Like most people on the Internet, I try to keep myself surrounded by people who share my interests. I don’t necessarily agree with everyone on everything, and I feel like our differences are just as important as what all my friends and I have in common. Not all of us think Bernie is a great candidate. Not all of us think Trump is off his rocker. The divide comes when someone’s opinion is not just different, but genuinely uncivil, and borders on hateful. This I cannot have anywhere near me, and so I was surprised to see it pop up in my feed.
It starts out the same as all troll fights on Facebook do. One day, Guy who is a friend of a friend (I’ve actually never met him, though we all live in the same city) comes off as being in the same wheelhouse as me: we’re into Geek culture, and we like Lovecraft. The next day, Guy who I’ve decided I can be palls with if not bosom buddies says he doesn’t like anime.
Normally I don’t care. You don’t like anime? Fine. I don’t like ham. We’re not criminals.
What I don’t like are those Facebook post invitations to drama. They don’t start out civil with “I watched Cowboy Beebop, but I don’t quite get it, and I don’t think I dig it.” It started out, “Does anyone else not see the big deal with Anime?”
I wish I could have taken a screenshot before I unfriended the guy. Now I can’t see the post because my settings are too high and I have likes and notifications turned off. I can’t even see it through my mutual friends.
“Does Anyone Else Not See the Big Deal With Anime?”: The Clubhouse
There are a couple things wrong with the post in question:
1) It is an exclusive question. It invites people who share that opinion to harmonize while excluding people who do not share that opinion, and it does so in a public way. This is now a private conversation among a certain set of friends that has been made public.
2) Posts like this don’t just invite people who share an opinion to talk while excluding the other side; it also gives the post-er the opportunity to degrade people who don’t share that opinion. Sure not everyone does that, but the vast majority of people who pose these questions are looking for validation for their feelings. Someone interested in opening conversation doesn’t usually start off in the negative.
Remember when we were kids and we all made up those stupid clubs on the playground or around the neighborhood? A bunch of the girls around the block didn’t like that I was a tom boy. I was habitually excluded from their activities, all the more painful when you consider they had no problem with my twin sister. You all know the ones. They get in the tent or into the tree house and put a big sign on the door. “No Boys Allowed–and that includes you because you look like a boy!”–at least that was the one that pertained to me. I may not have been allowed into the club, but that did not mean I could not hear them talking about me as if I were not sitting outside the “clubhouse” in tears, aghast that I wasn’t included, betrayed by my own sister, and waiting for the club meeting to be over so we could all be friends again.
This is exactly what posts like this encourage: a private conversation inside an exclusive club house that everyone can see into and everyone can hear. As an adult, I should probably see it for what it is and not bother with it, but I was one of those people invited to be insulted. Person A takes something they don’t understand and derisively invites others to agree. Again, maybe not a criminal act. But it’s the second part that makes it not okay.
It’s shaming, and it’s not just shaming; it’s internal shaming among a group of people who fit into the same counter culture. Not only are we all Geeks (geeks with a capital G to represent the “culture”, not the derogatory term), there is a sub-set of Geeks–traditionally excluded from popular culture for their interests–that is somehow even more inferior than normal Geeks.
For people who don’t share the opinion posed by the question, we’re sitting in the grass outside the clubhouse, wondering what we did wrong.
I wasn’t beaten into submission when I got left out of the clubhouse (I probably kicked the leader’s ass in middle school for picking on me–back when teachers could see what was taking place and let it sort itself out). No, I always thought it was because no one understood me. Oh, Person A, you don’t like such-and-such. That’s okay. Maybe you just don’t understand.
Because supposedly we’re all friends, and the conversation up to this point has been light, I took a moment to point out that maybe Person A had not watched or read very good Anime or Manga. After all, if someone comes to the US and watches reality tv for the first time, and they declare they hate all tv, our first instinct is to show them an example of something on tv that’s way better than the garbage you can get in prime time. So I pointed out that there are some great, engaging Animes, some really awesome aspects of Japanese culture that really shine through in Anime, things that are unique to that culture, especially when it comes to the eroticism. I pointed out that a lot of Anime is geared to adults, and so it can be shocking to see hardcore sex in an animated show. I was excited and prepared to share my joy in this medium with others, and like an idiot, I expected to change his life.
Let’s make this clear: that person was not interested in understanding. He took the opportunity to point out every stereotypical Anime trope he could think of, how the Japanese habitually appropriate western culture for their own, how all the men look the same, how anime is sexist, and how full of stereotypes it is, and several people pointed out that the eroticism in Anime–and I think they also could mean homoeroticism–was too over-the-top. I took the follow-up to point out all the ways he was wrong. Then when I realized that was pointless, I unfriended the guy. Anyone who is closed-minded on purpose is no friend of mine.
Nothing We Did Not Already Know
The amount of available information on Japanese Anime and Manga that is open to anyone who cares to search for it could drown a person. For people immersed in Anime and Manga Culture, it’s probably information that is commonly known. I did a pretty rough dig when I needed to get even deeper in to the Anime and Manga Culture than I already was.
In 2014, I was invited to speak at the University of Texas at San Antonio in a two-day lecture entitled “Cultural Eroticism in Anime and Manga”. I did a lot of research on cultural eroticism in Japan in general. It was an overview to my analysis of several Animes where eroticism–mainly homoeroticism–was prominent. What I discovered (in a very small nut-shell) is that anime is a fantasy-scape where fantasy and science fiction are mainstream, sex and gender rolls become fluid, and eroticism is a huge part of Japanese culture despite the fact that much of what takes place in Anime and Manga is frowned upon in actual society. Despite the homoerotic relationships of bishonen characters, actual homosexuality is not protected in Japan. Despite the fact that Mangas like Love Hina are geared to men, it is not okay to have sex with minor females. I learned that the bishonen male trope in Japanese fiction and art is older than the Tokogawa Shogunate and represents the ideal form of male beauty and masculinity. Do some heroes of Anime look like others? Does Alucard kind of look like D? Do Alucard and D look a little like Sebastian Michaelis, and do they all look a little like Ashram from Record of Lodoss War? Yes. They are tall, with long hair, aquiline, sharp features, high cheek bones, and six-pack abs under whatever uniform they happen to be wearing. They are what other Anime men aspire to be, men like Parn (Record of Lodoss War opposite Ashram) and Mugen (Samurai Champloo opposite Jin), and Alexander Anderson (Hellsing opposite Alucard) and despite their feminine appearance, Anime lovers know that bishonen men are often the more powerful characters.
Alucard’s most powerful form is as a Bishonen-type male in Hellsing.
Ashram juxtaposed to Deedlit from Record of Lodoss War. Notice the similarity of their features.
An excellent representation of both version of D in Vampire Hunter D. Notice in both the hourglass figure, long hair, and aquiline features.
Sebastian and Grell in Black Butler could both be considered Bishonen. Despite his short hair, Sebastian is still drawn with an hourglass figure, his vest and suit drawn in such a way as to actually imply breasts. Because Grell is male but openly identifies as the female of the unwanted relationship he has with Sebastian, Sebastian is still Bishonen, though his role is as alpha male.
Of all the gender archetypes of any given culture, the female character finds a unique diversity in Anime and Manga. Though the big-eye-small-mouth female is indeed a trope designed to entice male Anime fans and represents a different ideal of feminine beauty, female characters like Twilight Suzuka (Outlaw Star), Faye Valentine (Cowboy Beebop), Integra Hellsing (Hellsing), Hot Ice Hilda (Outlaw Star), and Doris Lang (Vampire Hunter D) can hardly be considered weak. They define the power of the female protagonist. Suzuka is a female samurai. Integra Hellsing leads the dreaded Hellsing Organization with an iron grip, and even her young vampire foil Ceres Victoria is no push-over. Hot Ice Hilda drags Jean Starwind into the epic search for the Galactic Lei Line after discovering the key to the mech ship in the BESMO female, Melfina. Doris Lang is a force for good in Count Magnus Lee’s decadent wasteland. Attractive and strong, these characters are capable of posing real threat and can be devastating forces.
Hot Ice Hilda is a pirate, traditionally a boy’s game in Outlaw Star; she becomes Melfina’s sworn protector.
Sir Integra Hellsing of Hellsing not only takes the masculine title of Knighthood, she also carries a sword–traditionally a phallic symbol.
Twilight Suzuka is wan and deceptively vulnerable. She is a true believer in honor and valor, traits of the true Samurai.
Doris Lang from Vampire Hunter D (1985) is a beautiful, powerful landholder, something that draws the attention of Count Magnus Lee. She is sexy, but completely in control.
Nothing fascinates the Japanese more than Western characters, especially cowboys. They feature prominently in a number of Animes, including both the 1985 and 2000 Vampire Hunter D films. The Vampire Hunter D series is set in a post-apocalyptic world that has it’s roots in the Epic Western of the American Frontier. Yoshitaka Amano’s take on the dhampir (pronounced dam-peel, as the Japanese do not really have an ‘r’ sound) combines the Japanese trope of the Bishonen masculine beauty with Western ideals of power. D is the opposing force of the Vampire Class’ idea of Manifest Destiny. In Hellsing and Hellsing Ultimate , Kota Hirano’s development of the English characters and London setting come from a powerful understanding of the country and culture–if it is, in fact, a little too British. Though originally written in Japanese, the English dub of Hellsing is perhaps equally enjoyable, in that the setting is English, and the language fits the characters.
It’s not unusual to think that the Japanese and other Asian studios borrow from Western culture. The United States has been outsourcing animation to Japanese and Korean studios since the beginning of Anime’s popularity in the US in the 1970s.
There are reasons behind many of the aspects of Anime and Manga the notorious Facebook Fiend found offensive, but the real confusion begins when you consider to which counter culture this person proudly admits to belonging.
What’s With The Shaming?
Anime culture has long been tied to the Geek Culture. Connoisseurs of fine Anime (sometimes called kotaku) get lumped into the Geek Culture by people who are outside the Geek Culture, what we consider “mainstream”. Anime Culture doesn’t fit into the mainstream, and because so many Anime fans tend to also be immersed in Geek Culture, a sort of hybridization has emerged. Anime shaming within the Geek Culture is nothing new. The hypocrisy is long-standing.
Discussing the difference between Geek Culture and Anime Culture was part two of my two-day lecture. The problem with Anime Culture is that it’s part of Geek Culture. Geek Culture can be broken down into several sub-categories of Geek, including Gamer Culture, RPG Culture, Comic Culture, Con Culture and Anime Culture. Anime Culture is fairly popular, but often it’s relegated to the bottom rung of Geek Culture, as if Anime Culture was some sort of weird Geek stepchild that no one cared to mention. Something about the Anime Culture is oddly threatening to the Geek Culture. My deduction is this:
Western Geek Culture is male-centric, centered around particular ideals of male perfection and masculinity. Within the Geek Culture, American Heroes like Batman and Iron Man represent ideal men. They are intelligent, wealthy, handsome, sought-after, and physically impressive. This is the polar opposite to the effiminate beauty of the Bishonen male, who in Japanese and Anime Culture, is someone to be looked up to, even feared. In Anime and Manga, the Bishonen’s presence is enough to threaten lesser men. D is often remarked openly by females in the novels to be the most beautiful man they’ve ever seen. Even men cannot help but be mesmerized by him. Bishonen men are wise, quietly powerful, and will kick your ass only after all other points of egress are closed. American heroes shoot or punch first and ask questions later. American heroes get the girl, and the girl is hot!
Female characters in Western Geek Culture are what the heroes are looking for: hour-glass figure, piercing eyes, large-breasts, often blond, nearly unattainable in their beauty. If they are villains they are batshit crazy. If they are not villains, they are often damsels: Princess Peach, Lois Lane. However, Western heroines have a lot in common with Japanese women. Miss Marvel, Batgirl, Black Widow, and Agent Carter share a lot of traits with Japanese female protagonists. They are hot, but they are hot for different reasons, and it makes the Western Heroine problematic. She’s easy to shame because she’s out of reach. She’s easy to subjugate because she’s incomplete without a counterpart. Black Widow has a thinly-veiled relationship with Hawk Eye. The wind is always out of Cat Woman’s sails, as she is destined for the Batman. For some in the Geek Culture, heroines are perhaps more threatening than any male villain.
For more on the problem of sexism in the Geek Culture, you can read Arthur Chu’s article on Daily Beast regarding Misogyny and Entitlement in Geek Culture. If anything, it will give you insight into the Geek Culture that ultimately outlines the motive of Geek shaming. You can also begin to see some of the stereotypes that are assigned to Anime that are actually present in Geek Culture.
There would seem to be no bridging the gap between the average Geek and the Kotaku. The differences between the two ideal fantasy-scapes are too numerous. Despite the fact that Kotaku have been relegated to Geek Culture, Kotaku are considered weird, strange, eyed askance, secretly homosexual because their favorite characters look like women. It is only too easy to shame Anime fans within the Geek Culture despite the fact that many of the “stereotypes” assigned to Anime are actually traits inherent within the Geek Culture. Those within the Anime Culture can point to any one Anime or Manga that dispells those stereotypes.
It is only too easy for people of any mindset to look on a genre or medium outside their comfort zone and assign stereotypes that hint at a lack of understanding, and also a lack of willingness to understand. It is easy to sit behind a keyboard and call yourself an advocate for social justice by calling out perceived flaws within a given medium while enjoying the masculine privilege of Western Geek Culture, having absolutely no intention of verifying whether or not presumptions are based off of actual analysis gleaned from total immersion or from a few tragic examples of media that serves to reinforce the world view behind the assignment of stereotypes. It is easy to assign negative stereotypes of one’s own culture to another. It is easy, but it is totally unacceptable. It is totally unacceptable to open up an avenue of conversation in public that is designed to exclude outside opinion and shame people who do not share your view. It is unacceptable to degrade an entire medium based on very little actual evidence and to openly state that there was little interest in even trying again. It’s shaming. It’s bullying, and it’s unacceptable. This is not only present in the Geek Culture, visible in examples of Kotaku-shaming, woman-shaming and “fake-gamer-girl”-shaming, but it is the driving force behind the tone of our current political climate.
Because supposedly we’re all friends on Facebook, the invitation to share a derogatory opinion always comes paired with the invitation to try to reason with the post-er. That person, in the end, does not want to be reasoned with. They want to be validated. That’s something I can’t do, and anyone that was willing to sit there and speak from a perceived place of privilege and degrade the art form of another country as some sort of unconscious defense mechanism for what is taking place in current events is someone I’m not willing to be friends with regardless of background. I don’t see that being an outlet for anyone of tolerant mind and spirit. Let those people sit in their clubhouse. They can’t see how green the grass is in the neighbor’s yard from behind the ignorant tent flaps.