Struggle to Seize a Meaning (featuring Vtuber)

Tuesday, 5 Oct 2021

There is a well-known joke in the vtuber community regarding what a vtuber really is. The joke goes like this: if a vtuber stands for “virtual YouTuber”, every YouTuber is a vtuber! How could they not be? What we see is just an aggregate of pixels, not the real person! Indeed, that is just a joke, a stupid and trivial joke even. However, it is possible for someone to take it seriously.

I’m not that much of a vtuber fan. What I know is that vtuber has been there since the ancient times of Kizuna Ai. However, the so-called “Hololive Boom” made vtubers more popular than ever in the West. This inspired a lot of people to start their vtubing journey. This is where, I think, some people start to take the aforementioned joke seriously: hey, look! I’m a vtuber too because I have these pixels representing the real me. This may be easily disregarded. The harder part comes when streamers or “content creators” use avatars during their activities instead of revealing their real faces.

Is it hard to disregard or acknowledge these online entertainers as vtubers? It can be hard sometimes. This takes us back to the nature of meaning. Well, if we take the word “vtuber” in a literal sense, we could say that they are indeed virtual YouTubers. But wait, are they even on YouTube? Some of these vtubers are on other platforms like Niconico, Bilibili, or even Twitch. We see the problem now: we don’t take words literally.

When we use words, there is a certain psychological investment we make. It is as if we are attached to some other properties of the word instead of the word itself. We aren’t at the mercy of dictionaries. Rather, we are dictated by the social condition in which we’re entangled. This is why people from different communities perceive words differently from each other. This is not necessarily a denial of ‘objectivity’. This is also not an attempt to tame plurality. My statement is a rather pessimistic one because the different way of perceiving words is a kind of war. Different communities struggle to seize words and weave their “version” of meaning into them.

The grander way of seeing this is through “““ideology”””. Now, what does it mean to be an ecologist? This is not my idea but someone can be a social ecologist, state-oriented ecologist, conservative ecologist, and many more. Those three are the same yet different. The three aren’t always in harmony. They respectively believe that their version of ecologism is the real ecologism while the others are just degenerated variations. The identity of ecologism is, thus, open and only through a certain intervention it can be halted, through a ‘war’. Another example is the struggle of democracy: the communists may fight for ‘real democracy’ to counter the exploitative ‘bourgeois formal democracy’, despite both being forms of democracy. There are other examples but let’s get back to vtubers because I’m but a weeb.

The same applies to the word “vtuber”: there is an ongoing war to define what it really is. Vtubers have been closely associated with the otaku culture, or you might say “““otaku”””. This is why, for some weebs, random online entertainers with avatars aren’t necessarily vtubers. What separates these entertainers from ‘real’ vtubers is the otaku-ness around its fandom, not whether they use avatars to hide their real faces or not. However, that is different for others, preferably non-weebs. For them, any online entertainer with avatars can be a vtuber. For others, only streamers (with avatars of course) can be vtubers. There may be some other ways of defining vtuber that aren’t prevalent, but that is for another day.

That is what I think about vtuber and the struggle to seize its meaning.

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