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Psychology of a Miku Fan

#1 User is offline   opalcraft Icon

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Posted 11 January 2018 - 07:50 PM

Hi all,

I recently discovered VOCALOID and Hatsune Miku and I wrote this essay to try and figure out what was going on and what is the source of her appeal. I'm curious if these thoughts resonate with other fans and would appreciate any feedback. Thanks


Our Virtual Girlfriend: The Psychology Surrounding Hatsume Miku



Miku is a girl, only she’s not. She sings, dances, has fun, and even confronts her own morality in The End; nonetheless she is produced by a computer program. Regularly performing to sold out shows, this most popular of Vocaloids has even advertised cars and pizza, despite her apparent lack of a body. In Japan, she is a recognizable icon, a true celebrity.

What is behind Miku's popularity? What is the appeal of a half-human, half-computer singing girl? This essay will attempt to dig into the psychological causes of this affection, and though many of these thoughts will apply to various relationships we have with fictional characters, I will focus specifically on the Vocaloid phenom Hatsune Miku.

Miku occupies a strange space of existence, one in which she simultaneously exists for us as a "she," as an interesting, talented, and cute woman, and yet with a persistent unreality, as something not-human, or even as something not-at-all. One might hear the phrase, “she isn’t anything,” or “she isn’t real.” In reality, she is something in-between being and not-being, a thing that exists only for-another and not for-itself. She is continually recreated through human consciousness and occupies a meaningful place as a "someone" to her admirers, although she cannot speak for herself, she cannot move herself; and though she is artificial, she defies strict categorization as a piece of art in two important ways. Foremost, when we listen to her sing we say it is "her" song, not the producer who created the song, and in this way we assign agency to her. She becomes the artist herself, and the producer is perceived not as the creator but the enabler—it is as if her songs were already there and are merely being discovered, as if by scientists. Second, she is not the product of a single artist or even a team of artists. Miku is constantly reborn in distant, independent places, a manifestation of a shared conception in a way similar to Christmas movies featuring a Santa Clause—Yes, Virginia, there is a Miku. She is different, however, from every character because she is not just the product of human ingenuity, but rather a union of computer and man. A computer is an artifact, but she is an offspring— of ourselves and of our computers. This existential tension is the linchpin of Miku’s allure, her sameness alongside her otherness, her simultaneous being and non-being.

Miku is real enough to be desirable while also so unreal that there is zero possibility of any fulfillment of that desire. With no-where to go, desire can only turn to itself: this leaves but a desire for desire. By channeling this desire through a mostly fictional character, the psyche experiences the joyous frustration of impossible longing. Consider the Diary of the Seducer in Kierkegaard's Either/Or: he spends all his days in rapturous desire for a girl, devotes enormous efforts to seduce her, only to leave her as soon as they hook up. It was not she that he wanted, but the desire for her, and as soon as that desire was satisfied it lost its status as desire. Miku solves this problem by her mode of being: her voice, obviously mechanized while still being cute in a human way, is a constant reminder that one will never have to face the consummation of desire. She remains a fantasy indefinitely.

There are two more reasons why impossibility is so important for Miku's success, and they are two sides of the same coin. The first is that one needs not fear that, for whatever reason imaginable, one could never successfully get the girl. This removes the anxiety so abundant among nerds and their ilk: they never have to worry about rejection. Even a “real-life” pop-star contains the potential, however infinitesimal, of a romance, and by eliminating that potentiality entirely, the consciousness frees itself from any concern or expectation. The other side is that there is no risk of infidelity. Miku will never be the other girl because it’s downright impossible. The man who is happily in love with a real fleshy woman can realize his desire for desire in Miku without ever having to worry about his own worst nature.

Another piece of Miku's allure that similarly sets her apart from other fictional characters is her strictly digital persona. Miku is the synthesis of a human and a computer, and because of this she touches an emotion that only arrived on the scene very recently: digital love. Miku’s hometown, as far as anyone is concerned, is The Internet, and most (read: almost all) of us have spent our fair time there as well. Many of us who grew up with the internet, I’m sure, made a romantic connection online, and I’m not talking about on-line dating. Two teenagers meet, somewhere on the web, from across the country, or across the world. Of course, some people eventually meet in person, but so many of these digi-ships live out their entire lives online. This feeling is perfectly encapsulated by Miku, and is a major theme of the song "Glass Wall" where she sings "only two inches from you// yet so far away" and "the words that you type// they keep me warm at night." This feeling, at least for this author, is nostalgic of youthful love, a universal, while maintain its uniquely 21st century flavor, one that is quintessentially unfulfillable desire.



Then there is the question of morality. So far we have addressed Miku's existence and how that affects our affections, but we must still ask ourselves the question: is this right or wrong? No doubt it is strange, but is it bad?

There are a few ways of going about asking this question. Is it virtuous? Does it improve society? Does it lead to a happier life? I’ll be the first to admit that I don't know, but I do have some concerns, and I think it is worth thinking about for any fan of hers.

The foremost is that everything Miku says and does is written by a producer, most of whom are male, we are stuck in a loop in which Miku only says exactly what we want her to say. Does she get any choice in the matter? This is potentially dangerous if men transfer this thinking to women in their lives, and could lead to objectification or unreasonable expectations. I question, however, if this phenomenon is unique to Miku: even normal, 3D pop stars sing songs that were produced by others, mostly men. This may be wrong either way, but it’s not entirely new. What does feel new, however, is the accessibility of putting words in her mouth. An average fan can't call up Taylor Swift and tell her what to sing, but by purchasing the software, anyone can make Miku sing whatever they like. Does this make Miku more or less authentic as a pop singer?

Another risk is men using Miku as a substitute for a genuine interpersonal relationship. She may sing to you whenever you want, but she will never come have dinner with your mother, take care of you when you’re sick, or (one of my personal favorites) let you know when you've gone astray (i.e. When you're Completely Wrong about something). And Miku won't keep you warm at night. Enough said, at least for me.

So what’s the answer? Maybe? Go ask the internet.



Ultimately, we see what we want to see in Hatsune Miku, and that is her most attractive feature. Sure, you may like her cute design or voice, but the true reason that Miku has such a large following is because of the love for the fantasy itself. Miku has been portrayed countless times, but all of these are mere shadows of her true self, who lives in the mind's eye. The love of one's own loving: the joys of feeling adoration take form there as we collectively imagine her singing to us.

Mod Move: Moved topic to Writings.

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#2 User is offline   Hatsune-hakase Icon

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Posted 12 January 2018 - 04:14 AM

Quote

Our Virtual Girlfriend: The Psychology Surrounding Hatsume[sic!] Miku


The word “psychology” in this title is staring at me so intensely that it’s making me feel very awkward. I’m not sure what you mean by “psychology” here. You never use the word once in your essay, and though I’m not a psychologist, I think a lot of the things you talk about don’t have much to do with psychology.

Quote

Miku is a girl, only she’s not. She sings, dances, has fun, and even confronts her own morality in The End; nonetheless she is produced by a computer program. Regularly performing to sold out shows, this most popular of Vocaloids has even advertised cars and pizza, despite her apparent lack of a body. In Japan, she is a recognizable icon, a true celebrity.

What is behind Miku's popularity? What is the appeal of a half-human, half-computer singing girl? This essay will attempt to dig into the psychological causes of this affection, and though many of these thoughts will apply to various relationships we have with fictional characters, I will focus specifically on the Vocaloid phenom Hatsune Miku.


I think you need to be clearer about the phenomenon you’re trying to explain. It’s not just that Miku is popular. Mickey Mouse is popular too. Miku is more than just popular; she’s an object of sexual desire. You sort of hint at this with “…many of these thoughts will apply to various relationships we have with fictional characters,” and I think this is what you’re really talking about in the essay as a whole, but it should be made explicit at the beginning. Basically, you need to clearly articulate the main argument of the essay here. Right now, what you say amounts to: “I’m going to talk about why Miku is popular.” That isn’t an argument.

That same quotation also alludes to something you really need to address, which is the fact that Miku is not the only fictional character that people have these kinds of relationships with. Hatsune Miku is not the beginning of the phenomenon of people having imagined relationships with fictional characters. In fact, a huge part of the success of Miku is that she was introduced into a culture that had already developed the psychic infrastructure to support the existence of a virtual idol like Miku as a sexual object. So you need to more fully contextualize Miku within the larger phenomenon of desire for fictional characters, and explain what sets her apart from these other fictional characters, and how this affects her function as an object of desire.

Quote

Miku occupies a strange space of existence, one in which she simultaneously exists for us as a "she," as an interesting, talented, and cute woman, and yet with a persistent unreality, as something not-human, or even as something not-at-all. One might hear the phrase, “she isn’t anything,” or “she isn’t real.” In reality, she is something in-between being and not-being, a thing that exists only for-another and not for-itself. She is continually recreated through human consciousness and occupies a meaningful place as a "someone" to her admirers, although she cannot speak for herself, she cannot move herself; and though she is artificial, she defies strict categorization as a piece of art in two important ways. Foremost, when we listen to her sing we say it is "her" song, not the producer who created the song, and in this way we assign agency to her. She becomes the artist herself, and the producer is perceived not as the creator but the enabler—it is as if her songs were already there and are merely being discovered, as if by scientists. Second, she is not the product of a single artist or even a team of artists. Miku is constantly reborn in distant, independent places, a manifestation of a shared conception in a way similar to Christmas movies featuring a Santa Clause—Yes, Virginia, there is a Miku. She is different, however, from every character because she is not just the product of human ingenuity, but rather a union of computer and man. A computer is an artifact, but she is an offspring— of ourselves and of our computers. This existential tension is the linchpin of Miku’s allure, her sameness alongside her otherness, her simultaneous being and non-being.


I’m not sure the point about people referring to Miku songs as “belonging” to her is very significant, because it’s also true of most real pop stars: They don’t write or produce the songs they sing either, and we also refer to the songs as "theirs."

I also think your argument that vocaloid fans totally ignore the vocaloid producers is just wrong. I and so many other vocaloid fans are devoted not just to the vocaloid characters but to the producers as well (though admittedly in different ways). On this very website, notice how under our avatars we have spaces that list not only our favorite vocaloids but also our favorite producers.

Quote

Miku is real enough to be desirable while also so unreal that there is zero possibility of any fulfillment of that desire. With no-where to go, desire can only turn to itself: this leaves but a desire for desire. By channeling this desire through a mostly fictional character, the psyche experiences the joyous frustration of impossible longing. Consider the Diary of the Seducer in Kierkegaard's Either/Or: he spends all his days in rapturous desire for a girl, devotes enormous efforts to seduce her, only to leave her as soon as they hook up. It was not she that he wanted, but the desire for her, and as soon as that desire was satisfied it lost its status as desire. Miku solves this problem by her mode of being: her voice, obviously mechanized while still being cute in a human way, is a constant reminder that one will never have to face the consummation of desire. She remains a fantasy indefinitely.


This is a very interesting argument. But I wonder if desire for Miku (which you argue is a “desire for desire”) has more in common with actual sexual desire than it would at first seem.

And again, I’m wondering how your argument doesn’t also apply to all kinds of fictional characters that fans desire; I’m wondering what really sets vocaloid apart. Their synthetic voices surely have something to do with it, but there needs to be a more thorough argument about what they give vocaloids that other fictional characters don’t also have.

Quote

There are two more reasons why impossibility is so important for Miku's success, and they are two sides of the same coin. The first is that one needs not fear that, for whatever reason imaginable, one could never successfully get the girl. This removes the anxiety so abundant among nerds and their ilk: they never have to worry about rejection. Even a “real-life” pop-star contains the potential, however infinitesimal, of a romance, and by eliminating that potentiality entirely, the consciousness frees itself from any concern or expectation. The other side is that there is no risk of infidelity. Miku will never be the other girl because it’s downright impossible. The man who is happily in love with a real fleshy woman can realize his desire for desire in Miku without ever having to worry about his own worst nature.


Here you’re assuming that the typical vocaloid fan is a straight male. I don’t have any hard numbers, but my sense is that the vocaloid fandom is quite diverse in terms of both gender and sexuality. Certainly, there are many female vocaloid fans, and there are many LGBTQ vocaloid fans. I don’t think you can just ignore them. You could perhaps easily solve the problem by stating outright that you’re only considering straight male vocaloid fans, but then I’d still be wondering about the other half of the fandom.

I also don’t like your argument that part of Miku’s success is that, being fictional, she doesn’t “compete” with actual women. I think it’s problematic in what it implies about straight women’s relationships with each other (i.e., that all straight women see other straight women as competition). I also can easily imagine a woman being not completely OK with her boyfriend’s Miku obsession, so that alone invalidates the argument.

Quote

Another piece of Miku's allure that similarly sets her apart from other fictional characters is her strictly digital persona. Miku is the synthesis of a human and a computer, and because of this she touches an emotion that only arrived on the scene very recently: digital love. Miku’s hometown, as far as anyone is concerned, is The Internet, and most (read: almost all) of us have spent our fair time there as well. Many of us who grew up with the internet, I’m sure, made a romantic connection online, and I’m not talking about on-line dating. Two teenagers meet, somewhere on the web, from across the country, or across the world. Of course, some people eventually meet in person, but so many of these digi-ships live out their entire lives online. This feeling is perfectly encapsulated by Miku, and is a major theme of the song "Glass Wall" where she sings "only two inches from you// yet so far away" and "the words that you type// they keep me warm at night." This feeling, at least for this author, is nostalgic of youthful love, a universal, while maintain its uniquely 21st century flavor, one that is quintessentially unfulfillable desire.


Here you attempt to do what I’ve said you should do, which is explain what makes vocaloid different from other kinds of fictional characters. But I’m not sure the argument you make is a very strong one. Are there not numerous other digital objects of desire that were also “born” on the internet?

Your comparison of fans’ relationships with Miku to a purely online relationship between two actual people is interesting. Like your Kierkegaard example, though, I wonder if it speaks to the fictionality of actual love more than it does to the fictionality of love for Miku.

Quote

Then there is the question of morality. So far we have addressed Miku's existence and how that affects our affections, but we must still ask ourselves the question: is this right or wrong? No doubt it is strange, but is it bad?

There are a few ways of going about asking this question. Is it virtuous? Does it improve society? Does it lead to a happier life? I’ll be the first to admit that I don't know, but I do have some concerns, and I think it is worth thinking about for any fan of hers.

The foremost is that everything Miku says and does is written by a producer, most of whom are male, we are stuck in a loop in which Miku only says exactly what we want her to say. Does she get any choice in the matter? This is potentially dangerous if men transfer this thinking to women in their lives, and could lead to objectification or unreasonable expectations. I question, however, if this phenomenon is unique to Miku: even normal, 3D pop stars sing songs that were produced by others, mostly men. This may be wrong either way, but it’s not entirely new. What does feel new, however, is the accessibility of putting words in her mouth. An average fan can't call up Taylor Swift and tell her what to sing, but by purchasing the software, anyone can make Miku sing whatever they like. Does this make Miku more or less authentic as a pop singer?


While I will grant that most of the very well-known vocaloid producers are male, I again can’t get on board with the assumption that most (or at least the most significant) vocaloid fans are male, and straight.

You also veer off-topic at the end of the paragraph. The paragraph is about the morality of vocaloid, and more specifically the gender politics of vocaloid. At the very end of the paragraph you are talking about the authenticity of Miku as a pop star compared to Taylor Swift.

Quote

Another risk is men using Miku as a substitute for a genuine interpersonal relationship. She may sing to you whenever you want, but she will never come have dinner with your mother, take care of you when you’re sick, or (one of my personal favorites) let you know when you've gone astray (i.e. When you're Completely Wrong about something). And Miku won't keep you warm at night. Enough said, at least for me.


I actually think this whole discussion of the “morality” of vocaloid is completely out of place in this essay. I would just remove it.


Quote

So what’s the answer? Maybe? Go ask the internet.


You use an awful lot of rhetorical questions. They’re fine every once in a while, but this is getting too cute. Just delete this line.

Quote

Ultimately, we see what we want to see in Hatsune Miku, and that is her most attractive feature. Sure, you may like her cute design or voice, but the true reason that Miku has such a large following is because of the love for the fantasy itself. Miku has been portrayed countless times, but all of these are mere shadows of her true self, who lives in the mind's eye. The love of one's own loving: the joys of feeling adoration take form there as we collectively imagine her singing to us.


Here, at the beginning of your last paragraph, you finally articulate your essay’s overall argument. It’d be nice if you did so at the beginning too!
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#3 User is offline   NoirSuede Icon

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Posted 12 January 2018 - 05:11 AM

Just a thought, but you could've avoided all of this if you'd treated her as simply a vocal synth
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#4 User is offline   idoltrash69 Icon

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Posted 12 January 2018 - 10:24 AM

View PostNoirSuede, on 12 January 2018 - 03:11 AM, said:

Just a thought, but you could've avoided all of this if you'd treated her as simply a vocal synth

Except she's more than that. Sure, she is a vocal synth, but the concept of Miku and what she represents is more that that, at least in my opinion. She represents freedom, as she can be whatever you want her to. She represents her fan's emotions and feelings, both personal and towards her. She represents love, but maybe that's just me who thinks that.

Also,
>I hate fun
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#5 User is offline   Hatsune-hakase Icon

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Posted 12 January 2018 - 12:28 PM

View PostNoirSuede, on 12 January 2018 - 12:11 AM, said:

Just a thought, but you could've avoided all of this if you'd treated her as simply a vocal synth



Dismissiveness and anti-intellectualism doesn't add anything to the discussion. People don't create personas and have imagined relationships with their Yamaha DX 7. You may not be interested in it or like it, but the fact is that this is what most vocaloid fans do. You can't understand vocaloid as a cultural phenomenon without understanding why and how people engage with it in this way. I may not agree with all of opalcraft's arguments, but I don't at all disagree with their wish to better understand vocaloid fans' love for their vocaloids.
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#6 User is offline   breezy Icon

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Posted 13 January 2018 - 01:44 AM

your waifu is software
/thread
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