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)