Somewhere between cosplay and requiring an exorcism

Wherein fannish practice slips its leash and goes for a romp.

It is hard enough for middle-aged Amish types like me to keep up with all the new-fangled stuff on the intertubes, fend off the chain letters on my favourite usenet groups and figure out how to get Netscape to stop web page banners from blinking. Then along comes this Twitter thing to chew up more of my time and make my trusty Motorola StarTac mobile phone beep every 15 minutes.

Worse, I now understand that many of the posts on the Twitter channel are the work of robots. I have nothing against robots, and with 140 characters (based on the length of a phone text message) it is fun to try to figure out who is meat and who is a folder full of cobol.

Now things have become stranger. I thought it would never amount to much, but now I fear it might be a thing. A while back, I attended an academic conference highlighting fan practices and listened as one fan detailed how she had decided to adopt the twitter identity of a character from one of the Star Trek series. She “became” the character on twitter, in effect cosplaying/ textplaying/ role-playing  her favourite character. Crossplaying, actually as she became a male character. She had a large, loyal following.

Here is some academic powder burnt on the practice:

At the time, I thanked what residual deities I still mumbled to that no one in the Genshiken fandom was doing this and promised myself that I would never waste a moment of my life following the tweets of anyone who had the temerity to “become” Hato or Madarame or Ogiue or whoever. And that went twice for any of the Monogatari or Zetsubo Sensei  characters. As well, I suspected that if the practice caught on, it would soon be sucked into a crass vortex of cross-platform marketing bullshit and would die miserably while trying to sell me sex pills and Pop Tarts.

Meanwhile, something was quietly gathering strength in the darkness, waiting for its time to come round at last.

Aside from an interest in Japanese popular culture, I used to be quite a political junkie, especially when it came to American politics. Astute readers may have spotted a few Thompson references. With the primary season upon us and with all the interesting chaos in the Republican pathology party, it is once again a fine spectator sport.

Imagine my surprise when I started seeing tweets by what I thought was a clever Twitter ‘bot assuming the guise of president Richard M. Nixon.

Nixon tweets

Whoooo Hahhh!

This was more fun than that  Futurama episode.


For those of you who missed him due to accident of age, the 37th President of the United States of America was an interesting political figure to watch (and watch out for). Among other things, he was known for a ruthless, pragmatic brand of politics and a conservatism that while considered hardline in its day, appears moderate and curiously old-fashioned in light of the current scorched ideological landscapes of the American right. Also something of a football fan.

It only took a little time for me to clue in that Twitter’s Richard M.Nixon was not a ‘bot but rather a convincing case of roleplay/ RPF (real person fanfiction), with his presence and political acumen channelled by a producer/ playwright/ political junkie. Soon enough, President Nixon also began writing columns on the primaries for Mashable.

And here is a chance for some interesting trivia about the difference in allowable parody and appropriation under the laws and practices of the United States, Canada, Common Europe and Japan.  In the United States, parody of public figures is fair use and free speech, though trademark law might trip you up if you are swiping rather than commenting. Canada pretty well follows this, but has weaker fair use customs and potentially more expensive private defamation tort law precedents. Common Europe likes political satire, but protects personal privacy.

Japan is very big on protecting the feelings and the privacy of the politically powerful, enforcing copyright and trademark rights and just plain looking the other way when right-wing patriotic societies wreak mayhem on anyone who offends the well-connected.

Fan culture, especially dojin and cosplay “parody”/ transformative/ secondary production practices are very big on not poking this anthill. Centuries before, Edo had a great pr0n-ish publishing culture until some jerks started making fun of the powerful with rude shunga pictures. Wham! Instant crackdown, publishing bans, a few executions, many bonfires and everyone had to lie low for years until the naughty little pictures gradually came off double-secret ultra probation and went back to providing evening laughs and rudimentary sex education for the upper classes. There have been periodic moral panics and censorship sweeps ever since.

None other than the great Yukio Mishima got his stupid ham hocks caught in one of these during the sixties. The end result was more oppressive case-law; yeah, the big dummy lost his case and was hit with a judgement for “invading the privacy” of a sleazebag politician.

“The novel was inspired by the real-life affair between politician Hachiro Arita and a nightclub hostess — Mishima hated hypocrisy and Arita’s story may have pushed him in a new artistic direction. Arita successfully sued Mishima for invasion of privacy and the famous case has meant writers, filmmakers and TV producers since have shied away from the dramatic potential in the lives of celebrities and politicians. In part, this thin novel is effectively responsible for the dearth of satire in Japan today.”

There is also the matter of “criminal libel”, though it appears that enforcement favours the powerful, rather than noisy activist types. And collecting judgements from the owner of 2chan (and now 4chan) remains a game of whack-a-mole.

All this means that fandom in Japan holds to 3 powerful rules for secondary production practices: No RPF on the powerful. No hardcore kiddie porn at Comiket. No fucking with Disney properties. (1)

I know of only three cases where folks tried and got away with testing the limits of the first of these rules.

A manga that features an ex Prime Minister as a super Mah-jong player

Independent low-budget film-maker Minoru Kawasaki’s “The Monster X Strikes Back/Attack the G8 Summitwhich you should hunt down, like most of his oddball films, it is a hoot – btw the Nech Koma joke involves a then-popular comedy routine about a young Russian Olympic gymnast’s tight outfit.


The manga pamphlet Monkey business (An idiot’s guide to Tokyo’s harmful books regulation) which viciously lampooned the then Tokyo Governor, Ishihara Shintarô’s “Nonexistent Crimes Bill”

“The bill regulates the sale and renting of “harmful publications” to Japanese youth: material that is “sexually stimulating, encourages cruelty, and/or may compel suicide or criminal behavior” in people under the age of 18″

See Even a monkey can understand fan activism: Political speech, artistic expression, and a public for the Japanese dôjin community by Alex Leavitt and Andrea Horbinski


So, If you ever wondered about all those quaint O  and X  mungings of names and brands in manga and anime, that’s why. What a lost chance for product placement and cross-marketing!

And if you are on the twitter thing, you could do worse to make sense of the state-side political fun by following the shade of the tricky one. Now that he has his elder statesman reputation to uphold, he is restrained, quite astute and often dead nuts on.

Don’t know about Kasich’s chances though


(1) Mentioning flat-out that a certain women’s musical theatre ensemble might harbour any connection whatsoever to lesbianism is close to, but not quite as powerful as the Disney effect. It is a matter of legal budgets.

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