Friday, April 15, 2016

Why does Japanese Media seem more Liberal then Japanese culture?

If you spend a decent amount of time in Anime fandoms and also talking about Anime and it's connection to the culture that produces it.  You've no doubt seem people point out that Japanese culture is much more conservative and traditionalist then a casual viewing of it's media will let on.  For example Japanese culture is not nearly as tolerant of Homosexuality as watching Strawberry Panic might lead you to believe.  In fact Japan is probably the only "developed" nation that is currently more socially conservative even then America.

So why is that? people like to ask.

Well I feel the answer is pretty simple.  Entertainment Media is always to the left of the mainstream of society (Liberal by the standards of it's time at least, any significantly old work may seem Conservative to someone reading it now), at least in any Society that has Freedom of Speech.  The Poets and Playwrites have always lead the way in making the world more progressive.  And sometimes the more Conservative a culture is the further to the Left the artists swing.

From Euripides who's plays were filled with Social Commentary, to Lord Byron who was a member of the Carbonari.  Also Charles Nodior and Victor Hugo who were close friends of Nicolas Bonnevile, and early mentors of Alexandre Dumas.

Even the old Hollywood Biblical Epics that a lot of Conservative Christians idealize actually had a subversive agenda if you pay attention.  DeMille defied McCarthyism in casting Edward G Robinson in The Ten Commandments.

Now often these Liberal works of Media are not satisfactory to other Liberals and get criticized, sometimes fairly sometimes unfairly, by Liberals who spend their time critiquing Media rather then writing it.  The modern SJW bloggers who get unfairly accused of being impossible to please are not the first to do this, Karl Marx was critical of Eugene Sue.  I think it'd be absurd to suggest Sue wasn't a real Socialist just because Marx was critical of him.  Modern Liberals probably have more valid reasons to be critical of Sue then Marx did, since Sue is definitely problematic on gender issues.  And Dumas was much better then Sue at being nuanced in their approach to fictionalizing the French Revolution.

Now exceptions have existed, there have been Conservatives writer who've written stuff and even been successful and influential.  Paul Feval and Ponson du Terril were the main conservatives in 19th Century French pulp fiction, you can find all kinds of Conservative alternative media in modern America, most of which is inferior to Feval at being enjoyable to people who'd disagree with them.  And Chuck Dixon as a Comic Book writer.  And some Japanese Media actually does come off as conservative, mainly Attack on Titan is what I can think of.

The issue with Japanese Media is the way it's critiqued by western viewers misinterprets a lot of things about it.  A lot of that misinterpretation comes from not knowing how Conservative Japan is.  But on the other hand a lot of people who think they're smarter then the average Anime viewer because they read up a little on Japan, keep insisting on interpreting Japanese media in the context of how Conservative Japan is, rather then in the context of the long human history of artists being to the left of the mainstream.

This comes from both sides, from Liberal critics choosing not to trust anything that looks Liberal in an Anime unless the writer is outright beating the viewer over the head with how Subversive they're trying to be, like Ikuhara.  And even Ikuhara has critics, Utena is nearly universally praised by Feminists, but his more recent works like YuriKuma Arashi are about as divisive as Zach Snyder.  It might be fair to call him the Frank Miller or Alan Moore of Anime.

A number of these critics basically think the handful of Animes they really like are the good progressive ones and the rest are the problem.  While other critics have other responses to the very same works.  Like Evangelion, loved by Vrai but mostly hated by the comment leavers at TheMarySue.

And you got Conservatives of various kinds, like a blogger user-named Ex-Army who calls himself a "Libertarian Nationalist", whatever that means.  He is supporting Trump right now but I was familiar with his blog before Trump took off.  He primarily uses Anime Images with right wing quotes of dubious veracity slapped over them as his thumbnails.  He basically thinks the fact that Japan has a Nationalist Xenophobic culture means all that Anime that entertains him must reflect that.  In fact a pretty good chunk of Japanese Media is actually trying to be critical of that Xenophobia just as America's media tries to fight against our Xenophobia.

Code Geass I've just recently seen accused of having a Nationalist message.  I think a distinction needs to be made between being Patriotic and being Nationalist in the sense of what a Fascist or Mr Ex-Army means by Nationalist.

One thing that generally both the conservatives and liberals of Japan tend to agree on is Western Imperialism is the source of much of the World's problems (while in the West that is thought of as a uniquely Liberal thing to say that) so indeed Code Geass begins with an Evil Empire that is pretty clearly an Anglo-American stand in.  But it makes a strong effort to Humanize and not demonize the Britanians.  It's a very Anti-Racist work and Zero was adamant that the Black Knights were not fighting to bring back old regressive Japan but a new Progressive one.  I actually think there are few Anime's I've seen harder to interpret as being conservative, some I already mentioned, another would be Gundam 00.

But perhaps the biggest focal point of this dispute is the Yuri and Yaoi genres (Girl's Love and Boy's Love).  It's mostly Yuri I'm familiar with.

Part of Japanese Culture is a thing called the Class S Relationship.  A tolerance of quasi Romantic Relationships between young School Girls, that they are expected to grow out of, sometimes viewed as practice for eventually marrying a man.  Similar attitudes toward Lesbianism used to exist in the West but are now considered outdated.

Understanding what Class S is is absolutely vital to understanding the context of the Yuri Genre.  The issue is the then simplistic assumption that most Yuri is nothing more then a ficitonalization of that and has no desire or ability to make viewers in Japan rethink their general attitude towards Homosexuality.

Now I'm not going to say all criticisms of the Yuri Genre are invalid, thing is Western media made with the best of intentions towards the LGBT community often gets things wrong too.  The old Lesbian Pulp Fiction novels of the 50s and 60s were very problematic especially in how they ended, but they also meant a lot to the contemporary Lesbians who read them and it'd be disingenuous to discount that.

The first thing that I feel gets overlooked is that your typical Yuri absolutely does go further then what is tolerated in a real Class S relationship which is not expected to be physical in even the most mundane way.  Really it's Animes that are not officially Yuri but have a strong Yuri fanbase because of the very Femslashable female friendships they depict, like Maria-Sama and PreCure, that give a better picture of what a Class S relationship is actually supposed to look like.

Now maybe Yuri only goes further because of the natural tendency of fiction to exaggerate, but it's an important fact to note.  Or maybe it's because some girls do in private go further then what is acceptable.  But in the Yuri genre it's all pretty public.

The perception however is that with anything in a School setting, no matter how far they go they're playing it safe because conservative viewers can always just assume the characters will "Grow out of it".  But the thing is viewers are equally as free to imagine the opposite, and clearly most of Yuri's actual fandom (male or female) does just that.

A lot of the criticism is about the lack of actual Sex, and focus on Crushes that seemingly go on forever without being resolved. Yuru Yuri is a really fun Anime I watched just recently, where the criticism is mostly that.  Thing is it's not even High School, it's Middle School, most Middle School fiction doesn't go beyond that in it's romance regardless of orientation.  The hesitance of fiction to acknowledge that Middle Schoolers sometimes have sex can be viewed as a problem, but it's not an entirely unique to Homosexuality problem,.  And tension not being resolved is a natural product of being ongoing.

Erica Friedman has pretty much said a Yuri needs to be about adults for her to really like it.  And more Adult Lesbian relationships are needed.  But younger LGBT people are often the ones who depend on representation in fiction the most.  [Update Correction, she said prefers stories about Adults].

To a large extent, the difference between whether or not a School Girl set romance is liked by the Yuri Critics is if it actually talks about what being Gay means.  And while I agree having that conversation is important, I also like Escapism, I think stories that pretend it's not an issue at all make a lot of ground in normalizing it.

The Ikuhara approach to being subversive is important, we need a good deal of that.  But in the long run I think the more casual approach to putting progressive ideas in what you write actually does more to change minds.  Pretty Little Liars is a show that started out very casual in how it Incorporated it's feminist ideas, but become more overt over time.  Now it slipped up big time in Season 6, but for the first 5 seasons it really was the best inter-sectional show on television.  Watching PLL has certainly done more to change my thinking to the left then almost anything else, the other factor being actually studying The Bible.

Now I'm aware that as a Cis-Het male my ability to understand these issues is limited.  But all the use of the term "Real Lesbian" I see among Yuri critics I fear has the potential to be unintentionally hurtful to a lot of people, it echos actual discrimination that exists within the Gay community towards Bixexuals and Pansexuals and people who identify as Fluid.  And the condescending attitude towards real life women in High School and Collage who "experiment".  Conventional wisdom says even most straight people don't end up marrying who they dated in High School, but if your future Spouse isn't the same Gender as your Highschool sweetheart, then it's assumed one of those two relationships must be invalid.

Another thing I like about Yuru Yuri is how the characters are kind of Nerds, Yui is a Gamer and Kyoko goes to Comic Book conventions.  Maybe the perception that those things aren't for women isn't as a big a problem in Japan as it is in America, but I doubt it.

Another objection to the Yuri Genre is the emphasis on Purity it often has. Which can tie into the perception that Lesbian Sex isn't real Sex and so Lesbians can technically claim to be Virgins. Those are understandable concerns, and ones I may talk about more in the future.

The gist of this is, Japanese Media is very much Liberal by virtue of what that means in Japan.  If you're watching an Anime and it seems liberal to you, it probably is.


  1. You've misrepresented my opinion completely. I have not said any such thing. I *prefer* stories about adults.