Fujiwara Hiroshi and Fujiwara Hiroshi #2 (usually known as Nigo) live on the top two floors of glamorous Roppongi Hills — the most concrete and visible symbol of achievement in contemporary Japanese society. Both run fashion labels and provide consulting services for multinational brands (Nike and Louis Vuitton, respectively), but neither have a background in fashion design nor make their bales of cash from directly artistic pursuits. If I had to give an obnoxious Malcom Gladwell name for these men, they rose to fame as pointers: giving monthly magazine readers a short list of hot items and must-haves. Nigo, in particular, used this editorial-lifestyle approach to guide his brand A Bathing Ape’s creative direction and offer style pastiches of his favorite items — be them Buddy Holly glasses, ’60s sci-fi films, or British knit sweaters.
Good editorial on a particular topic requires an obsessive mind and endless quest to pierce the bounds of general knowledge and find hidden gems lurking below. Engaged consumers do not need someone to tell them what they already know, and legitimacy is only often gained by being one step ahead of the crowds. A soft rock “expert” will not win points for recommending The Association to fans, nor will a Wired columnist win points for introducing you to Gmail.
To be quite frank, the Ura-Harajuku guys, Cornelius, DJ Shadow, Beck, and all the other wonderboys of the ’90s were nerds, always aggressively digging crates and photo plates to win the arbitrage game of cashing in unknown or forgotten information. Japanese consumers and fans in particular internalized this info-obsession and ultimately judged the quality of their heroes on their nerdy levels of cutting-edge, yet trivial knowledge. Nerdiness breeds a maniacal energy — much more than the resignation to just buy whatever is two-feet in front of you. Running around, researching, and comparing notes give birth to high levels of involvement in culture.
Then came the God damned Internet: too much information, too much easy access. We still need editors, but anybody can find secret emeralds now, not just those “in the know” like Fujiwara and Nigo. The free-for-all democracy of the Net destroyed the distinctive, invidious pleasure of pointing to objects before the masses could. So, Nigo and Fujiwara went bling bling and started to distance themselves from the common folk by showing how many diamond-encrusted watches and vintage automobiles they could own. Instead of talking up Barbara Kruger and Karl Marx, Fujiwara is now content to show fast cars, travel pictures from Capri, and a two-shot with Zidane on his Honeyee.com blog. (Although the dude is way into John Mayer.)
Editorial is out, and with it goes a very dependable source of energy and consumer involvement. Why be a modest nerd now when you can be covered in jewels while driving your red Ferrari? Fans know what Ferraris look like, know they will never have one, and then stop thinking about them.
That being said, there is still one group of nerds that has not gotten the memo: the otaku. But thanks to their absolutely and utter lack of coolness motive, they go on being obsessive and highly-involved with their own personal interests — despite the internet or changes in the Zeitgeist.
And this is exactly why we are living in an otaku boom, because they are the last nerds standing in a cultural economy desperate for youth obsession. Normal kids could care less about much of anything and are especially suspect of any actions that require what used to be called “effort” (and is now referred to as something like “面倒臭さ”). So the media shifts all attention to Akihabara, because they still purchase items, go the extra mile to find rare artifacts, and show an envious loyalty towards their heroes and icons. It’s not that anime or manga are “cool” all of a sudden but they are the only ones to show up on the field. Mainstream society would find very little nice to say about otaku but they do have energy. And energy is what we need.