Culture is a word I haven’t used much when talking about media, which is odd because no better word exists when discussing art and entertainment. We are all consumers of culture. We all give back to culture. Culture is defined by what people choose to consume and what they choose to ignore. It is used to define groups of people who consume a certain type of media that detracts from the mainstream: sub-culture. These are cultures that exist inside the larger cultural body. They are in ways isolated from normal culture but what they consume and create also gives back to the main culture as a whole.
Members of subcultures become blind to the fact that they are part of a subculture. There are a couple of key factors that lead into this kind of thinking. The chief among them is they start spending so much time and energy living in the subculture that they start to believe that everyone else thinks like they do. This happens, especially in the age of the internet, because the deeper they dive into the subculture the more they find and interact with people who think the way they do. This cements them into the subculture, gives them a feeling that they belong, and establishes a world view based around the subculture. Giving people a sense of community is great! But what this breeds is group think; the community becomes an echo chamber because the members of the community are surrounded by the people most likely to agree with them.
In the anime community what this led to is a general acceptance of imagery that would “creep out” the general public. In Video Games it fosters a general bro culture of hate and name calling that perpetuates into a cycle of more hate and name calling. What starts out as a way to get closer to people who have shared interest actually starts to have the opposite effect. These isolated communities start to be walled gardens and the people who are the deepest in the subculture start to no longer be able to relate to normal people.
Anime and Video Games are big enough communities where there is a massive middle ground of people who really like the thing but don’t dig into the sub-culture to a degree where they get consumed by it. Fans who buy into subcultures completely are a percentage of a percentage, almost insignificant. However, because they are the most invested they become the loudest and most visible members of the community. When that core of fans is challenged, that’s when you get the great Internet controversies surrounding those communities.
The last two years has seen a rise in women trying to bring awareness to things they find uncomfortable in gaming culture. The hardcore gaming community sees this as an invasion, a new group of people moving in and trying to change their subculture. They fail to see the problem because the vast majority of their consumption is games, so the only examples they have to draw from is other games. When people come to the medium with other perspectives they can view it in a different light, but just the hint of new perspectives has been enough to drive the gaming community into frenzy.
There is a fundamental misunderstanding about how culture is consumed when these kind of disagreements come up. The person consuming the culture is bringing their personal life experience and their cultural experience into the work. No individual person will view a single piece of culture in exactly the same way. The dismissive hand waving and saying, “I didn’t see it, you must be too sensitive” or a million like variants is dismissive of fact that we bring something unique to all cultural experiences. Worst of all it shuts down the conversation. Disagreements in perspective in media should be used to fuel discussion that can lead to a better understanding of different perspectives and by understanding can broaden the perspective of individuals. The reactions to the core audience in these subculture is effectively shutting down the conversation, limiting their growth, and further cementing themselves
That isn’t where I want to be. That isn’t how I want to go through the world. That doesn’t have to be how anyone goes through the world. We should try to be open minded and accepting of all ideas and peoples. And all type of culture. As geeks we approach the things we love with a powerful enthusiasm. The goal should be to approach everything with that level of enthusiasm.
One thought on “The Problem with Fandom: Cultural Echo Chamber”
you’re right about ‘hardcore gamers’, but I wonder if you’d admit that the ‘geek feminism’ crew often exhibits a similar brand of groupthink.