This will be my last year as a staff blogger at Anime Boston. For obvious reasons, I don’t think I’ll be up to it next year. I started volunteering there just shy of a decade ago in
Lately, there has been some manufactured age discourse in fandom. It’s become such a battle of straw men that it’s not even worth quoting if you’re out of the loop: just overblown generalizations about who is too old to do what in a fan community. Probably there are more people commenting on it after the fact than there were people even discussing it in the first place. But since I’m at a moment in my life that I’m thinking a lot about fandom and age, I’ll use this flimsy premise to share my own thoughts on the topic.
Fans don’t grow out of fandom
To call anime fandom “just a phase” is as insulting to young fans as it is to older ones. It implies that anime fandom is a temporary lapse in judgment. The wisdom of age doesn’t suddenly make you realize anime is childish, and if you really thought this happened, this says more about what you really think about anime than it does about anime itself. Fandom isn’t an age-linked rite of passage. For example, if my daughter isn’t interested in anime (which I can totally see happening, considering how much her parents are into it), it doesn’t mean “kids aren’t into anime.” Like always, it’s an interest that will appeal to some and not others.
But fans do grow out of roles and spaces
The way I interact with fandom is very different as an adult. As a preteen, I interacted with other fans online who I either knew (or at least thought) were my age. As a teenager, I went to cons as an attendee. Now, there are only two instances in which I interact with younger fans: as a presenter at the panels I hold to share my research and knowledge with fans of all ages, and as a convention volunteer offering information or advice when asked. I don’t spend a lot of time with younger fans online or off—I try not to even follow underage fans on Twitter. I think they deserve to have their own space to explore fandom, just like I had.
Older fans have a duty to younger fans
Like listening to them when they say they don’t feel comfortable or safe. Sharing knowledge, if we want to pay it forward. And at the very least, not gatekeeping or putting up barriers. It’s increasingly difficult to get this kind of information, but back when I did surveys of Anime USA attendees in the early ‘10s, the median age of a con attendee was 19 years old. I think a late teens (or early 20s) median age is a great indication of the fandom’s health. It’s a good sign that people so much younger than me are still entering the fandom, and that must mean that we’re keeping this place fairly welcoming, despite everything.
But it isn’t to leave, obviously.
When I was 18 and attending my first anime convention (Otakon), I barely believed that it could possibly be “for fans, by fans.” How could volunteers put on something of this scale? I found out later, when the novelty of simply being an attendee wore off, and I became a part of it. Volunteering at conventions is how I’ve found meaning in my fandom participation at my age, but for other older fans, it might take a different form. I know that I’m going to have to find something new now that I’m stepping back from Anime Boston and giving my last panel of 2019 next month. I’m glad my absence will make space for new voices, but that doesn’t mean that I’ll stop making myself heard. I’ll be part of this fandom as long as I’m alive, just not in the same ways I have been in the past. Maybe that’s the nuance this discussion is missing: we’re all getting older. This debate will eventually be resolved when enough time passes. If we’re lucky, there will then be an even newer generation of fans to argue about it.