5. Socialization and community practices :
The building of community around manga narratives is another important issue addressed by this survey. Are they consumed on a solitary basis or in group? How and under which conditions?
Overall, it emerges from this study that the Swiss respondents are far from being « otakus », as we understand this word in the West, that is miserable victims of consumption capitalism who have taken refuge in their own little bubble and refuse to communicate with the rest of society. But even if we don’t fall into this kind of extreme stereotyping, we find that most of them aren’t isolated in small temporary groups of teenagers, for whom mangas consumption would simply represent a way to distinguish themselves from others, a short-live form of rebellion against sociocultural conformism. Quite the opposite, for most of them, manga narratives offer the ideal ground for socialization, whether for exchanging impressions, sharing stories, collaborating to group activities or even artistic emulation.
As a matter of fact, I was very surprised to obsever that most respondents don’t feel too negatively considered by those in their social surrounding who don’t all share their enthusiasm for mangas. If many say they meet some lack of understanding or even indifference from their relatives and friends, none of them have suffered outright disapproval. That might be in part due to the increasing normalization of the image of Japanese entertainment in Switzerland. One must also reckon with a number of respondents who say that they aren’t the only ones within their family to be interested in mangas.
On the other hand, at work, even for those respondents who say they know other people who also like this form of entertainment, most of them prefer to remain discreet about their passion. As I have said before, like comics and other form of visual entertainment, mangas is still considered to be aimed mostly at kids and it therefore doesn’t look very serious, even when you are 16-17 years old, to boast such interest fot this kind of products or even to talk about it regularly during office hours.
Among university students, the socialization opportunities through manga are also mitigated. Even those who know other amateurs and talk about mangas with them, only a few of them say that mangas can help make social relationships in this setting. I believe that it might be due to its lack of academic legitimity as an object of academic interest.
As far as community building is concerned, one can only note the importance of new technologies. Switzerland has been witnessing for several years one of the highest rate of connection to high-speed infrastructures in Europe, despite the high cost of computers and networks subscription in comparison to European standards. (In June 2007, Switzerland announced that 29% of the population was had access to high-speed connections, a result that places it in 3rd position behind the Netherlands and Norway in the 2007 OECD ranking of the countries with the deepest penetration of broadband Internet.)
This means that no matter the socioprofessional situation, most respondents have regular access to the Web, wether from home or outside at work or school. Thus, 60% of them use it as an essential platform for encounters and exchanges. Almost all of them visit chatrooms, forums and website devoted to mangas. And many of them read scanlated mangas and download (legally or ilegally) animes.
If more than 2/3 of the respondents regularly attend conventions, either in Switzerland or in neighboring countries, there are much less numerous to participate in cosplays, usually expressing mostly wishfull thinking about a potential future participation. And there are even less people who have contributed to fanzines or scanlations. On this point, the Swiss-Germans are the most active. If one considers the professional background from these few people, one realizes that their implication might be linked to their training and work in the field of multimedia, computer science and design, which indeed involve a certain taste for graphic, journalistic and artistic productions.
If one returns to the the categories announced earlier, one can observe a potential likn between fandom and participation in manga-centered communities, although not systematic. When crossing the tables with the results of consumption and involvment in collective activties, one can see that a certain number of people, although not completely isolated, take only a superficial advantage of the socialization opportunities offered by these communities. It seems that this is due again to the availability of free time. The older the respondents and the more advanced s/he is in his/her family and professional lives, the less time s/he has for this kind of hobbies. Moreover, one can assume that beyond a certain age, it becomes more difficult to account for one’s implication in activities devoted to a form of entertainment largely associated with teenagehood.