Spent time in an online chat this past Wednesday* with other people from MuseHack and Crossroads Alpha when the topic turned to anime that featured otaku as protagonists and how the trend is limiting the audience. The idea is that the target audience can relate directly with the protagonists, and thus the title quote, "I can be me if I wanted that." I can get weirdly philosophical when dealing with a headache and neck pain.
Let's add a bit of context. There's a school of thought that requires a character be a reflection of the audience to be relatable, and, indeed, works need characters who are relatable. Thus, anime with otaku protagonists and coming-of-age stories, works where the target audience can relate to what the main character is going through. I don't care to read about someone allegedly like me, though. I don't need a relatable character. I need an interesting character. I need a character who represents something different from what I can get in my own life. Let me decide if what I have, if anything, in common with the main character. Sometimes, I won't, but that's not the critical characteristic.
Let me rephrase the title. "If I wanted to experience being me, I can be me."
Not quite the same, but the idea is there. I never cared for coming-of-age stories as a teenager. I went through a phase of reading novels by Philip K. Dick. "Who am I and what is my place in the world?" pales next to "What is the nature of reality? What if we can't trust our own senses?" TV series like Star Trek, Battlestar Galactica, and Doctor Who had me asking, "What is out there, beyond our solar system?"
Even now, my hobbies lead to different points of view. I read science fiction and fantasy, exploring someone else's world. I've played both tabletop RPGs and video games, not limiting myself to a character that is a reflection of me**. I have played elves, dwarves, Ewoks, spies, swashbucklers, wizards, samurai, even uplifted wolves. I try not to limit myself to being me, a white male in the IT industry. I don't see the point. Even my writing tries to expand my experience. I have never been a teenaged girl, yet there is Unruly. For those wondering, Unruly isn't intended as a coming-of-age story. It is about girls who are budding supervillains and their plots. Maturing is a side effect; character growth is a good thing. However, Caitlin will be Caitlin at her core. She does not worry about her place in life; she's out to carve it out herself.
All that aside, I don't have a use for works that pander to me. I want characters who are their own people. William Gibson's Neuromancer was the first book I read where I had the thought, "You idiot!" over something Case did; yet, I kept reading. Why? Because what Case did was in-character for him and added another degree of uncertainty over the mission's success. Case wasn't me, nor was he someone I cared to become. He lived in the shadows and used drugs to compensate for losing the ability to run the Matrix, the Internet with full sensory input. While the ability to type while bypassing the keyboard is oh so tempting, I can live without LOLcats being sent directly to my cerebral cortex.
"I can be me if I wanted that."
I have experience at being me. I'm in my fifth decade of being me, and while who I am is always changing, I am still me. That's why coming-of-age novels fall flat for me. The main character is meant to reflect the target audience, but no one has better experience at being me than me. Worse, the authors tend to pull from their personal experience. Sure, there's the classic bit of writerly advice, "write what you know," but it should be written, "know what you write." I question the skill of a writer who only works with what he or she knows through experience. Even if the experience broadened them, writing about it doesn't. Write a biography instead of fictionalizing the experience. As a reader, I want to discover new worlds, not the same path someone else has tread.
I can be me if I wanted that.
* April 29, 2015, if you're not reading this when it was first posted.
** To a degree. The name of this blog, The Chaos Beast comes from other players' observation of my play style, where shiny buttons get pressed and stuff just happens when I get going, usually well off plan.