Notes from Taiwan, Three Versions of Home Guy and Japanese/Taiwanese Otaku Differentiation

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.

John Allison’s New Webcomic, Bad Machinery

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As you can see in the panel above, there is a robot poster in John Allison’s new webcomic, Bad Machinery, which he says is not about robots.  New comics are integrated into a complicated cybernetic system–one that needs oil and sweat to efficiently mesmerize its readers into a sense of comic reading bliss. We will see if Mr. Allison has supplied the requisite oil and sweat as he raises Bad Machinery up to operating temperature. Find it at his tried and true domain: scarygoround.com.

Scary Go Round Ends

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Mr. John Allison, thank you for a wonderful set of stories in the Scary Go Round universe. It is a sad day, because I believe that I could have kept on reading forever. What webcomic magical rabbits does he have up his shirt sleeve for the new comic beginning on Sept 21?

Read the last panel with farewells, big prospects, and Desmond.

Webcomic Scary Go Round Ends on Sept 11, As Tears Go By

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Followers of John Allison’s superbly fantastic webcomic “Scary Go Round” know that the long running series comes to an end on September 11. It’s sad to know that those stories that I would read with my cereal every morning since I was in the MA in Science Fiction Studies program at the University of Liverpool will end. Make sure that you stop by for the farewell, and stay tuned for Mr. Allison’s new comic debuting on September 21. Scary Go Round is here.

Disney Buys Marvel

Whoa! I wasn’t expecting to read in the New York Times this morning that Disney is buying Marvel (Comics) Entertainment:

The Walt Disney Company said Monday that it would buy the comic book giant Marvel Entertainment for about $4 billion.

I guess something like this was inevitable after Marvel went public in the 1990s and its subsequent economic fumbles and successes. There is one downside to this merger that I fear these kinds of mashups loom in the future: Hannah Montana fights crime with Spider-Man, The Mickey Mouse Club becomes a front for Xavier’s School for Gifted Children, Iron Man will spin off the Iron Mouse, etc.

Read about the acquisition here on the New York Times.

Scary Go Round Painting on eBay

I’m a big, big fan of John Allison’s Scary Go Round webcomic beamed to the Interweb from the far, off strange land of England. He’s selling a painting of the Scary Go Round character Esther De Groot on ebay. The bidding is fast and furious, and it’s on-going until Saturday. Unfortunately, my financial situation precludes my bidding on the painting, but I would like to direct some traffic that way for the artistic and aesthetically inclined art barons looking for the next big thing (or those just interested in buying me an awesome birthday present).

Bid on the auction here, and read Scary Go Round here (updated daily, Monday through Friday–there’s something to be said about webcomic punctuality).

Alan Moore’s Watchmen

Seth let me borrow Watchmen by Alan Moore (writer) and Dave Gibbons (illustrator/letterer). If you’re not familiar with it, it’s a twelve issue series that was originally published between September 1986 and October 1987, and it won the 1988 Hugo Award for Other Forms.

Watchmen gives the reader a real punch to the gut that I haven’t experienced in other comics (though I might take that back–I’m reading Frank Miller’s The Dark Night Returns now).  Take this how you will, but I felt real blue about Rorschach at the end.  Despite his fascist worldview, he was right about what he wanted to do in his own way.  Furthermore, all superheroes are fascist in their own way.  Just because Rorschach had political and moral views totally askew to mine, doesn’t mean that his denial to go along with Ozymandias’ plan makes him the bad guy.

I’ve read online for awhile that a movie was in the works.  I hope that it fares better than other movies inspired, raped, and pillaged from Moore’s work (e.g. The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen).  I’m with Wil Wheaton when he writes:

However, I am putting the studio on notice: if you pull any studiofuckery with Watchmen, you will see a rampaging horde of geek rage that will make The Phantom Menace look like a Fred Thompson campaign rally [Read more here].

“Studiofuckery.”  Excellent term, Wil.  Maybe this will be the one that bucks the trend.

Five Fists of Science

Today has been one of those days that try my back, but despite the pain, it has been a good day. It started early this morning when I got up and fixed some tea and crackers for breakfast (now, I’m out of pb&j). Then, I walked to the Health Centre for my 11:10am appointment. Luckily, it was a painless visit, and the doctor told me that the rash around my eyes is just very dry skin. She sent me to Boots Pharmacy (she pronounced it as “Bootsies”) to get a tub of Aqueous Cream B.P. I’ll put this junk around my eyes for the next four to six weeks to clear it up.

I went straight from there to McDonald’s in the city centre for lunch. I had some delicious chicken nuggets with curry sauce. I’m going to miss curry sauce when I go back to the states.

Next, I walked to Lime Street Station to pick up a cheap student return ticket to Manchester. I almost missed the train to Manchester, because the original train I was going to take got cancelled. An attendant on the platform saw me standing there by myself and he told me that the train on platform six was going to stop by Manchester, so I ran over there and hopped on the train as the doors were literally closing. On the way there, I continued reading Ian McDonald’s River of Gods.

After I arrived in Manchester, I headed to Travelling Man comics to pick up a graphic novel that I ordered before Christmas, The Five Fists of Science. While I was there, I also got a few issues of an interesting comic called Mouse Guard. Next, I went to Forbidden Planet to look around. I guess I was in a spending mood, because I picked up some Sandman comics. What followed was a very long walk. I went in search of Blyth’s Art Shop. According to my map of Manchester, it was in the heart of the “gay” district. I walked along the canal and around all of the blocks, but I couldn’t find that damn art shop. Then, I walked down an alley that had some signs jutting out, and under one of them was a smaller sign that said that the art shop was accessible from the other side of the building. I looked around and it was inside a building with an electronic access system and a tiny placard showing the art shop was indeed inside. I called up, and they let me in. After looking around for a bit in their cramped quarters, I found a nice easel and acrylic paint set that was marked down 20%. I purchased that, and then I walked back to the Manchester Piccadilly train station.

Again, a cancelled train screwed me over. When I entered the station, the board said that a train was leaving in four minutes from platform 14. I rushed there, and hopped on the train sitting there. After it pulled out from the station, the driver announced that it was headed for Wales. Luckily, it stopped at the Oxford Road station, so I hopped out. The Liverpool was cancelled, so I waited about twenty minutes for the next Liverpool Lime Street Station train to come along. I got on board, pulled out my book, and read until I made it back to Liverpool.

The hard winds of Liverpool greeted me with hard hands and shoves as I exited Lime Street station. Since I was across the street from Worlds Apart, I decided to go in there for a bit. Unfortunately, that was the third comic shop that I purchased something at today. I “weighed” each of the Please Twins surprise figurine boxes until I was satisfied that I had picked the one with the figurine I wanted. I also got a set of manga art prints that I had been wanting for awhile.

After walking back into the street and noticing how my back felt, I decided I better get home. I decided to cut through the central train station to Bold Street so that I could get a skinny latte to join me on the trek up the hill to my flat.

On the way back, I saw the usual suspects–the Arab guys in Hot’n’Tender Chicken (serving up doners), the homeless guy in front of the news stand (I didn’t have to say “sorry,” because he was talking to some guy), Quick Chef (just reopened), and Dennis at the porter’s lodge (no new mail–I have another book on the way from Ed at SFRA Review).

Back in my room, I applied the aqueous cream to my face, sent some emails, looked through my loot (I did pick the right Please Twins figure), and watched another episode of Star Trek (“Amok Time.” If they used titles like Friends, it would have been called, “The one with Spock’s cheatin’ wife”).

I’m going to cool it awhile and do some more reading. I’ll catch you on the flip side, which reminds me of eXistenZ (I watched it last night). God bless David Cronenberg!