Today, Y and I met up with her best friends from high school for a vegetarian lunch followed by a temple visit and then hanging out at Anita’s home. During the day, I had a wonderful conversation with Y’s good friend Amy Yau, who is an editor of computer and design books in Taipei, about science fiction fandom, otaku, and “home guys.”
I wrote about the Taiwanese “home guy” back in 2009 here. In that earlier post, I wrote about people in Taiwan who are technology and video game enthusiasts who in the States we might call nerds or geeks: “Home guy (阿宅) is a term that was originally reserved for folks who majored in computer science in school, but now the term has an expanded meaning that encompasses someone who is shy, plays video games, and reads comic books (girls are a marginalized minority in this group but there are definitely some out there)” (Ellis par. 4). I also wrote about the home guy movement’s self-proclaimed spokesman or leader, 朱學恒 (Xuei-Hen Ju).
I am a novice when it comes to Taiwanese fandom, and I am glad that I had a chance to speak with Amy today to further develop what I wrote earlier about home guys. She provided me with additional information about different kinds of home guy, and she pointed out a very important distinction between Japanese and Taiwanese otaku.
The three types of home guy are more nuanced that I originally described in my earlier post. According to Amy, the first kind of home guy is what the media has constructed from existing stereotypes. The media home guy is a man who stays at home, plays video games, wears t-shirts and lousy clothes, avoids showers, and most imporantly, is very shy.
Counterposed to the media home guy is the actual home guy, who is a technology enthusiast, comic reader, and video game player. Amy considers herself a home guy in this regard. She is a successful young person with a promising career who enjoys a technology and new media lifestyle. She goes out with her friends regularly, and I can attest to the fact that she a kind and outgoing person who does not fit the less pleasant aspects of the media home guy. She and many other home guys break the stereotype that the media continue to promote here in Taiwan.
Finally, there is the third type of home guy or what I call the Lucifer Home Guy. Xuei-Hen Ju is the self-proclaimed leader of Taiwanese home guys or what you can call the “Home God.” In his formulation of the home guy, it is a person who enjoys new media and technology but also goes out to do things socially, especially in groups. He wants to bring people together to do things. These are generally good things, because they are also breaking the media promoted stereotypes. However, there are two concerns about his assumption of the home guy leadership if any such thing is even needed. They are: who elected him to Home God, and his problematic promotion of other home guy stereotypes.
First, Xuei-Hen Ju has become a spokesperson of sorts for home guys through his blog and his organization of home guy social events (including the one that I wrote about before here). Amy said that he should not be the representative of home guys, because he does not really represent all home guys. He is one person among many, many home guys with different levels of home guy participation. Imagine home guys as a spectrum that involves not only involvement but also different kinds of fandom (technology, comics, video games–supposedly fringe or marginal entertainments and engineering that are in fact mainstream now). Xuei-Hen Ju is one among many home guys, and he should not be emblematic of the group as a whole.
Second, Xuei-Hen Ju participates in some media home guys stereotypes such as wearing too casual clothing and t-shirts. He may be attempting to reach out to home guys who do appear that way, but he clearly wants to create his own home guy stereotype. Why not challenge the most obvious signifier of the home guy: what they wear? However, there are some things that he does that Amy lauds such as his translation work that brings Harvard and MIT lectures to Chinese speaking people for free.
Regardless of the differences of opinion between home guys and Xuei-Hen Ju’s version of home guy, both groups do not like their portrayal by the Taiwanese media. In this at least they are united.
The second part of our conversation, Amy told me about the core differentiating characteristic between Japanese otaku and Taiwanese otaku. Otaku is from Japanese and it means an obsessive enthusiast, particularly someone who enjoys manga (comics), anime (animation), or video games. Taiwanese otaku is another way of saying home guy. What makes these two groups different, at least concerning men in both groups, is that Japanese otaku obsess over and actually fall in love with virtual girls while Taiwanese otaku or home guys only like real girls. Evidence for this can be found by regularly reading Danny Choo’s website (his website here is a portal to Japanese otaku). Virtual girl fetishization seems to be a way of life for young men in Japan: body pillow cases, virtual girl friend games including Love Plus, female figures and action figure toys, etc. On the other hand, Amy claims that male Taiwanese otaku do not fall for virtual girl friends. For example, Xuei-Hen Ju favors posting images of real girls rather than artistically created virtual girls on his website here.
Like my earlier post about home guys, this is only a quick sketch of a term endeared by some and reviled by others. Amy helped me develop a more nuanced approach to the home guy phenomenon, and she helped me understand some imporant distinctions that I was not aware of before.