No one likes to be different, abnormal, or weird, right? We all are hard-wired with innate, primeval desires to belong to, and be accepted by, something or someone we respect that may be bigger than ourselves. Just like beauty, however, difference, abnormality, and weirdness is in the eyes of the beholder, and our judgment and justification of what constitutes acceptance is often defined and shaped by our environment. I learned this lesson in a very practical way several months ago at... an Anime USA convention.
Last fall, in response to the earnest pleadings of my YSA daughter, I decided to earn a slew of valuable parental brownie points doing the dad thing and accompany her one long Saturday to an Anime USA Convention at a prestigious downtown DC hotel. For the previous few weeks I had watched her transform herself into “Fi,” a Legend of Zelda character, and in a temporary fit of calculated insanity my interest was piqued by other potential oddities I might find at the convention. I planned to spend one whole day of quality time with my Kindle and some unread books in a nondescript corner lobby while she socialized the day away with an eclectic collection of formally normal human beings outrageously dressed up as imaginary elves, magicians, trolls, superheroes, super villains, and just about anything and anyone else that could be imagined, and even some that couldn’t.
I was not prepared for the subsequent onslaught of oddities. I was completely surrounded by thousands of the strangest creatures I had ever seen, from the Batman-Kung Fu master mashup costume to the quaintly dressed Little Bo Peep wielding a bloody axe and a second set of arms coming out her back. The only other “normal” person I saw was a middle-aged man wearing slacks and a classy V-neck sweater, obviously a hotel guest, taking a little fluffy dog for a morning walk. He started to walk past me, then after telepathically acknowledging that we were the only two normal humans in the hotel, turned to me and said; “ I know this looks like I’m walking a dog, but actually its really my son in dog suit.” It was his humorous homage to trying to fit in.
After two hours of professional people-watching the expanse of abnormality unfolding before me, it slowly dawned on me that in this environment, I was the one that wasn’t fitting in- I was the outcast, the outlier, the abnormal weird one in a majority world of Anime characters. I caught them oddly staring at me! How did it make me feel?
I found myself struggling to comprehend and understand their differences. At irregular intervals I arose to stretch and walk around the convention floor carefully catching snippets of conversations depicting the imaginations at play. I learned more than I wanted to about this strange entertainment discipline called Anime. I even casually struck up a few adhoc conversations and concluded that most of the participants were friendly and contagiously accepting of anyone, even that strange looking guy roaming the convention floor dressed in Levis and a light blue sweatshirt armed with a Kindle. Some even tried to figure out what character I was pretending to be.
I could not approve of the half-naked young women dressed up as imaginary forest fairies, nor could I stomach the three-headed troll wandering around the hotel carrying around a bag of bloody, decapitated noses he claimed to have won in a bar fight. However, there were many more participants like my daughter acting out healthy fantasies, if even for a single day at a prestigious hotel in downtown DC. Right is still right, and wrong is still wrong; it sometimes is just packaged in unexpected shapes and sizes. It’s OK to be different. We don’t have to be like other people or even embrace them; we just have to accept them as a fellow member of the human family. I haven’t been inspired to invent a wild costume of my own and join my daughter at the next convention; I look forward, however, to attending more conventions loaded with more cordial and clever discussions on what constitutes being “normal.”