spider Man movies”
  • Bad sign: “I like X-men”
  • Good sign: “I like the Golden Age version of The Green Lantern the best”
  • Better sign: “I liked Suicide Squad”
  • Best sign: “I own the entire run of Grimjack”

Signals You Like Science Fiction, video

  • Worst sign: “I liked Avatar
  • Bad sign: “I like Star Wars
  • Good sign: “I like Star Trek
  • Better sign: “My favorite Star Trek episode is (any one not “The Trouble with Tribbles”)… but (enumerated list <10) are all contenders”
  • Best sign: “I love Space:1999

Signals You Like Science Fiction, literature

  • Worst sign: “I like I Am Legend
  • Bad sign: “I like Ender’s Game
  • Good sign: “I like the Miles Vorkosigan books”
  • Better sign: “I like The Foundation
  • Best sign: “I love Howard Waldrop”

It’s not necessarily that any of the things in question are bad things, or even bad exemplars of the class of thing you’re talking about.  It’s because the signaling value is less than one would like it to be, if one was using it as a signaling device.  Offer your own otaku signaling ratings in the comments, would you?

(edited to add) Apologies to Brother Jaybird for double-posting on Tuesday.  I probably should have saved this for Thursday, it likely would have benefited from some polishing, too.  Sometimes you have to get something out of your head.  (/edited)

(edited again) I inverted otaku to okatu at least 50% of the time in the post and in the comments.  Clearly, I am not a real Japanophile. (/edited)


Patrick is a mid-40 year old geek with an undergraduate degree in mathematics and a master's degree in Information Systems. Nothing he says here has anything to do with the official position of his employer or any other institution.


  1. I’ve got two off the bat. The first:

    Signals You’re A Jazz Fan:

    Worst Sign: I like Kenny G
    Bad Sign: I listen to the smooth jazz station when I’m relaxing
    Good Sign: I like Miles Davis…
    Better Sign: … but I mostly like the stuff Miles did with Thelonius Monk
    Best Sign: Here’s I rank all of the Marsalis Brothers by composition quality, and improvisational ability

    • Ooo. That’s good. I like Miles and Bird, and I’m at best a “good possibly better” Jazz fan. Aces.

    • I am thinking that the ultimate otaku signal may be in the response, not in the statement. If they quibble/argue/specify/challenge a Best Sign? Yeah, that one’s probably otaku.

      (I may or may not be posting this as a response to the comment above because I may or may not have reflexively spat out “the MARSALIS brothers?” and started listing more appealing-to-me alternatives, albeit with a caveat that I still like Branford all right, after reading said comment. And then I may or may not have scolded myself for still holding a musical grudge I should’ve grown out of by now. And then I may or may not have reminded myself that as someone who really falls more into the “Better” category of jazz otaku, I’m not even familiar with half the Marsalis brothers’ work, and should simmer down.)

        • Yeah, I thought so too.

          I admit, this was a feature I was thinking would get play earlier in the commentary. I mean, I got one mild snark about Space 1999.

          Either my signals are spot on, or… something. Not sure what.

          Always glad to have a Maribou comment!

          • 🙂

            Obviously, the point is not whether one *agrees* with the signal chosen, but how effective of a signal it is. I took the examples chosen as illustrative rather than limiting. (Or at least, that’s why I didn’t complain about your choices/ranking of SF writers :D.) Just couldn’t resist posting once I realized I had an actual theory, and not just quibbles.

          • > Obviously, the point is not whether
            > one *agrees* with the signal chosen,
            > but how effective of a signal it is.

            Yes, absolutely.

            You don’t have to find Waldrop to be a great science fiction writer. But he’s hardly a name that pops into a casual SF reader’s head.

  2. And second:

    Signals that You Actually Like Westerns:

    Worst Sign: “Charlie Sheen was cute in Young Guns!”
    Bad Sign: “The Magnificent Seven was great because…”
    Good Sign: “Hathaway’s vision of Rooster Cogbun was superior to the one be the Cohen Brothers, because…”
    Better Sign: “I think that the Eastwood character in Pale Rider is the true decedent of the Sergio Leones unnamed man character, not the one from Unforgiven, because…”
    Best Sign: “No, here’s why the John Wayne character lets Jimmy Stewart get the credit for shooting Liberty Valance, and how it ties into the transition out of “mythos” in the old west…”

    • Space 1999, UFO, the Planet of the Apes or Logan’s Run TV knock-offs… Really, any TV show where people regularly wore jump suits AND turtlenecks can go in the Best slot.

      • Gawd. Space 1999…. That’s one of those that, much like Space Cruiser Yamato, I can never watch again because I know it won’t be as good as my younger self thought it was.

        • I own the boxed set of Space: 1999, and it holds up as well as can be expected given the quality of the special effects and the occasional lack of science credibility.

          If you can watch old Star Trek episodes and enjoy them, you can still watch Space: 1999.

          • “and the occasional lack of science credibility.”

            Like how an explosion that knocks the moon millions of lightyears away doesn’t also kill everyone living on it. For example.

            Still, I did love it growing up. Especially when they got rid of the old doctor and replaced him with the hot alien who turned into animals.

          • Still (given the contemporaries) they had more credible science on average than most.

          • Oh, no doubt. I LOVED the show. I haven’t seen an episode in over 30 years, and I still remember so many details. Like there’s this one time (oh boy, her I go) where they did this knock off of the Star Trek Abraham Lincoln Fight Klingons episode, where Alan and Maya are forced to combat aliens with Special Powers because they killed a plant, and plants rule this planet they’re on.

            And what I remember most about this episode is that when the aliens contact them, they look on their little computer screen and it’s just this picture of a bunch of trees. And I giggled uncontrollably and my sister asked what was so funny, and I kept saying that Maya and Alan had been caught by the Knights Who Say Ni.

            Is this story a metaphor, or insightful, or even interesting? Nope, but it sits pretty high up in my memory banks anyway.

          • Loved Space 1999 years ago, but sadly i don’t think it has held up. Lots of cool bits though. I still affirm my love of UFO though.

    • Say that again on Thursday if I draw a blank for that day’s post.

      • This week can only handle so much geek fodder and the final episode of this Doctor Who season is on Saturday. Be gentle, several dimensions of geeks are at risk.

        • I’ve never been a citizen of Whoville. I’ve long debated it.

          • The first dose is free….

            It is a good thing. Relatively easy to get into, plenty of episodes to view, lots of fun, internecine geek wars of the highest order but you don’t have take it seriously at all. If its your cup of tea, you will love it.

          • Otaku can go Wild. There are a lot of Doctor Who episodes.

            I don’t know that I have the time.

          • While in college and for a little while after, I watched it from the first (what they’ve still had of his tapes) to part of the fifth. Dropped out until Sylvester McCoy. Stuck with it until the TV movie. Haven’t touched it since.

            This gives me the dubious honor of being able to say “I liked Doctor Who before it became mainstream.”.

          • Pat, my recommendation would be to just start in with the reboot – maybe even with season 2 or so. I don’t think you need to comb the whole oeuvre to enjoy it.

          • Sir, I posit that you don’t know the sort of exception scenario I’m talking about, here.

            I beat Populous.

            If I start watching Doctor Who, I’m going to start at the beginning. It wouldn’t be right, otherwise.

  3. I think that there’s a problem with the Zen thing for many of these.

    Fantasy Novels:

    Worst sign: “I like The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings“
    Bad sign: “I like the Dragonlance Chronicles“
    Good sign: “I like The Belgariad”
    Better sign: “I like Terry Pratchett“
    Best sign: “I like The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings“

    • Good point.

      Then the next best sign is the second answer to the question, right?

      • I’d put that in “bad sign”.

        I’d worry that the person would attempt to. And wouldn’t stop. And I’d go to the bathroom and be in a stall and he’d be standing there in front of the mirror and still quoting it.

      • Speaking Klingon signals something different than being a more general Star Trek fan. Or even a “I know the episodes by name” Star Trek fan.

        Quoting the Silmarillion would be like that.

    • Best Sign: Gandalf the Gray was SO MUCH better than Gandalf the White.
      (Radagast Rocks!)

  4. Best Sign for Comic books: I miss “Beautiful Stories for Ugly Children”

    Tod Kelly wins the thread for the analysis of TMWSLV.

  5. Pro Wrestling –

    Worst sign – “Isn’t it all fake?”
    Bad sign – “I watched a few Rock matches on the dorm TV ’cause everyone else was…”
    Good sign – “Rey Mysterio Jr. is an awesome wrestler!”
    Better sign – “Here, watch this Dragon Gate six-man and follow it up with Flair vs. Steamboat from ’89.”
    Best sign – “Ya’ see, when you compare the booking of mid-80’s Mid-South and compared it to mid-90’s All Japan, there’s actually some similarities…”

    • Keeping it to Monday Nights:

      Worst sign – “My favorite part is cheering John Cena.”
      Bad sign – “My favorite part is cheering The Rock.”
      Good sign – “My favorite part is cheering Rey Mysterio Jr.”
      Better sign – “My favorite part is cheering CM Punk.”
      Best sign – “My favorite part is booing John Cena.”

  6. Signals You Care About the Academy Awards:

    Worst Sign: “ Avatar was robbed.”
    Bad Sign: “ The Sixth Sense was robbed.”
    Good Sign: “ Brokeback Mountain was robbed.”
    Better Sign: “Everything except Forrest Gump was robbed.”
    Best Sign: “Imelda Staunton was robbed.”

  7. Where is it on the Star Wars signs if you can tell a person which Infinities (The Star Wars version of What If?/Eleseworlds) had Leia become Yoda’s Apprentice?

    (She also became Darth Vader’s Apprentice in another Infinities.)

    • I think you’re passing into “Speaking Klingon” or “Quoting the Silmarillion” territory there.

      Hm. I think I need to do a post on Otaku Gone Bad.

        • Maybe I need to write a post about *that*, too.

          Otaku is a natural feature of the nerd/geek section of humanity. Inasmuch as any natural feature of any section of humanity reflects humanity, it’s less about “goodness” than it is just an observation about best being yourself, I’d say. Which is good, right? Even if the expression itself is value neutral.

          But there’s definitely otaku gone bad. Or wild, at least.

  8. Worst sign: “I hate Barry Bonds“
    Bad sign: “I hate A-Rod“
    Good sign: “I hate Dave Kingman”
    Better sign: “I hate Cap Anson“
    Best sign: “I hate Charles Comiskey”

  9. Shounen Anime:
    Worst Sign: I Like Pokemon
    Bad Sign: I like Dragonball Z
    Good Sign: I like One Piece.
    Better Sign: I like YuYuHakusho
    Best Sign: I like Hunter X Hunter.

  10. What kind of sign is it that I had no idea what ‘otaku/okatu’ meant before reading this post (but I can kinda grok it from the context)?)

    • Which reminds me:

      Worst Sign: I Like Starship Troopers (the movie)
      Bad Sign: I Like Stranger in a Strange Land
      Good Sign:I Like Starship Troopers (the book)
      Better Sign: I like The Moon is a Harsh Mistress
      Best Sign: I like Citizen of the Galaxy

      • I like “The Cat Who Walks Through Walls.”

        (Was kind of “meh” on “Job,” tho. And “Stranger in a Strange Land” is one of my least favorites.”

        • I like “The Cat Who Walks Through Walls.”

          The consensus on that one is that it jumped the shark when the lady was reveled to be Hazel Stone (of The Moon is a Harsh Mistress and The Rolling Stones), as needing to tie every fishing thing you ever wrote into one continuity is the key sign of senility in SF writers.

          • Yeah, but the rest of the book is pretty awesome.

            I like TCWWTW in spite of that gratuitously unnecessary continuity bit.

          • I hated it from beginning to end. The dialogue at the start was so coy and so arch that I wanted to vomit.

            But that’s just me.

          • Well, crap. Now I feel like I have to reread it and see if it sucked more than I remember.

            Maybe I should have said “Have Spacesuit, Will Travel”?

          • I loved that one and the juveniles in general . The Star Beast (he actually got “raising John Thomases” past the censor), Starman Jones (even with computers that can’t translate between decimal and binary), Tunnel in the Sky, The Rolling Stones, and so on.

    • What kind of sign is it that I had no idea what ‘otaku/okatu’ meant before reading this post (but I can kinda grok it from the context)?)

      that you’re a functional human being?

      all joking aside, the oswalt essay is some of the most ridiculous, reactionary drivel, and a sentiment which keeps popping up everywhere (especially in music criticism/fandom). beyond the whole “15 year old you had a lot more free time than 35 year old you” issue (which we sidestep for convenience despite its central importance), this line of thinking is akin to the “good old days” type nostalgia people rightfully decry for having never actually been.

      it’s absurd.

      too much stuff? work harder on your own filters. read only one book for a month. listen to only one album for a week. do your own work, and the rest of us will enjoy the smorgasboard away from the middlebrow garments being rent.

    • this means that your Japanese Knowledge stat is Zed (if you don’t know what Zed is, your English stat is halved).
      *gamer grin*

  11. Signals that you like Japanese Monster movies:

    Worst sign: I like King Kong movies
    Bad sign: I like Godzilla movies
    Good sign: I like Gamera movies
    Better sign: I like the Mothra movies
    Best sign: I felt sorry for Sanda having to fight his brother Gaira in Frankestien Monsters: Sanda vs Garia (aka The War of the Gargantuans).

  12. Shoujo Anime:
    Worst Sign: I like Sailor Moon!
    Bad Sign: I like Card Captor Sakura!
    Good Sign: I like Witch Hunter Robin!
    Better Sign: I like Escaflowne!
    Best Sign: I Like Kodomo no Omocha!

    [note: anyone who’s capable of discussing lesbian relationships in Sailor Moon gets a pass. the show was much more … mature in japanese.]

    [ya, I’m just using this to haul out some of the best shows i have ever watched.]

  13. I like watching Japanese people cringe when Americans use the word “otaku” to describe themselves. Taro Aso notwithstanding, it still doesn’t have the most wholesome of connotations, especially among older people.

    • Rofl! That’s part of the fun!
      I mean… look at what they did to Christmas — turnabout’s fair play.

      (also, you lose major geek cred points if you don’t understand that otaku really is something cringeworthy).

    • Anime, Japanese-language focused:

      Worst: “I just watch dubs.”
      Bad: “shee-nay, you bocka!”
      Good: “so desu ka.”
      Better: “sore ga, doshita?”
      Best: “I stopped trying after I accidentally told my girlfriend she smelled like a garbage truck.”

  14. Can we all just step back and marvel at the comment thread on this post? Nothing will confirm that the LOOG readers and contributors are a collection of glorious nerds quite like everyone falling all over themselves to point out how dweeby they are, and how exacting they are in their standards for evaluating the dweebishness of others.

    Truly, a wonderful and heartening sight.

  15. Signals You Like Science Fiction, video

    Worst sign: “I liked Avatar“
    Bad sign: “I like Star Wars“
    Good sign: “I like Star Trek“
    Better sign: “My favorite Star Trek episode is (any one not “The Trouble with Tribbles”)… but (enumerated list <10) are all contenders”
    Best sign: “I love Space:1999“

    Where would “My favorite Star Trek episode is ‘The Trouble with Tribbles” put you?

    • If you don’t already know the answer to that question, deduct 2 points from your “Nerd Kr3d” skill.

      • Au contraire perhaps I’m saying it ironically to gauge the general otaku-level of the room, in which case wouldn’t that make me super nerd? The level of nerd understanding required to make such a statement boggles the mind.

        Seriously though, I like the episode of TNG where Worf says, “You are not Fek’lhr!” In particular, I like the part where Worf says, “You are not Fek’lhr!” Plus, it has the added bonus of being a Q episode.

    • Chtorr…. You get put in the creepy bin where you get sentient fungi all over you.

  16. Here’s my take on Japanese nerdry:

    Worst sign: “OMG, I loooove sushi!“
    Bad sign: “I heard they say in Japan, the nail that sticks out gets hammered.“ (not actually said by any Japanese people ever.)
    Good sign: “That Takeshi’s Castle show is hilarious“ (actually, was hilarious, since it’s from the 80s.)
    Better sign: “Ya know, I kind of liked Yabu” (from Shogun) or “Have you seen the latest Zatoichi?” (which I highly recommend, along with Ran and Rashomon and any other Kurosawa Akira films. Srsly, Best Director Ever.
    Best sign: “Think lightly of yourself and deeply of the world”

    • Where does “Yeah, when I was in college,we lived on ramen” go?

      • Actually knowing “ramen” is Japanese gets at least a “good sign”.

      • “Where does “Yeah, when I was in college,we lived on ramen” go?””

        Well, we’ve gone everywhere else in this thread…

        My boys have started to like generic grocery store Ramen as a snack. And here’s the freaky thing: At the grocery store it’s always on sale, and you can always pick up 10 for $1. When I was in college, I ate generic Ramen because it was always on sale – 10 for $1!!!!

        Generic Ramen, for some reason, defies the tradition laws of economics. I think this needs serious study. Switching from a monetary based system to a Ramen based system in Healthcare, for example, might solve all of our issues there.

        • This might say something about what’s in Ramen today, vs. what was in Ramen 10/20 years ago.

          For the record, I’m given to understand from people who like Ramen that “good” Ramen is indeed as pricey as one might expect, and that the 10 for $1 stuff isn’t proper Ramen.

          I’d care, except I don’t.

          • As a confessed ‘foodie’ AND someone who lived off of the stuff in college, I think the trick is to think of the store bought cheap packets as not really Ramen, but a tasty comfort foodstuff that has the same name as Ramen. Kind of like with McDonalds and hamburgers.

          • the nissin ramen makes good hiking food, eaten without cooking. lightweight, relatively fatty

        • When Ramen prices went above 10-15c a pack on to 25-33c, I lost a little bit of faith in the United States of America.

          This sounds facetious, but it’s not. The absurdly low Ramen prices were really one of the things I loved about this country. A meal for ten cents, two millionths of our median household income. God Bless America.

          The America that used to be…

          Spam price hikes hurt, too.

          • I agree with you on the Ramen, but I oppose you on the Spam. I think the government should tax it more to discourage its consumption.

            It’s nasty.

            (FWIW, my dad was the only person I know that came out of WWII liking army food. {My grandmother was a truly horrible cook.} So we grew up having a lot of Spam, which was relatively OK because if it was Spam night we knew it couldn’t be Creamed Chipped Beef on Toast night, which was the worst of all.)

          • Tch. try scrapple sometime, if you’ve got the stomach.
            and I like creamed chipped beef. (and Kenyan Espresso. Don’t Judge Me ; – ) )

          • I’m not judging you, Kimmi. But I’m letting you know – there is help. You just need to ask.

            Friends don’t let friends eat creamed chipped beef on toast.

          • Ha! I was about to bring up scrapple! Amazing stuff. And chipped beef. Yum. A funny story I might write on sometime, but when I was young I thought that both were the grub of classy people.

          • … tod, who mentioned toast?
            I hate soggy bread. Of course, good toast is impossible to get soggy…

  17. Hrm. In addition to wine posts, we may need the occasional food post.

    “Chikin in a Biskit crackers with cheese in a can. Yes? Or Hell Yes?”

  18. Worst Sign: I like Northern BBQ.
    Bad Sign: BBQ tastes like ketchup
    Good Sign: BBQ is mustard based, right?
    Better Sign: BBQ had better have a dry rub on it.
    Best Sign: Nobody puts sauce on my BBQ!

    And with this, I’d better run. I know there are folks from all round the south on this board. (me? I’m just from da burgh. but I know good food when I see it.)

    • We eat our steak Santa Maria style out here in SoCal, Kimmi. Works good for ribs, too. Marinade is acceptable, but pat it dry with a few paper towels and don’t skimp on the spice rub.

      • Marinades are only barely acceptable in Santa Maria style, and *never* on tri-tip or ribeye (the most proper two cuts of meat for Santa Maria style).

        As a fellow veteran of the oak pit wars I’ll defend Santa Maria style cooking to the death, but will also acknowledge that it falls into what most of the rest of the country calls “grillin'” not “BBQ.”

        And seriously, who doesn’t put *any* sauce on real BBQ? Even in North Carolina they toss a bit of cider vinegar infused with red pepper on their pork…

        • Texas Hill Country, where they practice the high art of BBQ. (well, there’s sauce on the side, but nobody’s using it, and they serve the whole thing on butcher paper with a side of wonderbread).

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