Everybody is making things today. Cosplayers are making costumes, book readers are writing and sharing fictions, gamers are making mods and machinima, manga readers are producing "amateur" manga or scanlations, and anime viewers are fansubbing and even making animations. Everybody is exchanging opinions, writing reviews, and making or contributing to data bases. Under such circumstances it is not surprising that the term "consumer" has begun to drop out of use. Or, when it is used, rather than carry connotations of passivity, "consumer" has come to feel somehow active or at least neutral, akin to "receiver" or "user." And, even though a great deal of this "user activity"—fan fiction, fansubs, scanlations, amateur manga, mods, machina, fan forums, and databases—appears organized around a product or commodity, everyone knows that buying the product is not the point, not the beginning and end of things. Rather it is the product world that counts, the worlds that unfold from the product. Consequently, the term "product" also begins to feel inadequate to this situation. It's not a matter of commodity-objects to be consumed and then forgotten, but of commodity-events to be dwelled on, lingered over, prolonged, enhanced. And this is what everyone is doing today: prolonging worlds from commodity-events in circulation.
At the same time, unless you've mastered easy flight to other planets, you've surely run up against signs of increasing anxiety about the effects of capitalism in today's world: wealth disparity, poverty, unemployment, war for profit, environmental degradation, and criminalization of immigration. Regardless of what you think about capitalism, it's hard to escape a sense of disparity between the genuine creativity of consumer activity [End Page ix] today—prolonging events, carving out worlds, doing things yourself—and the contemporary crises of capitalism. And, even though it is always tempting to think that more and better consumption will resolve the problems of capitalist production, the relation between consumption and production today is just too complicated for simple answers. Their relation has always been complicated, but today has its added wrinkles, so to speak.
Such are the questions that motivated the topic for Mechademia 6: User Enhanced. In the context of editing Mechademia 5: Fanthropologies, a volume that proposed not merely to conduct an anthropology of fans but more importantly to ask what was at stake in studying fans today, we were surprised, given the range of concerns evidenced in the submissions, by the scarcity of discussions looking at otaku in terms of consumerism, commodification, ideology, capitalism, or hegemony, which had long been key terms in cultural critique. Rather, where sociological description gave way to critical concern, submitted essays tended to gravitate toward problems of identity, toward the marginalization of fans, negotiations of gender and sexuality, or cultural difference and national identity. The same is true for discussions of otaku in Japan, albeit in a different register: even though the terms "consumption" and "consumer" are generally used in Japanese accounts of otaku, the overall emphasis is more sociological than economic. The trend is to speak of social transformations across different generations in Japan, rather than to link otaku consumers to transformations in capitalism or to a critique of capital.
The general critical focus on negotiating identities and characterizing generations (rather than resisting ideologies or exposing the social contradictions of capitalism) seemed to us in keeping with the general transformation described above. Because the consumer today is user, negotiator, prosumer, interactor, or creator, our discussions of consumers, our discussions of fans, have shifted dramatically. It no longer seems possible to assume that fans are passive recipients, duped by ideology, deceived by mass cultural industries, or unilaterally shaped by capitalism. Still, new questions arise. Without wishing to force analysis back into received frameworks for understanding consumption and production, and adopting the somewhat neutral term "user" instead of consumer or creator, we nonetheless wished to address some fundamental questions: "How do commodities work today, now that we have become active users (transformers or even creators) of culture rather than passive consumers of it?" and "What are the implications of this transformation?" Thus we arrived at "the user enhanced," which refers at once to "user-enhanced commodities...