The issue of the “Fake Geek (Girl)” is a hot-button and loudly-heard issue right now on the internet, in-person, and even companies’ hiring policies. But this is mostly for American-made comics and gaming. What about their cousin geek, the anime convention?
Manga is standard in retail chain book stores, and is so in much higher quantities than comics.* This has been the case for at least ten years. Anime conventions have taken off in the US more than anywhere else in the world, including Japan: There are literally so many that you cannot go to them all; there is an average of two every weekend of the year. Furthermore, it is my experience that anime conventions are a much more harmonious place when it comes to social and gender acceptance.
When I started dipping my feet into the American comics and sci-fi community (as many anime kids do when they grow older), the idea of a “fake geek”—and what’s more, a fake geek girl, without a male counterpart—was not only saddening, but shocking.
Anime is my specialty, and I will say, in the ten years I’ve been “out” and active with anime, I have never once been whole-sale rejected from a fandom, nor has someone demanded I show a badge of “geekiness.” The worst issue of inclusion I’ve ever faced at anime cons is small groups of friends being ill-mannered. No one else I know has ever had a problem, either.
This is relevant to other geek communities because, just like with the American comics and gaming communities, cohesion of the American anime community is principally based on being an outcast from “normal” society because of focusing on intellectualism, art, or “cartoons,” from an early age, rather than social skills. Yet, it is my experience that anime conventions tend to be more openly inclusive than gaming and comic ones; in general, anime cons are praised more for the ability to make friends and hang out than to shop and meet stars.
I believe this is for a perfect storm of reasons: there are so many fandoms present—and which have medium range runs of only a few years—that inclusion in them is assumed to be fluid. As well, the average age of attendees is younger; thus, personal identities and social boundaries are more transitory. Finally, attendees at anime cons are, on average, 75% female, with higher percentages of women the smaller the convention is. Anime-based cosplayers are also 85-99% female at any given convention.
I find the males that attend these conventions are of a quieter disposition than the average sampling of men. My theory: Anime since the ‘90s has been rather infamous for androgynous characters; even with a glut of male-fantasy-driven shows and comics (known as “harem” and “fan-service” series), the boys and men that attend anime cons tend to be slight in stature compared to their American comic nerd cousins, and less prone to idealize conflict. By and large, they don’t identify with muscle-bound bodies like Superman and Batman. Also of note, anime conventions are usually openly accepting of trans-gender individuals and male-of-female cross-play, and thus are host to more of these types of attendees, who know well the necessity of social inclusion. There’s a whole ‘nother can of worms in all that, but, perhaps because of these demographics, issues of inclusion and exclusion in anime conventions are, perhaps as expected, rare. However, even here there has been seepage of the concept of “who is in and who is out.” I think this is in part from the fact that the “Fake Geek Girl” is rattling other geek communities; Homestuck (an American work) is becoming rampantly visible at anime conventions; and a real sense that less-hardcore nerds are showing up. It has never been a widespread, dark-cloud issue like it is elsewhere, but that is not to say there are not some interlopers who abuse this openness. At conventions in Ohio for the last couple years, there’s been a troubling trend—what I call a “bro surge.”
That’s right: fake geek boys, not fake geek girls.
Let me give an example: At Colossalcon a couple years ago—a convention that’s at a water park, and even has a glorious cosplay bathing suit competition—there were several packs of bros, that is, teen and college-aged boys that are found to be insular and homogenous with a desire to drink, crack in-jokes, and try to get the attention of women above all else.
These guys wandered around and tried to pick up women in skimpy cosplays, knowing nothing about the characters, and spent the entire con binge drinking like they were at a frat party. The irony here being that none of them realized that the skimpier the cosplay, and bigger the gun, the more self-esteem the cosplayer has, and the smaller chance they have of scoring.
Others packs quietly admired skin all weekend, like a group I met at the hotel hot-tub. I really can’t blame them for that, but just seeming them caused a tensing up, like a gazelle around a lion. There was a feeling among many in the convention that “I wish these guys would just leave.” Of note, though, once my group got to know this hot-tub group, they weren’t threatening at all. They admitted being there for skin, but the drunker they got, the more they admitted to wanting to see Ghost in the Shell. These bros were closet geeks, but didn’t feel comfortable with that label, so they came in a group and professed what they thought was their most socially acceptable option—chasing skirts. We took the opportunity to show them that they could, in fact, be accepted for liking anime; and oh how wonderful they felt! Conversion achieved.
In general, neither type of bro-group presented an overt issue other than loud room parties and creating a sense of uneasiness. Their lack of anime knowledge (and lack of interest in some cases) was readily apparent, but they weren’t defensive about it. No one was made fun of except these interlopers; from what I saw, geek boys were even less in danger of emotional harm than geek girls, because the geek boys were ignored entirely.
However, the self-resolution of these cases does not stop the fact that these groups keep showing up at every con I’ve been to since, and with higher frequency. For example, similar issues were leveled in droves when I was at a Chicago con this year, which is known as a “15,000-person party con.” On Saturday of the convention weekend, it was described to me by a frustrated con-goer as less an anime convention and more a geek-trawling hookup parade and a massive rave, and as such, bros in the Chicago area have been quick to infiltrate due to Saturday-only passes, which get them access to the rave (and its women).
So to anime cons, the “invasion”—if there is one—caused by a rise in anime’s visibility is from boys and men who less respect the culture and more want to exploit its people, oblivious to the sacred community space con-goers have traditionally tried to make for themselves. However, the issue is a case-by-case basis and occasionally resolves itself; a little bit of acceptance can put an “outsider” at ease enough to make them open up, and thus, blossom as a geek.
This conflict resolution style is a much softer one than the cry of “fake geek girl.” Consider for yourselves what action and community style is best, but I hope anime fandom and American comics/gaming fandom can learn from each other in their times of need, like this one. Even if we tend to stay at opposite corners of the park during family reunions.
*Japanese and American graphic novels are both technically “comics,” but for the sake of clarity in this article, I refer to American-made comic works as “comics” and Japanese-made ones as “manga.”