GAR (I): Prelude to the Storm

Shot 5(a)
Image chosen with care, trust me

GAR is fascinating. Or at least if you’re partially emasculated by working in seminar groups with a 1:4 male-to-female ratio it is. And I would be forced to commit ritual suicide with my very fine Parker fountain pen if I couldn’t adequately explain a word. Now that SaiGAR ’08 getting into full swing, the time would seem to be ripe for me to build together a few thoughts on GAR. Entirely in keeping with my habit of applying too much thought to too little matter, of course.

Rather than fitting all this into one post, I decided to split it up into a series, and scatter the resulting posts among the rest of my blogging. Hopefully this way each individual argument will be discernable, but they will still form a cohesive whole. Also, things won’t just be a flood of tl;dr.

So cut yourself a slice of sunshine pie, pour out a cup of MANLY TEA and settle down for the not-entirely-serious ride.

The GAR We Have Now

This entry was originally going to consist of some examples and a teasing-out of different strands of GAR. However, more useful would be this imagequote from 4chan:

What is GAR?

[In connection with the above image I would like to point out that if you were a Roman from the north of Italy, you might have pronounced virtus as ‘feer-toos’, not ‘weer-toos’.]

Extrange’s ‘WTF is GAR Afterall?‘ is also a succinct introduction to the subject as it stands. I recommend you read it if you haven’t already, but, to paraphrase, what what I want to build on boils down to this:

  1. GAR supposedly originated during discussion of Archer‘s heroic last stand in Fate/stay night 14.
  2. GAR is comparable to the Latin word, concept and deity virtus. [Do not be surprised that virtus had a deity. The Romans had a god personifying rust.]
  3. Hot-blooded GAR is epitomised by indomitable mecha pilots (Kamina) who destroy their opponents.
  4. Cold-blooded GAR is epitomised by cunning schemers (Akagi) who destroy their opponents.
  5. There’re characters considered GAR for their sarcasm (Kyon) or their insouciance (Shunsui Kyoraku), and also female characters who are GAR (Revy).

Thus stands the state of play. I intend to do some shading around the edges.

GARammar Matters

To quote the Lurkmore wiki:

A common phrase in /a/ at the time [of GAR’s invention] was, ‘You are gar for badasses but gay for traps. After a while, the word’s meaning started to become objective, as opposed to subjective. Rather than saying ‘I’m gar for Archer’, people began to say ‘Archer is GAR’, usually in capital letters.

I think arguably there’s still a concealed relationship in the statement that ‘Archer is GAR’. Rather like saying ‘Archer is hot’, which implies that someone else finds him attractive, ‘Archer is GAR’ still requires someone else to admire him. [And Archer is GAR: for all its Engrish, rather lazy animation and essentially silly nature, his defiant battle in F/sn 14 is worth watching.]

So GAR is really something we feel for a character. And, I think, usually because we feel ourselves to be less GAR than the character concerned. After all, if you really were as GAR as Kamina, you wouldn’t find him admirable, merely normal.

What About SaiGAR, then?

Highbrow Debate
The intellectual discussion gets into full swing

Recently the otakusphere has been witness to some angst regarding SaiGAR. Now, while Double has a point when he compares this to an exercise in mass Onanism, I think there’s something more useful happening behind all the posturing, the ‘mindless clicking and recruiting’ and the excuses for vacuous blogging. The nomination and voting processes are actually exercises in exploring the concept itself.

Consider this: dictionary definitions are an inadequate way to learn the meaning of language – ‘it is not, after all, out of a dictionary that the speaker gets his words’ – a method of last resort, if you will. The proper way to learn language is through example and imitation. This is why most people find it easier to define words in terms of how and when they’re used, where they fit in the rules of the game of language.

Consider the fact that English’s greatest dictionary is not, at its heart, a collection of definitions but rather a collection of quotations. [The collection of the c. 2,500,000 quotations which demonstrate how English words work is often used as an early example of crowdsourcing. Incidentally, the first quoted (1549) instance of ‘anime’ in English refers to an Italianate breastplate, and this is swiftly (1577) followed by the use of the word as ‘a name given to various resins’. But don’t worry – our anime is in there too.]

Similarly, SaiGAR helps us to understand and explore the concept of GAR (and other contests of the ‘Sai*’ ilk do the same thing). This isn’t by looking at who wins, but rather at who’s nominated and why. The GAR characters who are nominated are the ‘quotations’ which demonstrate, more clearly than any definition could, the essence of GAR. The joke characters who are nominated likewise demonstrate how GAR works: for their presence (and their victories) to be funny, they have to not be GAR.

Definition by example, fine-tuning our concepts. That’s what SaiGAR does at its best.

18 responses to “GAR (I): Prelude to the Storm

  1. But it is, after all, simply just senseless clicking and positing of characters we like. :)

  2. That’s what it looks like to us. But then when we misuse words we generally aren’t aware that we’re ‘wierding language’, gradually altering it.

  3. well, every action can be interpreted differently by people, depending on their prejudices, values, principles, and their point of view in general. So long as people enjoy and love what they do, who cares if other people brand it as “senseless clicking” or whatever. Just my two cents on this SaiGAR issue.

  4. First, as someone who actually studient Latin, I think the entire idea of virtus definitely isn’t used enough. But I don’t know if it really applies to schemers as much. Granted, Rome had it’s fair share of con men (Cicero comes to mind) they weren’t necessarily lauded for their scheminess :) (I’m inventing a word).

    But I do think that your post is interesting for that point though. I think that the language (especially when it’s subculture specific and deriviative but not neccesarily the same as the original intent) is interesting to watch as it gets defined. I mean even my nitpick about how virtus doesn’t necessarily refer to schemers is an example of how communally language gets defined.

    Overally really interesting.

  5. @ usagijen: Mmm. Provided those of us who vote get a laugh or two out of it, it’s really fulfilled its purpose. I guess I just fancy the idea of building a theory based around the OED on top of it.

    @ Cameron Probert: I studied Latin myself. I’d agree that virtus doesn’t contain the cold-blooded, scheming idea inherently – nor indeed the hot-blooded idea. But the cursus honorem meant that pretty much everyone who was anyone was a schemer to some degree (Octavian basically waded to the throne through the blood of proscribed enemies, if I recall my history correctly). I’m tempted to bring in pietas in its Virgilian conception, and perhaps the Greek arete, too, but we’ll have to see.

    And language’s definition is absolutely about more than one person using it, and then the community as a whole fighting over how words work. Just look at the heated debates over the proposed ‘reclamation’ of certain words.

  6. Man, I gotta love Octavian. And you’re definitely correct. (That’s actually my favorite section of Roman history.) And The Gallic Chronicles are really Caesar setting himself up as the hero so he could claim power later. Hell he went to war with his friend so that he could claim the throne. So the scheming was certainly part of the Roman culture. But I wonder if it isn’t a question of ideal versus reality.

    But I’m going to have to claim ignorance on pietas and arete.

  7. I remember having to read Book V of (hell, let’s be highbrow) Commentarii de Bello Gallico at A-Level. Good times. Though we never studied the historical context or motivation behind the text, as it we were focused on a translation exam.

    pietas is mostly to do with duty to honour the gods and one’s ancestors and traditions (Aeneas is the pietas posterboy), so I guess it’s linked to the ‘defending things which are worth dying for’ element of GAR. arete crops up in Homer, but it keeps changing its meaning as time goes on, so it’s a little unsuitable.

  8. Ahh… Yeah my teacher always gave us the historical context before we started translating. Granted, with Cicero all the historical context in the world wouldn’t help me translate. (Damn those Romans and their lack of sentence structure.) We also did a small bit of the Aenid too. But not a whole bunch of it.

  9. GAR as a concept seems much easier to grasp than that of Moe, which seems to be an amalgamation of many traits that have different meanings. Is there any chance that you might look at that as well? I’m considering the importance that many place on it as to how it affects how they see anime when I think about it. :P

    And Michael, is there’s a point to the pointing and clicking, then certainly there’s some measure of sense involved in the matter. :D

  10. @ CP: Ah, Latin syntax. Or rather, the lack thereof. Still, I’m convinced that having the part of my brain which deals with word order learn to switch itself off when studying Latin was extremely useful when I came to read poetry (especially Milton, who basically adopted a lot of Latin word order in his writing).

    @ TheBigN: I think GAR may be more complex than it seems, but you’re right that moe is more complex. Intimidatingly complex. Also, anime which is moe-heavy isn’t a staple of my diet (though it’s not excluded). Still, I am preparing to bounce the two concepts off of each other, stimulated by a rather interesting recent post from Stripey at Honou ni Taihen desu.

  11. Oh… A Moe post would be delightful. Because that is something I still don’t understand. Even after reading CCYs blog. Although I think a lot of moe is the insider perceptions of what moe is and the outsider perception of what moe is.

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