Challenges to Otaku Culture: Social Withdrawal

This is an entry of a 5-part series on the threats to the cohesiveness and health of the Otaku community.

Top Five Challenges to Otaku Culture:

  1. Bullying of Adolescent Otaku
  2. Deletion of Racial Differences 
  3. Body Shaming
  4. Reinforcement of Anti-Social Behaviors and Social Withdrawal: NEETs, Boomerangs, and Shut-in Hikikomori 
  5. Misogyny and Madonna-Whore Complexes 

Reinforcement of Antisocial Behaviors and Social Withdrawal: NEETs, Boomerangs, and Shut-in Hikikomori 

Culture shapes individuals to function in certain ways. Culture can also stimulate certain unhealthy individuals to dysfunction in other ways. Within the US, I have observed that Social Anxiety Disorder is most common in individuals from mid-Atlantic suburban culture, less common in New England culture, and rare in Southern culture. Others have recorded a stark difference in the amount of children diagnosed with ADHD in America versus France: 9% of the children from the land of red, white, and blue have been diagnosed with ADHD while for the land of the blue, white, and red has only 0.5%. As a political scientist, I see these differences as indicative of a sort of macro-psychology, while psychologists may refer to it as country-based psychosocial influence.

When two cultures mix, the game changes. I believe that the layering of certain cultures upon one another can reinforce an individual’s positive traits as well as exacerbate the negative ones. As the USA has a problem with children and young adults experiencing ADHD, Japan has a problem with young people experiencing acute social withdrawal, shutting themselves in and pulling away from all social and even familial contact. These individuals are called hikikomori, literally “pulling inward, being confined.” Inability to cope with the outside world is a gradient, and closer to healthy on that sliding scale are Japan’s NEETs and Freeters. A NEET is a young person who cannot cope or cannot find employment and has given up trying to do so. They often stay at home with their parents or grandparents, and their livelihoods are provided by their families. They are “Not in Education, Employment, or Training.” Similarly, a Freeter works only part time, still depending on their families for a stipend to support the cost of living.

Freeters and NEETs functionally and psychosocially parallel with the Boomerang kids of the US: Boomerangs return home after a short stint away, usually in college, to continue to be supported by their family. According to the New York Times, nearly twenty percent of Americans aged 20-35 live with their parent(s). This similarity appearing in both cultures opened up avenues for Japanese media pertaining to living at home as an adult to be relevant and successful both domestic markets and abroad in the USA. The series Princess Jellyfish, an anime about a group of young women NEETs struggling with their underemployment, gender, and identity, saw a surge of popularity in the US in last year and earlier this year. Princess Jellyfish resonated with American Otaku who were facing similar struggles to the protagonists, or at least knew someone who was. The series story gives voice and understanding to the difficult circumstances around young people people today. Its positive influence heals a part of dysfunction found in both societies. At the same time, unhealthy individuals may view the story as a justification for their dysfunction, thinking, “See? They don’t have full time jobs and are not self-sustainable. I don’t have to be either.”

Other series do not heal individuals but rather reinforce the idea of social withdrawal and inability to function in society. In many stories, NEETs are not protagonists but secondary characters floating on the periphery. Any story with these characteristics enables unhealthy behaviour by passively accepting fiscally irresponsible habitude and anti-social actions.

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