Phrases that I hate: Fanservice

No, this won’t be about how “fanservice”  used to have a broader definition before it got limited to ecchi scenes. I have no reason to hate it because of that, words change their meanings all the time. My problem is with the “fan-” part, and it applies to both definitions.

When did we, as a fandom, decide that what fans what is the shallowest, most pavlovian, most inconsequential elements of a story? You certainly wouldn’t get that picture just from listening to us. When was the last time you heard a fan declaring that they want more fanservice? Not just “tolerating it in moderation”,  or “not particularly minding it”, but actively demanding that a certain show needs more fanservice?

And when was the last time when you heard a fan complaining about too much fanservice? Or rather, how many times did you hear it today?

Even in our day and age, with “nerd” and “geek” becoming something that we identify with rather than something that bullies insult us with, and with “fan” transforming from the original “fanatic” into a synonym of “liking something”, there are still several ways used to socially pressure us not to indulge in too much fannish behavior, pushing us towards the mainstream, away from any sign of “obsessiveness” or “fanboyism”.

For example I’ve already wrote about the curious case that we have such an annoyingly overused term as “weeaboo” for a type of excessively japanophile fans, yet we don’t even have any term for their ideological opposite, the kind of anime fans who seem to hate everything about anime’s japaneseness, and motivated by wanting to appear as “normal” as possibe. In the previous edition of this “Phrases that I hate” series, I just wrote about “pandering“, and how inconsistently it is only ever used against well-defined stereotypes of fandom groups (e.g.: fujoshi-pandering, otaku-pandering, moe-pandering) , to divide us into hostile groups, but never to describe general cases of other shallow story elements  that are intended to grab someone’s attention.

Even outside of the world of anime, there are many similar examples, with fans trying to put themselves outside of fandoms, to give the impression that they are the only “true fan”, while those under the fandom label are all hive-minded sheeple who are being manipulated with bells and whistles.

The problem with “fanservice” is the same. It’s a phrase invented by the fandom, and popularized by the fandom, to express the feeling that the rest of the fandom is full of idiots. To make you feel better about not being one of those dirty, obsessive perverts down there in the fandom, who can be influenced with panty shots and beach episodes, but a classy, intellectual audience of the series who wants more depth, and more art and more plot.

Which is, of course, a silly idea. Fans are the last people who would want to see a show to become more shallow. The only ones who are attracted to these shallow elements such as ecchi scenes, gratuitous violence, or random shout-outs to other popular series, are exactly the most casual audiences, who just happened to tune to that channel and it catched their attention.  Calling it “fanservice” just pointlessly fuels the fandom’s self-loathing, and hostility against each other.  

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The Genre Ghetto

In TVTropes slang, “ghetto” stands for the attitude that a certain content type should stay limited to the narrowly defined pigeonholes that it’s critics made up. For example, the common western attitude that all animation should be made for kids, is the Animation Age Ghetto, or the common expectation that female-targeted shows are strictly for women only, is the Girl Show Ghetto.

These ghettos can even manifest themselves literally as closed-off areas where these stereotypically “inferior” stories can be rounded up and separated from “proper” entertainment, such as libraries sending all manga down to the children’s library, or separating everything all speculative fiction on a sci-fi/fantasy bookshelf, outside of everything else’s alphabetic order.

That latter one, the sci-fi ghetto, gets some of the most interestingly illogical reactions. While by now there are so many mainstream, popular, and even artistically acknowledged sci-fi stories, that you would expect it’s critics to just give up, that’s where prejudice shows it’s stubbornness: Instead of just admitting that, say, 1984 is an intelligent sci-fi novel, therefore sci-fi can be intelligent, the truly prejudiced can still think like this:

“Oh, sci-fi is that silly Star Trek-thing where spaceships shoot lasers at each other, and men wear pajamas, so if 1984 has none of that, it’s not really sci-fi, it’s Proper Literature”

And that’s not even an exaggeration. Critics, and even authors, have really argued that their works are not really fantasy or sci-fi, if they don’t fit into the crudest stereotypes of these genres. Just how arrogant you have to be, to redefine an entire genre according to your own admittedly limited familiarity with it, while dismissing the established definition made by it’s actual audience?  As anime fans, you might be directly familiar with that kind of attitude. While most of the above preconceptions are limited to the hilariously ignorant and old-fashioned mainstream, in case of anime, even our fellow fandoms and nerds and enthusiasts, who are protesting the same prejudices themselves, might think and speak like this:

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