Ethan’s post on his blog: Towards an Atlas of Globalization
Ethan’s blog: …My heart’s in Accra
[Note: * denotes best points. - Alex]
Apologies for the unannounced blog vacation (my euphemized term for outright, down-to-earth, human, carnal, base, heart-felt, summer-induced indolence). The metal tick has kept on ticking, yet the physical tock never really kicked in, but that only means that I have a lot to write about in the coming days. So, let us begin…
When I was younger, I liked to brag a lot, until one day I realized I was gradually turning into “that kid,” which propelled me into a slow process of self-exoneration and forced-realization of the humble. But I’ll take a moment to plug two upcoming talks that I’m hosting at Connecticon in Hartford, CT, from 1-3 August, entitled “R-R-Remix! The Mashed Up Culture of Anime Fandom” and “State of the Otaku 2008.” I mention these because I have been reading through a book by one of my favorite beach-babe-turned-Harvard-professors, Chris Kelty, called Two Bits: The Cultural Significance of Free Software, for a Harvard Free Culture mini-group project, which will henceforth be known as 2B2P for short, or the Two Bits Processor Project for long. This post will be a reaction and modulation of/against/for Chapter 1, Geeks and Recursive Publics, of Part 1, The Internet. I apologize in advance for this article’s long, rambling nature. If you comment, it’ll help me to organize my thoughts for the future.
Free software… to hormone-crazed, socially-bungling Japanophiles? Where’s the segue? On one hand, I could say the Internet (the title of Part 1, hey hey, coincidence?, I think not!) and only be half right. On one foot, I could say geeks, and become a tad closer to the answer. Doing a handstand, though, if I uttered “recursive public,” I just hit the bullseye. And on the topic of recursive publics is where I will tie in my latter, Connecticon-bound presentation. I want to bring in the demographic of fans of Japanese animation (also known colloquially as otaku), unrelated to any matter in the book, as an experiment in modulation: instead of responding directly to Kelty’s content, in this post I will try to flesh out, squish, and redefine the idea of recursive publics while applying the concept to another relevant population of geeks.
To begin, let’s simplify this notion of recursive public. Kelty’s definition essentially boils down to a population that deals with a content through a form, yet the content and form are the same thing. To develop it slightly further, a recursive public works through the form to protect the content mediated by the form. Kelty uses the Internet as his example, being the form that geeks use and through which geeks mediate. Geeks want to foster the Internet by coding the Internet to their own specifications (bounded by the geek moral order). Very meta indeed. Putting a quote against my simplification, “A recursive public is a public that is constituted by a shared concern for maintaining the means of association through which they come together as a public” (Kelty 28).
Recursive publics are not limited to geeks or the Internet. Kelty does not provide examples of branches. One possible example: American Republicans and Democrats might be considered inclusive to the recursive public scene. Political subtleties aside, both parties exist as part of the government — the medium through which they operate and the content on which they focus their operations. Government also is the medium that allows the parties to “come into being in the first place” (28).
But there’s more to recursive publics, in fact another element entirely. Kelty discusses the concept of “layers,” regarding which he says geeks can identify and connect to create new structures to operate the form. He writes, “[Geeks] express ideas, but they also express infrastructures through which ideas can be expressed (and circulated) in new ways” (29). This second element ties in with the idea that recursive publics “argue through” their medium(s)” (29). Kelty highlights the combination of Napster and network connections to form a miniature scale of the Internet at large. The layering process then provides additional support for the population of the recursive public to develop and protect the medium.
Otaku are part of a recursive public. However, the demographic of anime and manga fans interacting with their medium fundamentally challenges Kelty’s notion of the recursive public. Why: the anime fandom’s medium is, obviously, animation. However, most anime fans do not have the technical expertise or sometimes even amateur aptitude to interact with the animated medium. For anime fans, it is easy to “express ideas” yet difficult to “express infrastructures” (29).
I’ll step away from that difficulty for a moment. First, I want to tackle the ideology of the recursive public. In a long-winded explanation, Kelty basically argues that recursive publics operate through a type of morality, one that structures the goals of the community. To reiterate, geeks of the recursive public participate in “writing and publishing and speaking and arguing” but also make software for “circulation, archiving, movement, and modifiability” of those forms of rhetorical communication. In total, arguments and the methods employed to sculpt those arguments evolve into a sense of morality which will govern future arguments and methods. It’s all very cyclical, but “the circularity is essential to the phenomenon. A public might be real and efficacious, but its reality lies in just this reflexivity by which an addressable object is conjured into being in order to enable the very discourse that gives it existence” (48).
To return to the otaku: these geeks too share a moral ideology based in the medium of animation. Examples include the cease of the distribution of fansubs (subtitles added to the original Japanese animation, distributed for foreign audiences) once an animated series is licensed by a US company, or doujinshi (comic book remixes of series) that do not copy the original series but build upon it [this latter topic is discussed in Chapter 1 of Lawrence Lessig's Free Culture]. This morality, then, continues on to affect what Kelty calls “changing relations of power and knowledge” (29). Japanese animation, particularly dealing with fans in the US, has challenged the current production market and copyright itself, particularly regarding Free Use. And although barely developed as that of the culture of free software, the power and authority in otaku culture continues to change, led by greats such as Toshio Okada and Takashi Murakami.
But I must return to and address the problem of the formulation of infrastructures when animation is the medium. Can a recursive public exist when a technical boundary is inherently set up in the public’s system? Let’s examine a possible route to the solution: topical and metatopical spaces. Kelty recognizes that geeks of free software do not congregate in topical spaces, meaning assembly in the physical arena, but instead “[knit] a plurality of spaces into one larger space of non-assembly” (39). Anime fans in the US, contrarily, began in so-called topical spaces (also known as mom’s basement), eventually immigrating to the Internet where the fandom now continues to thrive. Is it possible that because the culture of free software began online that its followers automatically shared the prowess necessary to participate fully in both argument and creation, and they shared such knowledge and capabilities between each other, while otaku might not possess these technical traits because they did not mature in the presence of the medium (layman’s terms: they weren’t animators, so should we expect them to animate?).
That’s certainly a pressing question to Toshio Okada, co-founder of Gainax (one of the original major Japanese animation production companies) and self-proclaimed Otaking. So pressing, in fact, that he has declared, “Otaku are dead.” What can he mean, when thousands of American anime fans are running around with their heads cut off at hundreds of conventions across the United States yearly. Just that: with their heads cut off, today’s fans have no direction.
In a public talk, recorded by Otaku2.com, Okada answered the following question:
You mentioned that there is a gap between fan generations, or yours and that of today. Can you elaborate on this?
Okada: I think there is a big difference that is clear in what is popular. Take manga, which is selling in the mainstream, and series popular with maniacs, which are not selling. “Clover and Honey” is a good example. Some people just buy it, some are fans and only a few are maniacs who really dive into the series, so it fails to move the masses. The manga becomes nothing but a topic of discussion among older men who compete on who read it more properly. When with others, these tangents don’t go well and a discussion never takes off. The media can’t talk about otaku as one anymore because we aren’t. There is no core literature or readership. I don’t think I can explain this well enought to convince you, but anyway.
Okada is famously known for his participation on the infamous otaku commentary, Otaku no Video, a major yet sardonic commentary on the state of otaku in Japan. As a producer, though, Okada exemplifies the paragon leader of the otaku recursive public: one who comments on and comments through the form. He sees, though, a major change in generations of otaku, which leads to his harsh declaration. Describing his own generation of anime fans, Okada said at MIT in 2003: “These were fans who were so passionate and enthusiastic about anime that they became vocal and informed critics.” Speaking of the modern anime fanatic, he stated, “Unfortunately… the latest generation of anime viewers in Japan are not true Otaku. They may be anime fans, but they lack the deep, passionate connection to the medium, and many of them seem to have taken up anime fandom because it’s cool or “fashionable.” Rather than being active critics of anime, they are content to be customers, or consumers.” Okada is right about many viewers even five years later, today, as teenagers attend anime conventions with nothing short of shoutouts to Naruto and Bleach. Still, there are some fans that put their critical eye to work to uphold the name of otaku, but cannot argue for anime through the infrastructure of animation. How should they be considered in a culture that began as a recursive public yet has in recent times reverted to a mere consumer culture? A younger Okada, seeing no good animation after the end of the original Gundam series way back when, participated in the creation of two original animated shorts, Daicon III and Diacon IV (the latter of which, if you watch it quickly, contains a homage to Star Wars of all things). The importance of these novelties remains the fact that the recursive public protects the content by arguing through the form. Okada’s message to young fans rings with Keltyism: “Just make your own anime, in English, by yourself.”
I’m not depressed. The phrase “All is not lost” is too drastic to use, yet it would encompass a little bit of the situation. But only a little, because the situation is improving. Paul “Otaking” Johnson recently published on YouTube a criticism of the online fansubbing community, a five-part video series which begins here. It’s just one example of the recursive public finally taking a stand once again. In an interview not too long ago, he stated, “If a job’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well. My video was free and I got paid nothing, but it didn’t stop me researching translation theory for a year or hand drawing and animating the cut scenes just to grab people’s attention (they certainly wouldn’t stick around for my voice, that’s for sure!),” which exemplifies exactly what Okada wanted out of the new otaku generation. Other models include Makoto Shinkai, who animated his own story, Voices of a Distant Star and went on to produce a number of other anime, or even the father of Japanese animation, Osamu Tezuka, who copied Disney’s style to form the foundation of what would compose anime fandom today, who animated for entertainment yet still included his own acute commentary on post-war Japan.
Back to the issue, though: What happens when a fan simply can’t do this sort of high-caliber work?
Layers. The second element in Kelty’s concept. What does Japanese animation become when applied to new intrastructural models? Doujinshi. Anime music videos. Cosplay. Fansubs. Remixed comic books. Reworked animation set to music. Dressing up as characters. Subtitling original show material. All these examples are miniature structures of the animation scene at large, yet do not require the ultimate technical expertise vital to the production of genuine animation. But Kelty does not approach the potential for layers to avoid manifestation as the actual infrastructure (eg. Internet) and instead form new forms of the infrastructure. Unfortunately, for free software in relation to the Internet, no new form of the infrastructure exists, because there is only one Internet. For anime, though, animation exists as media with many offsets. Anime fans congregate in topical and metatopical spaces. Otaku participate as much as possible as the true nature of the recursive public has begun to resurface over the last decade. Hopefully as technology advances fans will be provided a more accessible platform to evolve the recursive public and resurrect the name of otaku.
Please comment on this second post in the Two Bits Processor Project, and please visit the blogs of my friends who are participating with me on this most excellent project:
Tim Hwang, blogging at The U.S. Bureau of Fabulous Bitches
Christina Xu, blogging at ComPromise
yours truly, blogging at DianaKimball.com
Mike Wolfe, blogging at Machinations
And me, Alex Leavitt, blogging here
I feel that this panel, hosted by Yochai Benkler, Tim Wu, and Terry Fisher, finally established a full understanding of the base issues of net neutrality, so I wanted to post my notes from the panel so that others could also attempt to understand if they haven’t already. So, here we go:
1st half of 1990s: telecom networks: demanding economies of scale; if wanted competition from incumbents, needed to allow competitors to share facilities; most controversial: bundling: allow competitors to use physical infrastructure; competition: building facilities ever closer to the home; redundant networks
what would happen w/ cable?
trend 2000: toward open access; a few cable enfranchising authorities; needed to think of it as direct communications;
initial reports: what we want: shift from idea that each pipe is competitive and we need multiple competitors; AOL merger: had to offer access to at least 3 other competitors; during period: shift from competition on each wire, to competition between two wires: moving away from open access
many policies passed between 2001-2008 that need to be revised
1) why can’t we have actual competition in physical infrastructure as the main model?
2) do we need an alternative workaround infrastructure that is public?
3) should we be focused on user-owned infrastructure? (buy device, create own local thing; buy own fiber to connect to public main?)
snapshot of where net neutrality is right now:
4 issues of network regulation:
1) payments: whether or not service providers can demand payments for delivering access to their customers
access fee: charge people to reach your customers (Ebay using Verizon to reach AT&T customers)
legislation: says fee can’t be charged
2) what is reasonable network management?
when can carrier delay or block or mess with connection between two parties on Internet for purposes of managing bandwidth?
unilateral approaches: not accepted
3) floating net neutrality norm that is sometimes enforced by FCC; what is form/scheme going to take?
ad hoc –if FCC sees something they’ll do something about it– system
right now: moving toward that
net neutrality: not supposed to transgress, when you do you get fined
common law development of what are acceptable/nonacceptable practices
4) Hollywood; what does Hollywood think of network neutrality? what side are the content industries on?
Hollywood: same situation that Ebay is in: studio: also has to pay?
hesitant about getting engaged with provider
this year: struggle in policy community to get allegiance of content providing community
types of network neutrality:
application neutrality: bits are bits idea
sender neutrality: no discrimination between senders
toll free (tim’s #2 point): ISPs charge recipients
if we should allow discrimination:
1. discrimination is efficient
2. market should be making decisions
3. ISPs have freedom of speech rights
4. Internet: never been neutral: historical argument
5. moral argument: layer separation, truth in advertising
if curb discrimination:
1. ISPs: monopolies
2. preserve opportunities for innovation
3. major content providers will cut deals with ISPs
4. preservations of opportunities
content discrimination: clear
strong: sender neutrality, toll free
most strongly opposed: application neutrality
options available to most consumers have diminished sharply:
- roughly 50% of consumers in the US have a choice among two broadband providers
- roughly 25% have access to only one provider
- roughly 25% don’t yet have access to any broadband providers
next few years: looking at monopoly/duopoly
• private networks should create virtual private networks, not use public Internet
• possibility of corporations paying piece of consumer fee to bring price down, and Internet companies can make up for it by advertising more, etc.
• if there is no competition, that’s fine; supposedly having a market but regulating it into a duopoly that is the problem; market or no market, choose!
• ultimately: only resource we have owned by nobody is feasible, we just haven’t built it