Sunday, May 31, 2015

A Short Critical Analysis of The Weeaboo

I remember weeaboos. Back in my highschool days they seemed to be everywhere, although that’s probably because I actually had a steak in the Anime community in those days. But then again, that was ten years ago and people didn’t call them weeaboos in those days — merely Japanophiles. Still, in my teenage years I remember being annoyed by these supposedly ardent Japanophiles, who would insert random bits of Japanese language into their sentences and day dream about one day owning and operating a café in Osaka, despite never having worked a job, with their Japanese wife or hubby, despite never having met an actual Japanese person, who would somehow resemble their favourite shojo manga character (look it up) despite never having been to Japan. The following music video by "Filthy Frank" offers a look at how the weeaboo is popularly conceptualized. That someone would dislike weeaboos to the point that they saw fit to compose and perform a song and edit the video for it speaks volumes of the disdain weeaboo's garner. 



In those days, being a teenager who was still “finding myself” I was not well enough equipped with theory and critical analysis or even a strong sense of self identity, to be able to engage my dislike in any meaningful way. Simply put, I didn’t know why I disliked weeaboos, I just knew that something about those folks just didn’t sit well with me. It didn’t help that I was on the cusp of being one and that I so frequently encountered them, watching a fair bit of Anime myself.

Now however, I have spent the last several years of my life studying all about Japan, China and Korea in great detail (I’ve also lived in South Korea for over a year) and am equipped with an honour’s degree in East Asian Studies. Armed with much theoretical discourse, I can finally and properly articulate what it is about weeaboos that I don’t only dislike but what may be empirically problematic about them.

Found this on some image sharing website. Seems that people spend as much energy attempting to differentiate themselves from weeaboos as they do hating them.
I’ve noticed that there are a number of subjective and informal analyses of weeaboos online and while these range from amusing to almost uncomfortably hate-filled, I thought it would be interesting to attempt to use some of the academic theory I learned during my time as an East Asian Studies Specialist undergrad to explain why the weaboo is so widely reviled. Because . . . it’s fun! And also because while a lot of abuse is hurled at these folks, there doesn’t seem to be much effort spent on attempting to understand why these people are so, for lack of a better word, annoying.  

For the purpose of this analysis, the weeaboo shall be defined in the broadest terms:

The term is most often used to denote fanatical fans of Japanese Manga (comics/graphic novels) and Animation, who accept the reality presented in these mediums as an accurate portrayal of the reality of Japanese life. I would argue that it could easily be used to categorize anyone who has a disproportionate interest in a certain aspect of a culture coupled with a stubbornness which allows for cultural tunnel vision. This, I imagine, is why the weeaboo garners so much vitriol in online discourse.

Found this image on knowyourmeme.com. Weeaboo memes are not exactly difficult to find.
The weeaboo, often lacking any real experience within the cultural space they are attempting to engage forgo critical inquiry for the fictional representations presented in mass material culture, in this case, anime or manga.

In the realm of acadamia, particularly undergraduate East Asian Studies, the weeaboo tends to be the butt-end of many jokes. Calling a member of the East Asian Studies community a weeaboo is like calling a doctor a quack, or a writer a hack, implying that their body of research is less-than-credible and overly fixated on one topic while totally ignoring the broader complex narratives of the countries in question. This may be because many committed East Asian Studies scholars may have either been weeaboos at one time or another and/or have had the unfortunate experience of having to engage weeaboos in the most mundane of arguments on something that could easily be disproved or answered by glancing at a Wikipedia article or sitting in on a first-year lecture.

Don't know who Haruhi is but another good example of vitriol. 
For example, there are some weeaboos who seem to believe (and will attempt to convince you) that Ninjas still exist in Japan. In EAS we learn that most published contemporary sources on Ninjas (especially those published in English) contain speculative and therefore dubious information at best and that one of the few things we actually do know about Ninjas is their fall from prominence during the reign of Oda Nobunaga in the mid to late 1500’s. I digress . . .    

More to the frustration of East Asian Studies scholars and it would seem, people in general, the weeaboo fixates on the elements of culture, often specifically material-culture, that he or she finds ideal. The weeaboo tends to take these ideal elements and whether consciously or unconsciously treats them as the embodiment of that culture as a whole.

For example a weeaboo may watch an anime — let’s call it Gentlemen’s Flower Café — about a bunch of handsome and sensitive young gentlemen high school students who open a pastel coloured café together in Saitama (which, in this case happens to be a bright and pastel coloured city) and have all sorts of wonderful romantic adventures with their mostly female clientele who also happen to be comprised mostly of students from their same high school. The weeaboo may watch Gentlemen’s Flower Café and believe (or in fact “force” themselves to believe) that in Japan, high school is a time for leisure and romance wherein students are afforded enough time to run their own businesses if they so desired. This is of course despite the fact the in Japan, high school students either often live with their parents and spend much of their time in cram-schools intensely studying (or sleeping) in order to pass demanding University entrance exams or are heavily marginalized “delinquents”. Again I digress. . .      

Found "weeaboo bingo" around numerous websites. Again, I didn't have to look far. (click to enlarge)
By this process the weeaboo views their culture of interest as also being ideal and will defend it vehemently if it comes under criticism whether that criticism is constructive, educated or otherwise. It is the combination of the weeaboo’s fixation on ideal cultural elements combined with his/her’s lack of lived experience within that national space that leads to a shared sense among weeaboos that Japan is somehow the perfect country and can do no wrong. One of the major criticisms I have seen against weeaboos is that they tend to share the unconditional belief that living in Japan is preferable to living outside of it.

Whether or not this is actually true on a quality of life scale, this phenomenon likely occurs because the weeaboo, like everyone else in their country of origin are exposed to the successes and failures of their society on a daily basis. However, as the weeaboo has likely not lived in Japan for any extended period of time they have not yet been exposed to the myriad success and failings of Japanese society and so tend to view the country through rose-tinted glasses. This is frustrating to a lot of people, largely, I imagine, because there is no such thing as a perfect country. Japan, like every other nation it the world is full of things both awesome and awful. Every country is like this. This is not a subjective statement, it is empirical. If you don’t agree you are in denial.

Apparently this is something some weeaboo's actually do.
The other major criticism I have seen brought against weeaboos is their tendency to insert bits of Japanese grammar and vocabulary into otherwise English sentences. In linguistics this is called “code-switching”, only that linguists argue that effective code-switching requires genuine proficiency in both languages. In most cases, the weeaboo lacks genuine proficiency in Japanese, I suspect because this would likely involve real contact with actual natives of Japan potentially putting the weeaboo’s carefully constructed alternative reality at risk of being shattered. As for inserting bits of a language they cannot comprehend well enough to have a basic conversation into their everyday speech. . . I’m baffled and, I imagine, so are the people who must interact with them.

Still, I understand that it is likely this has much to do with a feeling that if one incorporates bits of Japanese into their speech it may bring them closure to Japan or Japaneseness. Of course actually learning the language in earnest would help this to a much greater degree, however, real language acquisition is a long uphill battle that requires much time and discipline and as far as I can tell weeaboos aren’t exactly known to carry these traits. Unless it relates to reading manga or watching anime.

Found this on westerngirleasternboy.com. Pretty much sums it up. Although I guess I'm arguing that you do have the right to "knock that" or at least a number of good reason. Koreaboo is also the name of a pretty good Korean media blog as indicated on this gif.
While initially the term weeaboo was used exclusively for those fetishizing Japanese cultural aspects, in recent years, the online community has seen a rise in number of what some people refer to as the “koreaboo”. The koreaboo is someone who fixates more often on the fantastic quasi-realities of South Korean culture presented in Korean pop music videos, melodramas and variety shows as representative of the reality of life in South Korea. This recent phenomenon has become much more frequent in the wake of the “Korean Wave” or Hallyu which is purported to have hit North America in 2009. Aside from the difference in national space, the behaviour of the koreaboo is very similar to that of the weeaboo, fetishizing elements of South Korean culture that feature most prominently in K-pop videos and Korean melodramas.  

To sum up, weeaboos are annoying because they consume Japanese mass media, fetishize or isolate the elements they find ideal within that piece of media and take it as representative of the contemporary reality of Japan as a whole. This is of course despite that piece of media being heavily dramatized or simply total fantasy. What is especially annoying from the East Asian Studies perspective is that they do this while ignoring myriad credible sources of information easily available in English through electronic or print sources largely written and researched by actual specialists in Japan and abroad.

This is a panel I found on funnyjunk.com titled Logic of a Weeaboo. The entire strip is available here.
While weeaboos are often shrugged off as being annoying “geeks” with their “heads in the clouds” weeaboos can actually be a serious problem in some cases. In worst case scenarios weeaboodom can embody a kind of orientalism, racism or even a kind of bizarre pro-Japanese ultra-nationalism. The weeaboo may opt to celebrate Japanese “otherness” as opposed to attempting to engage meaningfully with the country and culture, reinforcing the popular orientalist notion that Japan is somehow culturally impenetrable or simply at odds with “the west”. The weeaboo may also opt to associate with people of certain cultural backgrounds or ethnicities over others because they perceive some to be closer to the culture of Japan (Asian-Americans for example). Finally the weeaboo may take to online forums or other such outlets and brazenly lambast or chastise others for their perhaps informed and constructive criticisms on such topics as Japanese foreign policy, historical blemishes, social issues etc. (While this has not happened to me personally, I’ve seen actual evidence of this in the past).            

As an East Asian Studies specialist this is unsettling and also having a weeaboo or a koreaboo attempt to inform me on matters pertaining to North East Asia can be excruciating. I imagine it being similar to a licensed chartered accountant being forced to take field advice from a freshmen who is half-way through their first economics class. There is little they can tell me that I don’t already know, and much of the information is usually heavily biased and not well researched. In any case the information they provide almost certainly does not come from a place of experience or critical thinking.

Another weeaboo inspired comic found on imgur. Read the whole thing here.
However, never fear! If you are afraid that you might be a weeaboo or are concerned that someone you know might be turning into a weeaboo or is one, there are a number of ways you can help them. To help you out I have devised a list, though I must admit, these are not sure-fire:

Alex’s Top Five Ways to Cure the Modern Weeaboo

In my experience weeaboodom is most commonly a product of ignorance and limited exposure to Japanese history and sociology coupled with confidence issues and social anxiety. While things like confidence are most often gained through experience and social anxiety can dissipate through similar means, there a few ways you may be able to help yourself or your weeaboo friend.   

1.   Weeaboos are often open to Japanese media. If you can show them a documentary or some such thing on the trials and tribulations of Japanese life, produced by actual Japanese people, you may start them on the path to reform.

2.      Enroll them in East Asian Studies. As the vice-president of my student union who grew up in Japan and hates weeaboos once said “If you take East Asian Studies it’s impossible to be a weeaboo. You just know too much and there’s no going back.”

3.      Buy them books on Japanese history and society and remind them if they actually care about Japan as much as they profess to, they should do some actual reading about it that extends beyond the odd Wikipedia post, forum poster or manga adaptation.

4.      Get them into Japanese movies that are not exclusively live-action anime adaptations. Everyone loves movies and there are many Japanese films that deal with all manner of interesting subject matter and contain much social commentary.    

5.      Take them to Japan and force them to live there for at least two months or failing that attempt to introduce them to real and diverse people who grew up in Japan (provided that they can handle basic social situations with some degree of finesse).

At the beginning of this article I mentioned that back in high school, 10 years ago now, I was in grave danger of becoming a weeaboo myself. Indeed, I remember envisioning Japan in my adolescent mind as some kind of ultra-modern neon kawaii paradise where there was no poverty and everyone was happy and care-free. The things on this list are what saved me from my own seemingly impending weeabooness. Back then it wasn't until I started doing some serious actual learning about the place that my views became much more balanced and frankly, more healthy. I still have a lot of love for Japan, but I believe that to truly love something you need to accept that it isn’t perfect and has areas in which it can and should improve. Professing to love a country while ignoring its shortcomings is like saying you love a sick friend while refusing to acknowledge that they have a serious yet treatable illness.

So there you have it. I just wrote a 2500 word article on freakin’ weeaboos, proving that you can write a long-winded critical analysis on ANYTHING. More importantly though I feel I have highlighted that even something as seemingly ridiculous and silly as weeaboos are actually relevant to our society despite being the product of a somewhat niche community.  

Originally I wrote this as a sort of satire of academic writing but in writing it I actually realized that I really was making a point. Weeaboodom is actually kind of an interesting problem that is related very much to the Study of East Asia by foreign nationals (like myself). While the weeaboo is denounced as a joke by many and may be seen as an overzealous lover of “the east”, at its core, weeaboodom embodies many of the same orientalist suppositions that lead to discrimination, “othering” and in extreme cases even xenophobic thinking. Egads! 

Anyway, I hope this gave you something for your brains to munch on. Yum yum.

See ya'll next time, when I certainly won't be writing about something relating to Anime.                     

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