(Continued from part I)
There’s something infectious about being a nerd at a convention. Being around all these other nerds with their bold costumes and boisterous personalities, I just can’t be in a bad mood. Even though I was about to meet with the Washington Post reporter and I was nervous.
We had exchanged emails a couple of times just before Otakon. Since I was following him on Twitter now, I saw when he requested a press pass from the convention, and I saw when they replied and granted him one. I emailed him and asked him if he wanted to meet. He replied that he’d love to connect. And then, as an afterthought, he added:
the hall could smell interesting tomorrow, with the heat and humidity, eh? (people keep telling me that cosplayers can be a “ripe” bunch. some of them, anyway.)
Those two sentences stuck in my head. He didn’t have to add them. It just let me know what sort of knowledge he was going into this with. It reminded me of my talk last year with another Washington Post reporter, Dan Zak.
When I was featured on Jezebel, I said I wanted to write about the Katsucon maid cafe because I didn’t like Mr. Zak’s portrayal. Amazingly, kindly, Zak sent me an email along the lines of, “You wanted to talk? Let’s talk.” I said that he was biased toward the source material. He said, “…this is not the judgment or opinion of an outsider. It is observed fact.”
I’ve only recently understood his answer. That was, of course, the truth. Anime fandom looks very, very different to outsiders than it does to me.
This is why, when people ask me if I’m biased, I tell them my passion makes me a better reporter. I don’t think the best reporting comes from distancing yourself from your subject and steering clear of anything that might interest you in the slightest. It helps to have knowledge about the communities you are writing about, and it helps to have connections in the field. I can’t imagine, for example, that a crimes and courts reporter who isn’t close with the Chief of Police is able to write very accurate stories.
But I have to be careful about my audience. I have to worry about coming off as being “in too deep.” That’s why reporters like Dan Zak and J. Freedom duLac have much more sway over my preferred beat. Outside of the fandom, that is. And that’s why I care so much about meeting up with Mr. duLac at Otakon and offering my perspective to him.
Thanks to Twitter profile photos, we recognize each other instantly, shake hands, make small talk. I hardly remember what was actually said, but I remember just how it went. duLac is an excellent reporter, quiet and observant. I liked him immediately. I think it was because he let me talk so much.
He’d ask a small question like, “What are these girls wearing doll dresses and petticoats for?” and I’d explain that it’s Lolita street fashion from Harajuku, not actually from an anime. We were standing in front of the line for the Madoka Magica premiere, so there were lots of people to look at. He’d ask which costume meant what, and I didn’t always know.
“I don’t think anyone at this entire convention could accurately recognize every single costume here,” I said.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a man dressed as Char. I asked to excuse myself because I wanted to take a picture.
“Otakon is a little like Disneyland,” I said to duLac. “You can call people by their character names and they’ll respond so you can take their photo.”
duLac watched as I asked Char for his photo and set up my camera. “I love your costume, Char,” I said. “I’m working on cosplaying as female Char this fall.”
“Then we’ll have to meet up,” he replied. “And we’ll–” He made a lewd gesture with his fingers.
It was so uncalled for and I was so embarrassed I just said something like, “I don’t think so,” and returned to duLac, cheeks burning, mumbling about Disneyland some more.
He changed the subject.
“I asked a man in line over there what he thought the mainstream media gets wrong about fans. He said ‘That we all live with our parents still.’ So I asked him,” duLac continued, “‘Do you live with you parents?’ and the guy started stammering, ‘Not exactly, I pay rent and stuff.’”
I nodded. Was I visibly cringing?
“And I just thought, ‘If that was going to be the answer, why didn’t he LIE to me?’”
Yeah, I thought, why hadn’t he?
Today when the article came out, I read it over and wrote to duLac right away:
Josh, I just read your story. I was prepared to hate it, but I don’t. It’s an important part of convention culture that I would have never felt comfortable writing about. And you got the facts right, too.
Thanks tons for the note. I really wasn’t sure what you’d think once I decided to go in that direction, since I know it’s a really sensitive subject — and you never know if you get something like this right.
He shouldn’t have been worried. I knew from the beginning which direction this story was going to go in. That’s why I don’t know if it was a brave angle or not. On the one hand, his comment section is already full of angry notes, making him look like this was a daring and dissented take. On the other hand, it’s exactly the kind of opinion non-fans already have of the fan community.
duLac’s story does make anime conventions look seedy. But there’s nothing untrue about his observations. And so, it needed to be said. When it’s over, our fandom will be stronger for it.
Even this biased journalist has to admit that.