“We can start here. This is geek country.”
We’re all familiar with Narnia and Neverland and all sorts of mystical fantasy worlds. One thing that all of these worlds have in common is that they exist in an unspecified location that is in no way connected to a Real World place. Right?
Perhaps there are places in our world that have been given a mystical overlay. The most prominent example here is Japan. For many of us, our first exposure to Japan is through anime. While I am interested in Japanese culture as a whole, it is anime that first brought me into it. Japan seems magical, not just because it is seemingly a hotspot for kami and kaiju, but because it is the land of origin of so much of the media and technology that we love. It’s one thing to get absorbed into stories from Japan. It’s another to pull back and think: hey, if all this cool stuff is being made in Japan, then Japan must be a really cool place. Japan has become a sort of real-life Narnia, a magical world that everyone wants to visit. Deep down, we know that a trip to Japan will not really reveal soot sprites and tanuki and catgirls, but fandom is a strong force that beckons to us regardless. It’s coolness by association.
The real Japan is in stark contrast to the fantasy world that anime fans have collectively imagined. As much as I would love to be a sailor senshi or have ninja skills, I know that I wouldn’t last two minutes in Japan. Japanese culture has a stifling emphasis on conformity, a school system with sky-high demands, and no outlet for personal expression beyond the fringe fashions that are only acceptable for two blocks at Harajuku.* Perhaps that’s why anime and manga is so fantastically wacky. All that creative energy has nowhere else to go. It can maybe be said that there are two Japans: the island nation on the eastern edge of the world, and the fantasy universe filled with quirky high-schoolers who wield elemental magic and keep talking penguins as pets.
Of course, Fantasy Japan is not the only Real World Narnia. England, too, has an alternate fantasy identity. English fantasy tends to build strangeness into the real world. One can look at “Doctor Who” and “Harry Potter” and easily mistake England for a portal to an alternate universe. From C.S. Lewis and Lewis Carroll to Neil Gaiman and Diana Wynne Jones, there is a longstanding tradition of writing fantasy into daily life. However, is that even the reason that a Fantasy England exists? Just as we don’t go to Japan expecting to meet Cardcaptor Sakura, we don’t go to England expecting to meet Harry Potter. The fantasy energy exists by association. Cool stuff comes from England, and therefore, England is cool. It has little to do with fantasy at all. My “England is cool” phase began with the Spice Girls, who were creative within their music, but made no claims to be otherworldly.** At the height of the Spice Phenomenon, anything English could be considered awesome. Thanks to the Fab Five, I had a strange obsession with the Union Jack, even before Geri Halliwell made a dress out of one. England seemed magical, and I was reluctant to believe that underneath Fantasy England was a normal regular country. Real England is the same as North America, pretty much, except that people drive on the other side of the road and pronounce their Ts crisply. That’s not interesting enough to hold anyone’s attention, and so Fantasy England lives on.
There are Real World Narnias popping up everywhere nowadays. Fandom-fuelled exoticism knows no bounds. I believe there may even be a Fantasy Canada. As a Canadian, I find this to be a strange concept, but I have American friends who believe Canada is something beyond the ordinary. From what I gather, Fantasy Canada is a political utopia where everyone gets along. Every neighbourhood is just outside a pristine forest or majestic mountain range. Everyone is smart because our education system is flawless, and everyone speaks both official languages parfaitement. Oh, and everything is free. Sounds good; where do I find it?
Hearing about Fantasy Canada made me understand online comments by a few Europeans complaining about North Americans’ obsession with Europe. It must be amusing, or perhaps annoying, to hear people raving about how your proverbial backyard is full of historical castles. It is with a mix of bemusement and pride that I accept the idea of Fantasy Canada, because even though there is no way in hell that that’s accurate, it’s still kind of a neat idea.
Maybe we can go one better. Anyone who reads, listens to, loves, and fantasizes about the ancient and modern legends of other lands is a citizen of Geek World. Geek World encompasses the Fantasy versions of Real World countries, as well as Narnia, Equestria, Wonderland, and Middle Earth. It’s a place we have all travelled to, and perhaps, one can say that we were born there.
*If I am mistaken, please correct me.
**Although they did kind of act like they were something ethereal.