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7 Oct 2010 / mttlg

The Price of Fandom

On October 1, 2010, Ngee Khiong shut down his blog covering upcoming anime product announcements. His reason wasn’t a lack of time or interest, but an inability to put up with all of the bullshit in the fan community. It wasn’t an easy decision, but his lengthy explanation gave numerous examples of supposed “fans” shitting all over a guy who was just trying to share his passion with the world, expecting nothing in return. All of this was a total shock to me, since I only knew of him through his blog, which stands as one of the most complete and impartial sources of niche product news that I have ever seen. The very idea of this guy getting dragged into flamewars or rallied against or behind in fanatic crusades is absurd, and yet that is the reality. I certainly can’t find fault with his decision, though the Gundam fan community will be worse off without his blog.

Sadly, the kind of hatred that chased Ngee Khiong’s blog off the internet is nothing new to the Gundam community. For as long as I have known about Gundam, people have taken their opinions of fictional stories and used them as weapons to degrade others who were guilty of nothing more than having different preferences and opinions. There’s a sort of irony inherent in members of a fringe group attacking others for being different, but that turns to sobering reality when the parallels with the cycle of abuse become apparent. Those who are ostracized, bullied, and humiliated themselves tend to turn to that same behavior when presented with an opportunity. For some, it’s a way to cope with what they’ve had done to them. For others, it’s just their idea of how the world is supposed to work. Others see it as their way of taking revenge on a world that won’t accept them. Most however aren’t even aware of the harm they cause.

But hey, this is about cartoons and toys, so let’s not get too dark and depressing. It’s only words getting tossed around, and electronically on top of that. It’s easy to tune them out or just walk away. But at what cost?

Many years ago, I used to occasionally post on message boards. I limited myself to topics where I could add something to the discussion, so I was never a frequent poster anywhere. When I discovered Gundam, the various message boards were an invaluable source of information that helped me sort out all of the shows, universes, side stories, characters, and mechs. Along the way, I frequently saw conflicting information, unanswered questions, and a desire for more information. Every once in a while, I saw an opportunity to help, thinking that my input would be appreciated.

This all came to an end when I made the mistake of doing something useful. I was really looking forward to the MG Zeta Plus A1 kit, so I had it preordered and ready to ship from Japan as soon as it was released. About a week after the kit was released, I had it in hand and started building. It took 7 or 8 hours (this was back in my quick and dirty days), but I had it assembled by the time I went to bed. The next day, I took some pictures and put them online. I figured that someone would find them useful since this was, after all, a brand new kit that hadn’t been seen much except for the pictures on the box. I posted the link and went about my business for the day.

MG Zeta Plus A1

The pic that launched a thousand insults

When I came back to it, the free web hosting account I used for the pictures was over its bandwidth quota and the thread I had started turned into a flamewar, started by one of the forum moderators. My crime? Not painting the model. Never mind that the kit was brand new and largely unseen in unpainted form. Never mind that the pictures were of fairly decent quality, better than you tended to get from random forum posters. Never mind that the pictures were provided for free and expressed no position on the quality of my work or the subject of painting. My actions were wrong because I dared to show that a model could be built without the use of paint, which was clearly sacrilegious. I had strayed from the One True Way and needed to be punished.

Of course, some people saw value in the pictures I had posted. That did little to ease the sting of personal attacks motivated by nothing more than a few pictures of a piece of plastic. I felt the need to defend myself, to explain why I built a model and displayed it without paint, but in retrospect that was just wasted effort that made me look stupid and could only lead to more criticism. It didn’t take long for another moderator to find the thread, survey the carnage, and lock the thread down. The experience did away with any respect I may have had for that forum’s moderators and the Gundam fan community as a whole. This wasn’t the first time that I had seen pointless flaming, but it was a good lesson on how even the most innocent comment can set someone off and turn them into a raving lunatic. It’s easy to write these incidents off as just some random idiot trolling for attention and getting a flamewar as a reward, but the pure malicious intent is harder to ignore when it has been directed at you.

Up until that point, I tended to just ignore my negative impressions of people’s opinions on Gundam fiction or models and modeling techniques, figuring that I just didn’t understand things enough to truly appreciate their thoughts or actions. Afterward, I saw these people for what they were – children, emotionally if not physically, in need of attention and approval. That “masterpiece” really was a splotchy mess, but they liked it. Their favorite show may have had a lot of problems that they refused to acknowledge, but it entertained them. My opinions weren’t different because of ignorance, they were just different. And there was nothing wrong with that.

I largely avoided active discussion over the next few years, which wasn’t very difficult with all of the major forums closing one after another. It’s not like anything of value was lost beyond information about upcoming media and merchandise, and there were now blogs covering that. The forums were good for little else beyond directing people to the next forum or blog anyway. The bulk of my Gundam information came from retailers and Gunota Headlines from that point on, with Gunota shutting down in 2008. That leads us to Ngee Khiong.

Ngee Khiong’s blog had been going for a couple of years before Gunota shut down, but it came to the forefront when Gunota was no more. Like most people, I found a link to it in a forum, liked it enough as a Gunota replacement, and bookmarked it alongside the now-defunct Gunota. The transition was a bit of a challenge, with Gunota being a text-only Gundam-only blog and Ngee Khiong being a photo-heavy blog of anything and everything Japanese. I had no interest in a lot of what was covered, and at once per week it took a long time to get through all of the posts, but it was a free service that was thorough if nothing else. The commentary was kept to a minimum, except for the occasional informative or humorous remark. No matter how you felt about the merchandise, it seemed impossible not to like the guy supplying the news.

All of this makes the end of Ngee Khiong’s blog both tragic and inevitable. You hate to see someone who is such a true fan and decent human being give up on anything, but there comes a point when the seedy underbelly of fandom gets too hard to ignore. In the end, he owes us nothing and has given us far more than we could ever repay. The least we can do is let him enjoy his hobbies in peace.

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