John McAfee is an English-American programmer, founder of antivirus company McAfee Associates, and was a presidential candidate for the 2020 election. Representing the Libertarian Party, McAfee’s campaign strategy included millennial outreach through posting about anime on social media.
In 2018, McAfee changed his Twitter profile picture to Spike Spiegel from Cowboy Bebop with the words “McAfee 2020”. Currently, his Twitter holds a half-McAfee, half-JoJo avatar. Out of curiosity, we recently spoke with the 75-year-old about his history with anime in an interview.
As it turns out, he’s a big fan of older anime, and is especially found of Studio Ghibli. Meanwhile, he’s also disgusted with some of the newer shows like those produced by Netflix. Read the full interview below.
Mark: Where did you get started with anime?
McAfee: Well, my first anime was Akira. It’s long before most of you were born. You know, I can’t say I’m an anime fan, although I’ve watched a shitload of anime. I’ll tell you what ones that have stuck with me: Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away, silly things like Kiki’s Delivery Service. Also really serious shit, like Grave of the Fireflies. It is… woah, I mean you’re gonna be down for a week after watching that motherfucker. My favorite studio is Ghibli, they don’t turn out trash normally. Again I’m not much of a fan other than those things I have watched multiple times. Oh, Porco Rosso of course, that’s some good shit.
What do you think about anime’s growing popularity in the West?
I think that’s strictly a millennial thing. People my age, I can’t have a discussion about anime because no one over 50 has even watched groundbreaking things like Akira or Princess Mononoke. Nothing. So I think it’s truly a millennial thing and it’s definitely spreading among them. Why that is, I think is because Japanese anime started out actually as adult animation. You know this, right? For adults. Those animators of adult animation turned to more general applications, but brought with them adult things.
I think that that resonates with the younger crowd who is lied to by everybody. Your parents, school, authority, and certainly the government. You know, “this is bad, that is bad, don’t smoke weed” yet everybody does. So the authenticity of the human interactions with anime have resonated. I think that anime has impacted and influenced far more than just Japanese media. You got things like AEon Flux.
One anime that always comes to mind for me when it comes to societal impact is Ghost in the Shell.
Yeah, the original Ghost in the Shell. First of all, the music starting from the very beginning was enthralling. The Japanese chanting, drums, the entire beat was a fierce heartbeat. It brought forth questions of what is, in fact, the definition of humanity versus things that act like humans and might actually feel like humans. Which brought forth the question of what does feeling actually mean. Is it not just a reaction to your environment? You get burned and you move your hand away. You get lust and you move toward something. I mean how do you define what a feeling is? And is there such a thing as the soul?
Akira also influenced a lot of modern television and art.
Well I’ll tell you, I can’t remember the name of this but you probably know it, it was voiced by Kiefer Sutherland… [Armitage III: Poly-Matrix.] Anyway, it’s obviously like all these futuristic societies where people are just mesmerized by the television, by the media, by the sounds, by the images that are just constantly flashed. And then it is finally interrupted. Jesus the music in that is something fierce as well. Anyways, that entire imagery of a society mesmerized by propaganda and flickering images, and then waking up.
Do you consider yourself someone that likes more of the older anime?
I am, I am. I’m sorry. I think the old guard had far more thought.
I’m sure many would agree and feel more recent animes seem like productions to just get money.
Yes and there’s no depth at all, I think. I mean look at Spirited Away, here’s a fun little example. Little girl moving to a town, not liking it, and their parents get lost on a road. They come across a magic tunnel of sorts, right? And the girl doesn’t wanna go at all. Even though she didn’t wanna go to the new home, she’s afraid to be left alone so she rolls with it. It gets to evening time and they find a local town with a food court, and the parents smell food. They go in and start chomping down. The little girl just wants to go back to the car, and then her parents turn into pigs. Well imagine that little girl. I mean seriously, if you can imagine that actually happening. The horror that must be going through that child.
And that’s just the beginning of that fucking movie, alright? It gets far worse from there. What happens is she’s befriended by a couple of very powerful people. But without the power to truly protect her without her own willingness to cooperate. And then in the end, after all of this horror, the horror turns into a friendly sort of nuanced existence. The beast turns into this very shy ghost. The horrific baby of the malignant queen of the village turns into a little half bumble bee, half bird. It’s the sweetest of all things, and yet does it not represent our transition from childhood to adulthood?
People nowadays are very vocal about how the anime industry has moved towards this kind of mechanized money-making–
Yes, and good god almighty Netflix is now creating anime. Fuck me. Have you watched some of that crap? Utter fucking garbage people. Utter fucking trash. I mean, I’ve tried. I have literally tried. I’d get fifteen minutes in and I can’t tolerate it. I go “no way, no fucking way” and I turn it off. No.
I recommend checking out Studio Trigger. You can feel the passion from the staff in those projects.
Perfect, thank you that’s exactly what I’ll do. And in return I would like to recommend a few to you and to anyone else. Please if you want to understand the soul of early anime watch these. Grave of the Fireflies, that’s about the aftermath of the atomic bomb on Nagasaki. A Wind Named Amnesia. And probably the most heart-rending anime ever made: Voices of a Distant Star. Those three.
Now if you watch those three you’ll understand the history, the background of how anime just came into being. By taking real life situations that are happening, or have happened, and condensing them into the most powerful, intellectual, and emotional impact you can imagine. Those three. You’ll be depressed for a fucking week, but you’ll also be enlightened. These are things that I know none of you have watched because they went on to the shelf years before you were born.
One last question: Do you believe Japanese animation is well done, while the rest of the world has kind of trailed behind in terms of quality?
I have to disagree with that, I really do. For those that want to test this hypothesis: go and watch the old movie Heavy Metal. Not the new trash Heavy Metal from 2000, the old movie. And look at Ralph Bakshi’s animations. You’ll understand that it’s not just the Japanese folks. That there were French and a few American animators who were on par, if not way ahead, of the Japanese at that time.
I don’t know why it just fucking died out in America and in France, but Heavy Metal. That movie, for god’s sake. Watch it somewhere, you know, download it. Not the Heavy Metal from 2000, utter trash, no. Heavy Metal from 1982, I think was when it came out. That had no touch of Japanese animation in it, and yet I promise you that you will be enthralled and shocked at the level of sophistication and the depth of subject.
This has been a great conversation. I think because of when I was born I didn’t get to see a lot of this stuff. I’m just learning about it now.
Well it’s like anything. You see I never watched silent movies until I was in my late-30s. I never understood what the original impact of movies was until I watched things like Fritz Lang’s Metropolis and… fuck me. No words, black and white, shaky film. Good god almighty, that film cut to the core. I think maybe for you young kids as you get older and bored of perhaps the current state of affairs, you might want to dig back just a tad into the history of anime. Look at the foundation on which everything has been laid. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
A couple months after this interview, John McAfee was arrested in Spain pending extradition to the US over an indictment for tax evasion. If convicted, he currently faces a maximum of five years in prison for each count of tax evasion and a maximum of one year for each count of willful failure to file a tax return along with over $350,000 in monetary penalties. He is currently in a Spanish prison, but is still updating Twitter about his situation.