This year, for the first time in many years, I attended Otakon without the luxury—or burden—of a press badge. It’s a strange feeling, but a liberating one, too. Liberating in that it was easy for me to forget what the congoing experience is like without trying to turn it into coverage or an assignment. No interviews, no formal discussion of this industry panel or that premiere screening, just three days with a few dozen thousand other like-minded people. I needed this, and the biggest reason I needed it was because I kept telling myself otherwise.
To just "do nothing" — well, not really "nothing", but nothing from my POV --is hard to swallow. It goes against my deeper instincts to take everything that comes my way and convert it into a piece of shared insight, to somehow mine it for utility. “Just” going to the show felt like a betrayal of that impulse, even as I know too well where that feeling comes from. I know I am far too efficient at taking the things I enjoy and making them into work-of-a-kind. I had to fight back.
Here we have one of the perpetual downsides of a fan-to-pro hobby. The amount of time and effort poured into anything like this threatens to make everything you do that lives anywhere near the territory in question — anime, manga, Japanese popular culture generally — turn into work. And work of the worst kind (at least, so I told myself): thankless, unpaid, perpetually unfinished and unfinishable. Every series watched and uncommented on, or unwatched entirely, every manga abandoned or never started, every insight noted down and not acted on, all starts to feel like further evidence of slacking.
The more I could convince myself to do in this space that didn’t automatically have to become more work, the less I might risk burning myself out on it. Such was the most prominent reason not to go as press.
The other reason was, I confess, more practical. Ganriki being such a tiny operation, I didn’t think I had an icicle’s chance in a smelting furnace of convincing any Powers That Be that I deserved a press badge. Crackdowns on press-badge scams have become all the sterner for good reason; it really was too easy for someone to palm themselves off as “press” when all they had was a blog with five entries in it, all dated within the past two months. In my previous career, where I drew actual pay for my anime coverage, I filled out fifteen pages of paperwork for a press badge at a major Northeastern con and still didn’t get one; my passport renewal was less paperwork than that, and had a happier ending. Against those odds, I didn’t feel like laboring again in vain.
Press badges provide fewer advantages than you might think. The main boon would have been access to some of the guests for the sake of interviews, and maybe priority seating for some of the more upscale events at the show. The first is nice, but once I'd been infected with the idea that I didn't have to do any of those things, it got easier to let the opportunity pass me by. The second was even less important for the same reasons.
Even with all this understanding, it was hard to contain the impulse to make hay of everything that came my way—Mike Toole’s fascinating panel on South Korean bootleg animation, or another no-less-fascinating panel on North Korean animated material (most of it anti-American war propaganda, albeit with a veneer of entertainment sprayed over it), or an examination of how Japan's ambivalent feelings about being a militarized world power has spilled over into its popular culture.
I had to remind myself there was nothing that said I had to turn this stuff into something useful now, no inward diktat that demanded I do something other than drink it in. I could just ... go to the show. If I live-tweeted a panel, as I did more than a few times, it was because it was a genuinely fun thing to do, not because some reward awaited me.
Just being there was its own reward, a reward I'd educated myself out of accepting. It was high time to unlearn.