It’s true that every fandom has a dark side to it. This is only natural when you think about what a fandom is: a community of people. Communities are varied, yeah, the people in them generally have the same sort of interest, but that doesn’t exactly mean every single person you run into in these communities are going to be just like you. There are dark fans, we get it, we accept it, this is a known fact. My problem with lists like this aren’t that they exists, it’s that people make the assertion that at one point or another, we’ve all been guilty of certain aspects. I’m here to say that this is a flat-out false and misguided assertion. We’re not all self-hating fans.
I’m not sure when it happened, but it feels as if at some point along the way, it became okay to be an “ironic fan”; to like things because their faults are so glaringly overwhelming that you have no choice but to embrace them if you like the show. First, I think I need to make things clear that liking a show with poor production value doesn’t mean you’re an ironic fan, it means you’re able to enjoy a show in spite of its faults and that the show’s message isn’t lost in those faults. More than this kind of fan existing, what bothers me is that this is now apparently the only way one can like these cheesy shows. Comments like “you know you’re watching a kids show,” and “you expect depth in tokusatsu? Lol” have become the irritating norm and I can’t figure out at what point this happened and why it became the norm.
So now I have to ask . . . what’s wrong with being a genuine fan of something? Regardless of how bad it is, what’s wrong with liking a show for what it tries to do rather than how bad it fails at this? When I see a show I know is made poorly, I can openly admit that, but I don’t like it because it’s so bad it’s good. I like shows because there is a certain level of heart put into the productions that you can feel. You get a sense that these people are truly acting in the belief that, even if they can’t accurately portray what they want, they’re going to do their damnedest to make sure they get it as clear as possible on screen and to like a show because of this is something I think is great. Why is it so difficult for so-called fans to take things like this and try to find that inner depth that the makers of the show have put into it? Granted, not all shows are going to be like this. There are productions that just want to be fun and silly, but it’s undeniable that, more often than not, tokusatsu these days try to be more than the sum of its parts. These aren’t just action shows with dudes in cool suits, they’re trying to send a message. Why is it difficult for people to believe that these sort of things can ring true?
We’re in a fandom that likes kids shows, as a fan of the shows and as a writer who one day wants to write for this age, I’ve got to wonder why fans of these shows go along with the pandering mindset that anything deep in context and message is completely coincidental. I completely understand that there is a line, but to go to the extreme that yells these shows are simple kids shows and nothing more has the same sort of negative impact on our fan culture as a whole. Yes, we have a fan culture. Despite the fact that the tokusatsu fandom is fairly new and still pretty niche, we’re not just a couple of guys in our basements, we’re a group of dedicated fans who have done some pretty amazing things in the past.
So with all this in mind, I’m still baffled at why we should feel bad over what we love. Obviously, we’ve gotten over our insecurities if we’re watching tokusatsu (or I would hope so) and there is that stereotype that older fans like to make more of these shows than they really are. But, I think in examining this, people forget that these shows do start out with the intent of being more than the sum of their parts. You cannot watch an episode of nearly any given Kamen Rider show and tell me that this is a simple action show, and if you do, I believe you’re just ignoring certain aspects of these shows because they are tokusatsu. Tokusatsu was not always seen as cheese, they were at times the top of line in film making and had powerful impacts on people, as the original Godzilla film proved – yeah, sometimes a guy in a monster suit is just that, but sometimes it can be an allegory for so much more.
As you can probably tell from reading this, I’m one of those guys who does believe the medium of tokusatsu can do more than just show us guys in suits. These are shows that can send powerful messages to people of all ages, and more than that, they’re just damn good shows. So why do certain fans feel the need to talk down about these shows and the fans they represent? This is the exact same mindset that has become prevelent in making cartoons aimed at kids in the U.S. And, where does that lead us? To some pretty bad places.
A show doesn’t need to change the world to be good, it just needs to be good. Now, whatever constitutes as good to you or me might be different, but I think we can all agree that there are those few qualities a show needs, essentially it needs to have the strength to send the message it wants. Whether it’s an irreverent message or one that tells you a complete story is up to the show itself, but it’s there. It feels like fans who don’t want to admit they like tokusatsu for its heart are taking the mindset of the people who have made the field of American cartoons a near wasteland that says kids aren’t smart and can’t handle shows with meaning. This is something I have to confront as being absolutely untrue and the only reason it prevails is because you’re only giving these kids the ability to choose from crap and worse crap, either way, the crap wins.
When a rare show like Young Justice or Avatar comes along, we can see just what the American field is capable of doing. So why is it that fans themselves can’t see this? There are people in these fields who challenge the idea that kids are lazy, stupid creatures looking for the quickest way to find themselves entertained. If the idea that adults don’t make up a huge fanbase for these shows is true, then you’ll be surprise to see that kids respond massively well to these shows then as they often garner amazing ratings. The first few episodes of Korra have been some of the best rated original material for Nickelodeon in ages.
It’s overwhelming in many ways when the great kids shows that are solidly written with great animation can essentially be counted on a single hand. It says “Hey! Look how many good kids shows there are!” and it also says “Hey…look how many good kids shows there are…” and I think this is something that needs to change. And, I know it might be odd that I look to this field of shows to give me something deeper, but when you see what overwhelms the TV screens these days on prime-time, is that really such a shock? You’ve got endless sitcoms, sci-fi shows that go nowhere, and personally, I’m a huge fan of serializes shows, which oddly enough you just don’t get too much of in shows aimed at an older crowd.
This is when you realize that the TV executives essentially think kids and adults are the same, they want done in ones and not grand, season-long plots. This is the mentality that prevails because this is the mentality that we’ve come to accept and that’s rather ridiculous. There is absolutely nothing wrong with liking these shows, but the fact that they so obviously overwhelm the screens is a little disheartening from the point of view of someone who wants to craft long stories. I think we can escape this, but at the same time I think we need to escape ourselves. We need to escape this mentality that we have to somehow insult the shows we like to actually like them, that we can’t simple be genuine fan of what the show gives us for all the heart that’s made in it.
Personally I don’t believe the larger populous will ever escape that mindset, and that’s okay. But, the fact that this mindset starts to overwhelm our culture, not just tokusatsu culture, but geek culture is unacceptable. We’re like-minded people who discuss these shows because we feel they have a certain merit to them that can’t be found elsewhere. To feel self-conscious when we want to talk about these shows on more than a visceral level is a mindset we need to escape from. We’re in the sort of fan communities that creators of these shows do take notice of, and do you know why? Because they know that, at heart, we’re all still kids wanting to feel that sense of wonder and amazement that these shows can provide for us and that we have some idea of how it should be done. They’re not exactly pandering to us at the cost of their original vision, but they’re taking into account that we as fans know what we like and there is a specific sort of tone we like from any given production.
This doesn’t mean these people need to listen to our every whim. But, they do take into account what fans of these shows, old and young, want to see happen because they’re that select group of show runners; that rare breed of executive that cares about their audience and, frankly, still cares about money. But, they know that you can both give a viewer what they want and challenge their expectations.
We’ve gotten to an age when being a genuine fan of something can make one feel embarrassed and times like these make me recall a certain Superman story arc. There is an arc that essentially challenges the mentality that you need to be dark to have depth, that superheroes can’t be cool without being violent and grim. The story arc is called “What’s so funny about truth, justice, and the American way?” and now I’ve got to ask . . . what’s so funny about being a genuine fan?