Some thoughts on anime fans being perceived as "extreme" (2/5/04)
(in response to Michiru, but addressed to all)
One person's "extreme" is another person's "mundane", and vice versa. As far as I'm concerned, there's nothing inherently wrong with that.
It's a tricky subject, and in publicly comparing other people's values against our own, feelings are easily hurt. Just as it's considered impolite to make fun of someone who is not as "into" something as you may be (whether it be anime, cosplay, internet use, sports, whatever), I think we should be similarly careful about the judgements we make towards people more "extreme" than us.
I think we've already established that people (i.e. anime fans) who are really into things tend not to be as one-dimensional as some of our more lurid and colorful descriptions make them out to be1. Most of us have had the unfortunate experience of being labeled, categorized, and oversimplified even though we are far greater than any single stereotype. Yes, there are people who are so extreme that it is unhealthy/dangerous/criminal/whatever, but for most people, even those who are more extreme than I am, I like to give them the benefit of the doubt. After all, I'm not the final arbiter of what counts as healthy or unhealthy, and more importantly, I can't claim to know everything about a person's life, even people who I know well. I am happily learning surprising things about my wife every day, and I know her better than anyone (except myself, perhaps). For people who are more extreme than I am, I respect their choice to be that, just as I hope they respect me in the choices I make regarding what I specialize in or what I prefer to keep as leisurely pastimes.
Another reason why I give the benefit of the doubt to people more "extreme" than me is that if I'm constantly worrying about their potential personality flaws or looking to see if they are mentally unbalanced, I will miss out on the good things they have to offer. If they're really into something, there's a good chance I have something to learn from them. Many of these people try to be the best at what they do, not necessarily in a petty way that looks down on others (even though some people are like that), but in a creative way, trying to do things that nobody has done before. In many ways, I feel like I don't have the extreme personality it takes to be a leading innovator in fields I am interested in, which is why I usually appreciate people who do have that kind of personality.
Leiji Matsumoto, the creator of Captain Harlock and Galaxy Express 999, once proclaimed: 'If you take more than four showers a year, you can't create anything great.' Gainax founder Toshio Okada (who told this story) was shocked, but next to him, he noticed that Hideaki Anno was enthusiastically nodding and making agreement sounds. ^_^
No matter what I do, or what I say, someone somewhere (who is different from me) will consider me weird, extreme, unhealthy, or whatever. While they are often (though not always) well-meaning, I don't feel like I need to waste my time defending myself against such accusations, especially if they're not going to hurt me in terms of my professional reputation, how my personal friends feel about me, etc.
People are different from each other. I don't want to live in a society where we have to justify ourselves as being as normal or as balanced as everyone else. As long as we're not hurting anyone, there's nothing wrong with having our own personal standards of what counts as normal or balanced or healthy. (If I want to be more of an otaku, that's my own business ^_~) If we want to have more public standards, respectful and compassionate dialogue is the only way to do that without forcefully imposing our beliefs onto others.
In summary, I think boxing people into categories is problematic. It tends to oversimplify complex individuals and is too often intended to highlight flaws and weaknesses instead of celebrating the good in people. As anime fans, we probably know the negative effects of that more than we deserve. The media, the public, some of our friends, and even some of our family members put us into a mental category of "weird fans of childish/perverted/violent cartoons", assuming all kinds of negative things about us. As anime fans who know better, I think we should try to be more inclusive of those who are both less and more "extreme"2 than we are in fandom.
1. After all, what does it really mean to be only into "one thing". It sounds like it ("one" versus "many") could be easily and objectively measured, but it's actually quite subjective. One has to subjectively decide what counts as being overly focused. A person can be: only into entertainment, or only into fiction, or only into fiction on the screen, or only into animation, or only into Japanese animation, or only into one series, or only into one episode of that series, or only into one scene of that episode, or only into one frame of that scene, ad infinitum. For each one of these situations, someone might say that person is only into one thing, but obviously he or she is not, since there is a lot of variety to be found within that "one" thing. One's judgement as to what level of focus counts as only "one thing" is contingent upon personal values (and is therefore subjective).
2. A note on moderation. Moderation is okay...sometimes, but it depends on what you personally consider important. That moderation is always the best choice is a logical fallacy (known as the Middle Ground Fallacy, or the Golden Mean Fallacy). When you have two extremes, the moderate position is not always the best one. For example, if your value system places a high value on health, in an argument regarding the merits of people being healthy versus people being sick, you would obviously not advocate a position that says people should only be moderately healthy. More information on this (with better examples) can be found here: http://www.nizkor.org/features/fallacies/middle-ground.html).