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First published: 1/29/02

A Matter of Stolen Identity

I'm writing this on an airplane on my way to Seattle, Washington. Just your average weekend pilgrimage, so to speak, but I'll have more on that in the next installment of lainspotting 1.

In the meantime, something else has come up.

In truly surreal fashion, I recently discovered that someone has been impersonating me on the internet. I've never experienced identity theft before, and I hope it never happens again. I was angry for a little while, a little flattered, and certainly relieved that I discovered the transgression early. As I surveyed the damage, I was amusingly reminded of the somewhat similar situations in Perfect Blue, and of course, in serial experiments lain. "Have I gone insane?" "Is there a Wired Lawmune out there, doing things that I don't know about?" "Do I have multiple personalities?" While I know the answer is "no" for those questions, I still don't know the answers to "Who is impersonating me, and for what reason?" "Do I have enemies I don't know about?" "Have I offended anyone lately?" "Is someone trying to defame me, or is someone just using my name to make their opinions on lain look more authoritative?" From the content of what was written (illicitly) in my name, my guess is the latter.

Let me clarify what happened. In late January, on an anime web discussion forum, someone registered under the name of "Lawmune" which, of course, is the handle I've been using on the web since 1998 and at least a year before that on IRC. He (or she, but I'll stick with "he" for now) posted twice (both times on the serial experiments lain forum) before I contacted the webmaster and took over the fake account. In his first post, on a thread asking about people's opinions on lain, he posted my review of lain, signing it as:

thought experiments lain

His second post was more provocative, totally ridiculous, and an inexcusable misrepresentation of my character and my views. It was a silly post presenting a spurious argument that has shown up in one form or another at various places on the web. It presented the idea that lain, at its deepest level, is about a cultural conflict between the East (namely Japan) and the West (the USA, mostly). This claim originates comes from a very particular interpretation of the Animerica interview given by Yasuyuki Ueda, the producer of the anime, especially the part where he mentions (in reference to lain) that "this work itself is sort of a cultural war against American culture and the American sense of values we adopted after ww2". Now, this is surely a controversial statement, and one that bears examination. It has in fact been discussed innumerable times on various Lain discussion forums, and the issue routinely pops up again and again.

Before I do anything else, let me give my most recent views on the subject.

I think that there are two things we need to consider.

1. What was Ueda's intent when he made lain?

2. If his intent was truly anti-American, when we view lain itself, can we find real evidence that demonstrates such intent was actualized?

When I wrote my first real public response to that issue, I concentrated on the second point. In addition to the fact that it's so difficult to decipher Ueda's intentions, my point was that, ultimately, creator intentions don't matter so much in our interpretation of a work, especially when there were multiple creators in the first place. So taking the focus away from the creators, I made the point that I could not find positive evidence supporting the theory that lain contains an anti-American message. Of course, that doesn't mean such a message isn't there; maybe I'm just biased against seeing it. On the other hand, most of the evidence I've seen presented to support the theory has been uncompelling, propagandistic, and excellent examples of why verificationism is problematic. I also haven't met many watchers of the anime (or even one watcher) who noticed an anti-American message prior to being told what Ueda said in his interview. If anything, it seems that Ueda's statement has pre-biased a number of viewers to believe that the anime is rife with anti-American sentiment.

All that said, we might as well discuss point #1 a little more, since we now have more to work with. Since the Animerica interview was published, Ueda has discussed the issue on at least two more occasions, at Otakon 2000, and during an online chat hosted by the Sci-Fi network. If you read those interviews, you'll notice that Ueda is significantly more ambiguous in describing what he meant by his earlier statements. He either 1)really does have something against American culture and American lain fans, but didn't want to reveal his controversial opinions during the convention and the online chat, or 2)couldn't express what he meant because the issue is too complex and difficult to summarize (not to mention translate) at a panel discussion or on an online chat.

We'll never know for sure which is the case, but if we think about scenario 2 a bit more and analyze his statements, maybe we can take them to mean that Ueda intended lain to foster discussion of difficult and controversial topics related to Japan's historical and ongoing relationship with America and American culture. Such a discussion is certainly worthwhile, and it'd be foolish to think that the relationship between the two cultures has been uniformly bright and rosy. However, I think it is reasonable to suggest that such a discussion be conducted maturely and calmly, and despite Ueda's immature and hostile tone in the Animerica interview, maybe his feelings on the matter had changed (for the better) prior to his Otakon 2000 appearance. At least we can say he seemed to legitimately enjoy associating with the American fans. The discussion of Japan's cultural relationship with the United States is an interesting one, but as we haven't established that lain has anything significant to say about it, we shall move onto more relevant topics.

For some background, see the Fruits interview for examples of how Ueda's original concepts for lain did not necessarily pan out. Also see an interview I conducted with Chiaki Konaka last summer.

Back to the topic of impersonation...

ABe, Kao, and Ueda at Otakon 2000(left) My friend James (pretending to be me?) posing with Yoshitoshi ABe and Yasuyuki Ueda at Otakon 2000

I have to wonder how the perpetrator felt when he realized I had taken over his fake account. I bet he wonders how I found him in the first place. One might not expect me to reveal that, but I'm going to anyway since it's so straightforward. First off, I am a compulsive web searcher. I use google (and other search engines) on a daily basis for research purposes and for fun. I'm always looking for all different kinds of stuff, and one thing I search for regularly is my name and references to my site.

Also, I have many friends in the lain fan community who read and/or participate on various lain discussion forums all over the web, on mailing lists, newsgroups, etc. They know me and my views well enough that I doubt an impostor would be able to fool them for long. Furthermore, I am personally always on the hunt for lain-related material on the internet, and I keep track of a lot of places. Just because you don't see my name on a message board doesn't mean that I'm not reading, or that I'm not registered under a pseudonym. (If you don't believe me, impostor-kun, I know that you or someone else posted the very same message on the Cyberia Cafe message board a long time ago).

Unfortunately, it's difficult to prevent this kind of thing from happening. The internet is great, but it requires its citizens to exercise a good deal of vigilance and personal responsibility. If you see someone signing messages with my name, and it looks suspicious, please let me know. I'll do my best to return the favor.

Thanks for reading


1. The first person to correctly guess what I was going to see in Seattle (hint: it's related to otaku) gets a very cool Niea_7 postcard. Some restrictions apply (i.e. I know you personally).

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Last updated on March 9th, 2002
Lawrence Eng