2016 was the year anime and reality started to mix.
Until this year, I had been careful to keep my online identity (and, by extension, my anime fandom) separate from my real life. This was mostly for privacy reasons, although if I have to honest, it was also because I’m more confident expressing myself through writing than through speaking. I still don’t put pictures of myself online, and that’s probably for the best.
Eventually, however, I ended up identifying under my real name for Anime News Network and Crunchyroll, and I’ve met several internet friends in person throughout the year. The result? Nothing really changed. On hindsight, I realise that there was never a clear separation between “reality” and “online” in the first place.
12 Days of Anime
#7 – Mixing Anime and Reality
Your actions on the internet have consequences in the real world.
This was a concept that only fully hit me during the Gamergate clusterfuck of 2014. Until I saw my friends speak up about online harassment, I never realised that it could be that bad. You can tell that I’ve never been attacked by an angry internet mob before, which is actually mildly amazing when I think about it.
The reason why social media is so rife with harassment is because it’s an extension of reality, yet people convince themselves it’s not reality, so they act out in ways that they wouldn’t normally do in the public sphere.
Online harassment is an extreme negative example of this kind of behaviour, but the tendency to think of our online selves as “less real” has also underpinned my own actions. In my eyes, my “Frog-kun” identity became an idealised version of myself, someone who was far more eloquent than my real-life self. Now that I really think about it, though, I am Frog-kun. All the things I like about my online personality apply to my real-life personality as well.
In the words of Kurt Vonnegut: “We are what we pretend to be.”
This all might sound super obvious to anyone else, but as an insecure teenager, I didn’t get it. Part of it has to do with the social stigma that surrounds “otaku” fandom. As “Frog-kun”, I was able to openly express my appreciation for anime girls and so on. On a more fundamental level, I was able to explore my “herbivore masculinity” side through watching anime and participating in online fandom. Out on the streets, I feel much more pressure to conform to gender norms.
But just because I can’t act on my impulses in an offline setting doesn’t mean that those impulses don’t exist. We consume fiction and role-play because it helps us get in touch with parts of ourselves that we don’t normally express. Those parts of ourselves are definitely important to us, and we’re better off not denying it.
I realised this after meeting my online friends multiple times in person. The first meeting can be awkward because you might think: “Oh, this person looks/talks differently from how I imagined them.” But after getting to know the person better, it’s easier to see where the online persona comes from. I wonder if the friends I’ve met feel the same way about me.
For example, I only got to meet the Youtuber Canipa briefly at Madfest last September, but he’s definitely still a HUGE NERD in person. Literally the first thing we did when we met was start geeking about the animator Tetsuya Takeuchi…
(Specifically, we talked about his work on Sword Art Online II because we both attended an SAO panel that shared a surprising amount of production-related info.)
I also got to meet some other cool twitter people at that con, including @DoctorDazza, @Bashnekk, @JRPictures, @YonkouProd and @TheAniTess. I’ve met the Melbourne-based twitter people a few more times since, and now it’s come to the stage where I don’t distinguish much between those twitter friends and my “irl” friends. That this happened so quickly still amazes me.
So for me, at least, having my “real” life and “anime” life cross over like this has been a positive experience so far. There are still some things about myself that I’d like to keep private (naturally), but I like to think nowadays that my core personality is the same no matter where I am.
And that goes for everybody else too.
I had a similar online is reality moment years ago. It’s not like it was an unknown thing, but I think the realization that the internet comes back to impact your life even after you sign offline is something that is easier to realize once you’ve experienced it.
The way you talk about it makes it sound like it was a negative experience that made you realise this… I hope it wasn’t!
Oh, no not really! I met up with some friends at a con. We still meet up every year. Started, I don’t know… Maybe 8 years ago? I’ve lost track.
I guess the whole online experience started a bit different for me. My idealized version of myself was the real me. I couldn’t live up to my own standards so I gave up and created “Lifesong” to act out. Now I know how to act out in real life too! Maybe my experience was negative, but If so it was by design and I don’t generally think of it that way.
I cared far more about the online persona and people I met online than I did about real life. I’m still guilty of that sometimes, but I guess I came to realize that people are capable of not sucking when they go offline too. Feels weird to put it that way, but that is how I would have described it at the time. Funny how we both came at it from different angles and ended at a similar balance, no?
You’re far braver than me.
It may not be the distinction you were talking about but the idea of keeping my online identity as separate from my real life is vitally important to me. Perhaps I’ve been on the internet too long and have gotten overly cynical, but the less people know about me the less they can use against me. I’m sure this does cost me in the long run. It would likely be easier to connect with people, especially in the anime community, if I was open about myself. Trouble being that I just can’t trust it won’t come around to bite me. It seems nowadays that all it takes is for you to say one thing that doesn’t sit well with the status quo and you have a torrent of unwanted attention laid onto you, which is undoubtedly followed by harassment in many cases.
I’d likely push out more of my ‘controversial’ commentary if it weren’t for the fact that I would get my own #operation X or #-gate hashtag. The thought terrifies me. I wouldn’t want the side of me that’s political to spoil the side of me that just likes anime or the side of me that loves talking to people.
You were saying here about how online frog-kun is not so different from real life frog-kun and I’d agree. I’d like to think that the sincerity I express online is how people would also remember me by in real life. The only challenge is in jumping that hurdle while it’s surrounded by landmines.
I wouldn’t say I’m braver, more like more privileged, haha… I’m well aware of how any words can be used against you on the internet, especially if you’re an activist. I really wish the internet could be a safer space for people exploring their political opinions, but that’s not how it is.
For now, I can only hope that you do find a place where you can freely express your opinions, whether that place is online or offline. I appreciate your sincerity. Thanks very much for your kind comment!
It never even occurred to me to keep my online identity separate from my real one, or to hide my fascination with anime. OTOH… my online identity was established long before social media was a thing as I first hopped on Usenet back in ’96 or ’97.
In the same way, I’ve been a Trekkie since I was 7 (the same year as the moon landing!) and have been part of so many fandoms and nerdoms over the ensuing decades that adding ‘otaku’ to my resume was just one more in a long list. Plus the vast majority of my IRL friends are like me, long time members of the SCA – a group that in general is accepting of a wide variety of weirdos.
In retrospect, what I was getting at, is I often forget how the world is different for folks so much younger than me… By the time I encountered social media and anime, I’d already learned how to deal with so much of this stuff.
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