IARP’s Results – What Can We Learn?

I’ve been holding onto this one for a while as I’ve been thinking about how to approach this subject.

The International Anime Research Project (IARP) released the results of a three fandom research project over the summer of 2014.  It analyzed three groups of individuals: anime fans, fantasy sports fans, and furries (individuals interested in the anthropomorphization…or simply put, individuals who find interest in giving animals human-like traits.  The research project also lists zoomorphization, or giving humans animal-like traits, but I think they’re fairly close and if you’re reading this definition, I think it’s unlikely this distinction would help at all). The project conducted a survey consisting of thousands of individuals to determine any relation between the three groups.

Now, as a warning before going forward, I base the rest of this article on the assumption that the findings are correct.  I would hesitate to ever state this as I don’t want to trust a single source when looking at groups.  However, this group also is one of the few to conduct studies across fan bases and I’d suggest that my commentary are purely speculative based on these limited results.

You can read the report yourself, and I actively encourage you to, but the basic results are as follows:

  • “Furries” declare themselves transgender way more often than other groups.
  • Ranking the three groups in terms of descending percentage to declare themselves heterosexual, the order is sports fans – anime fans – furries.
    • Similarly, you find an order of anime fans/furries – sports fans when it comes to asexuality, with the slash representing statistically similar results.
  • The sample populace is overwhelmingly white.  This seems to hold for all of their samples.
  • The vast majority of anime fans who participated in this survey online identify as being single.  The rate is about 78% to an approximately 50% mean for the other groups.  They also qualify as far lower in education than “sports fans”.  However is more likely an indicator of age; anime fans are much younger than the typical fan of other groups.
  • Anime fans are left-wing atheists in political terms, leaning in both these directions compared to the average.
  • Online anime fans do not greatly associate themselves as artists or writers.  In fact, the latter is lower than that of sports fans.
  • There is no structural difference between anime fan groups and other fan groups for entitlement (that is, expectation of what the creators owe them).
  • Anime fans identify themselves as slightly “nerdier” and more introverted than other fan groups.
  • Anime fans tend towards engagement in fantasy activities than other groups.  That is, activities which allow for escapism.  Playing a video game, watching a movie, and reading novels all qualify.

Anime Stereotypes – Do They Actually Hold?

So one of the first things to think about when reading these results is how society typically views anime fans; the difference between the two can reflect misconceptions.

The common stereotype I hear is the “obsessive lonely loser”.  This stereotype typically describes the fan as an individual who would not fit in ordinary society; they are socially awkward and use anime as an escape.  This is primarily the western media standpoint.  I’d even argue that there’s some sort of pride ascribed with the stereotypical fan.  An excellent post from study of anime outlines this notion very well.  I’d encourage you to read that post as well as I’m only glossing over the key details but the social spread of a meme known as “Don’t worry ma’am, we’re from the internet” in which portrays fandom as a heavily obsessive society.  That is, it generates humour from the extreme nature of cosplay when contrasted against the absolutely normal reaction (“Don’t worry” and implying this unusual activity is normal in that society).  If you’re looking for other words, it’s that the contrast in the calming reaction in the text and the absurd situation generates the idea that these fans are conducting something completely normal in their minds and that their society is extremely different from the viewer’s.  A further and more negative read could suggest that these individuals do not fit in any other society but the one shown.

This common line of thought isn’t one that sticks to anime in specific but often associates itself to any activity that society perceives as somewhat “geeky”.  I mean, if we consider the common joke lines about Star Trek fans, for instance, a societal stereotype often interacts in the same manner.  A fairly popular North American sitcom, The Big Bang Theory, utilizes this to the hilt; the usage of Star Trek references (or any other activities commonly associated with geek culture for that matter) typically utilizes as a method of negatively portraying the characters.  And, as you’d likely guess from my above comments, lumped right in there is anime (according to Google and the ensuing YouTube link):

I’d argue this stereotype isn’t exclusive to anime fans as a result.  It is a prevalent opinion though.

So, what do these results do?  Assuming they’re correct (something I’ll do throughout this article), it shows where the actual fans who declares themselves part of the anime fan base deviates from stereotypes.

Let’s consider the first part of the description: obsessive.  The notion that anime fans are obsessive.  This part is quite universal between different aspects of the world, that major anime fans fascinate themselves with the medium.  It’s unfortunate, but there’s no way to observe this using the data presented.  At least, in my mind.  There are certain viable routes to consider this notion, such as observing spending habits or time management, but none of the above are effectively reflected in the IARP’s results.  One question asks about the quantity of videos and DVDs the subject owns, where anime fans hold a substantial lead on other groups.  However, this absolutely expected as anime is an entertainment industry which utilizes this technology (the release even mentioning this concept).

It is quite possible to make an argument on the idea that this study would argue against the notion of anime fans as obsessive: they are not self-described writers nor artists and therefore aren’t as interested in generating media over their pass times.  However, I wouldn’t agree with this assessment as it assumes that these are the only vectors for obsession.  Just watching more and more anime, for example.  Or writing long posts about anime.  Wait a second…

Now for the second part: lonely.  This poll overwhelmingly shows that anime fans are single.  But, as mentioned above, this is likely an age issue as respondents for anime fans were by and large much younger than the other groups.  So, let’s try other variables which are less age dependant.

The major aspect that peaks my interest is the “belonging” statistic and I would argue it contradicts the assumption in this stereotype.  This value, of course, relates to how strongly the fan attaches themselves to the fan community.  This statistic is much lower than I would expect a “lonely” fan to report.  The value reports that anime fans do not feel the need to associate themselves with the community.  In fact, the biggest motivator is entertainment according to the study.  I would even further that with another idea: entertainment is a likely motivation for a lot of anime fan’s activities.  Anime fans engage in the most fantasy activities and likely engage with them as an entertainment medium.

Finally, let’s look at “loser”…the notion that anime fans have no life and are overall “messes of a human”: unhappy, bitter people who escape via anime.  The result in this study is that there’s practically no backing to this notion.  This is because, while there is a distinct trend with online anime fans bucking the trend of having statistically significant differences in self-esteem and life satisfaction (both lower than other groups), the second polled anime group, individuals from an anime convention, have no trend against other groups.  As such, it seems impossible to draw the conclusion that anime fans, as a group, are “losers”.

To summarize, I think it’s absolutely unfair for this long-held stereotype by the general of society as an accurate depiction of anime fans.

Of course, anime fans also typically hold stereotypes of other anime fans.  I won’t bother actually going into them in great detail, instead going for a simple overview, and looking for any connection to these results.



Other Points of Consideration

This comment struck me heavily.  I’ll quote it very specifically as I think it’s worth reading:

Interestingly, the online anime fans reported slightly lower life satisfaction and self-esteem scores than members of the other fan groups. Psychological research on coping, resilience, and well-being has long suggested that having a social support network – family and close friends who are there for you, is a one of the most significant predictors of well-being. In above results (#11), it was shown that online anime fans have the smallest percentage of friends who share the same interest. This may suggest that online anime fans may rely less upon the other members of the fan community for social support, whereas, for furries, convention-going anime fans, and fantasy sport fans, they may be able to draw upon the fan community for social support, leading to greater psychological well-being.

This creates some interesting implications.  Remember previously that the study rejects the notion that anime fans are stereotypical “lonely” individuals.  However, the isolation for online fans from individuals who share similar interests may be problematic.  It’s very noticeable that anime fans interviewed at conventions are quite satisfied and are no different from any other group noted.  Where this gets real interesting though is when crossed with a later graph depicting the expected disapproval levels and likelihood of discussing the topic with their fan identity.  In particular, I’d draw attention to how internet viewing anime fans vary from convention going anime fans: both have similar expected disapproval ratings yet convention going anime fans appeared more willing to discuss the topic with others and, combined with the above suggestion, might suggest correlation.  But please note: this is not causation.  It’s a phenomenon reported in this study and that’s it.  It’s an intriguing result though and would require further investigation.

There’s another stereotype about anime fans that I didn’t want to touch before because it fits better here, and that’s the notion that anime is purely only sexually driven.  I know I rag about fanservice and my typical dislike of it, but I’ll also defend anime from this criticism.  Fanservice, in my mind, is of very minimal in relation to the fan base’s mind.  Are there fans who love it and fans who might watch anime purely for that reason?  Of course.  But look hard enough and you’ll find any number of stupid things.  4% of Americans believe in Lizardmen while 5% believe Paul McCartney died in 1966.  And I think this study reflects a key here: while there are some, well, unusual individuals in the world, most anime fans aren’t terribly different compared to other fans.

Actually, that bears repeating, in case it wasn’t apparent to readers (though, who am I kidding?  Most of you are probably also yourselves): Most anime fans are pretty much normal people.  They aren’t sexual deviants interested in their “2-D Waifus” only, they aren’t pedophilic (though I guess that study never did look at that…), they aren’t social shut ins, they aren’t even the commonly stereotyped losers.  No.  They’re just normal people.

And, if nothing else, I hope people who read this study feel the same.