The Christmas Blog Series (III) – Chuunibyou

Today I was reminded that the popular classics radio station Classic FM now features a segment on it dedicated to video game music and that it includes Nobuo Uematsu as a composer of note in its guide to 20th century orchestral music. In some way, this should be the point where I turn around and say “I told you so!” to the music teachers who, during my school years, told me that Uematsu’s music for the Final Fantasy games was mediocre compositionally and that my efforts in learning music would be better applied to other composers. However, I don’t feel any great desire to do this because ultimately it was being told that Uematsu’s music was, from a music theory perspective, entry-level, that helped me mature as a person.

In a past article about the series Chuunibyou Demo Koi Ga Shitai, I talked about the importance of being moderate in being a fan of anything and in expressing fandom. Looking back on my time as part of what can only be described as a fandom I can see where I went wrong and what would come to drive my almost total change in opinion. I did not simply like the things I liked, I was convinced they were the best things possible and was resistant to criticism of them. While a game like Final Fantasy 7 does have a varied and interesting score, it is also true to say the music is compositionally simple and much of it is not necessarily music that holds up divorced from its context. It fulfils its niche well, yet I was determined to argue it exceeded its niche, along with other pieces by Uematsu. In my head I created equivalences between pieces of these games’ soundtracks and not only other soundtrack works but the wider orchestral tradition where, compositionally, it is much harder to claim they stand up.

Furthermore, I was beginning to discover the difference between simply being a fan and the more obsessive idea of fandom; the internet, new as it was, allowed me to find people who shared my views and thus feel more justified in opposing criticism. While online fanbases and fan-groups allow like-minded people to share their passions, which in itself is no bad thing, the point where this becomes something more is a dangerous one; I had effectively reached a point where I was actively seeking out reinforcement that what I thought was right and in so doing narrowing my viewpoint – finding non-existent depth in things to justify no longer taking an interest in more genuinely complex things. It is ultimately something I think is a widespread problem in niche fanbases; the inherent niche nature of the thing being admired leads to any perceived complexity or interest in it being used to justify its elevation and paint it as unfairly underappreciated. In turn, this turns outsiders off from the thing because the standard to which its devotees hold it rarely holds up to an outsiders’ perspective. To return to the example of Final Fantasy 7, which has an immensely vocal fanbase, at its heart it is a solid example of an RPG of its era but one which is nevertheless dated. It is indeed ambitious in some ways, doing things that other games of the era did not, but nowadays these innovations seem clumsy and dated as the medium has moved on.

Ultimately then what I was being told was that what I liked was not necessarily good; a simple lesson about being discerning and avoiding calling things what they are not. Being reminded by people who were specialists in their subject that I was overvaluing something – and in so doing narrowing my perspective of the world in trying to find equivalences that did not exist – showed me that the fandom I was trying to become part of – and indeed I would realise in time the concept of obsessive fandom – was not a good thing. My response to this for a good while was an almost complete reversal of opinion, refusing to accept “geeky” things had any potential value because I had seen – and still saw in some of my friends – the harmful effects that the confirmation bias and reinforcement of opinion that online subcultures could have in terms of narrowing someone’s viewpoints. I did not want to again be in the position where I was opposing any criticism of things I liked and so instead stopped liking things.

I was reminded of this by Chuunibyou… – protagonist Yuuta’s utter rejection of frivolity and geekiness out of shame for past obsession with it mirrored well my shift from being an obsessive and narrow-minded fan – and have come to realise that compromise is the best thing; liking things, and appreciating what makes them enjoyable, is good. Sharing this passion with others can broaden their minds and in return broaden yours. Yet this is not what fandom does; fandom rewards obsession and single-mindedness over a broad outlook, and seeks to make its object fit everything rather than accept it is one thing of many. To return, at this article’s conclusion, to the original matter of those teachers who told me Uematsu’s music was not worthy serious consideration, I still agree with some of what they said; the ones who encouraged me to look beyond my fandom and consider new experiences – and thus avoid becoming single-minded.

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3 comments

  1. joshspeagle

    I think that you’ve definitely hit upon a (if not *the*) core theme of Chuunibyou – that things should be taken in moderation, or that compromise is the better option than utter rejection. I really like the way you wove it into discussion to point out a very interesting feature of fandom I don’t see very often discussed. I find it interesting how such a culture that rewards obsession and close-mindedness (stubornness might be a better term) has become so widespread – from anime to video games to BBC series and even now showing up in standard television shows. Is this type of thing is an overall benefit or drawback to these communities, or is it sorta just “there”? I mean, it allows people to connect with others who feel the same way, but then it encourages this type of “I refuse to discuss things with you because you’re wrong” and “I’ll excessively gush about this show obnoxiously to everyone else” type of behavior that can turn certain types of people off from it.

    • r042

      It’s a shift in attitude that I think has come from a growing realisation that conformity and tradition aren’t the be all and end all of life – manifesting as a kind of kicking out against it too far the other way. The net does a good job of making it seem like lots of people hold any particular view and in being so open (nominally a good thing) is entirely undiscerning – creating the confirmation bias I was talking about.

      There’s also I think a belief that what society approves of is obsession – the argument “it’s OK to follow a football team but not to be seriously into gaming” or “people talk about HBO series but not anime” is a common one – when in fact even sports-mad folk I know do not let it define themselves in the way geek fandoms let their obsessions do. Indeed, the ultra loyal football fan has their own negative associations of hooliganism and tribalism to contend with as really society as it stands does draw a line between passion and obsession, no matter what it’s about.

      The final thing to consider is how the idea of nonconformity and fighting the structures of society (grow up, work 9-5 etc) is used by some to justify being immature in general terms – not simply being your own person but acting in a way that bothers and even offends others.

    • r042

      As to “community” etc what is coming under growing scrutiny is the idea that the correct answer to people being abrasive or creepy or offensive is no longer to close ranks and laugh about “it’s a natural part of fandom, toughen up” but to tell people acting in a way that’s out of order that they need to quit it.

      Essentially, not all social strictures are bad – some exist to make the world a generally nicer place to live in!

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