Friday, May 4, 2007

The Final Post

Anime is highly based on the principle of completely escaping what is normal. Not only do people fly and robots roam the earth, but people act and behave quite abstractly. The writers of Anime try to create characters that are just as abstract as the world they have their characters living in. The result of this effort is a genre of entertainment with personalities that are exclusive to it alone. With this in mind, one would immediately assume that if there were ever to be a form of entertainment that best escaped falling into the trap of reinforcing norms, it would have to be Anime.

I began this study with that mentality. For the most part, I saw Anime as a fairly progressive form of entertainment. Many of its characters behave in ways that are far outside of what is considered normal, and in doing so tear down a lot of established ideas. The viewers of this media are then exposed to ways of thinking and living that are very different from their own, and are then more inclined to look more closely at their own lives. They will begin to consider a lot of the norms that they have been taught to accept as fact, and just in the revelation of more than one option, Anime has created huge change.

Unfortunately, as I did my study I discovered that Anime may not be the quintessence of progression that I originally thought it was. It is often very easy within Anime to see where gender norms are defied and new ways of thinking are explored, but just as some norms are torn down others are left untouched. This practice of selective rebellion can have just as many detrimental effects as it does positive. By ignoring some social norms while challenging others you are in effect saying that those norms you have not questioned are unquestionable.

Anime falls into this trap many times. It’s very difficult to catch; often I find myself so focused on the challenges and the ideas put forth that I forget to question all that was not suggested or put forth. For example, my post on Happy Lesson does a lot to champion anime in terms of progression. I explain that there is no definition of a good mother, and that certain qualities (even highly anti-social qualities) don’t necessarily make you incapable of taking care of a child. I went very wrong with this post when I failed to look at a much bigger picture. I said that society shouldn’t deem “bad mothers” as such because there is no definition for “good mother.” I wonder now why I didn’t address the fact that society shouldn’t really have the authority to judge who is bad and who is not. The factor that Happy Lesson and I failed to take note of is that we are essentially saying “there is a system in place that doesn’t work” rather then suggesting “there shouldn’t be a system at all.” By never making the bigger suggestion both I and the Anime have reaffirmed the belief that women should be gauged in some way on how well they raise their children; not a very progressive idea at all.

Anime in the end is not all that different from any other media form, it can be both highly progressive and not at all. The same can be said about a lot of American comic books and cartoons; some are more progressive than not, others reinforce norms more than they challenge them, but in the end they all do both. What truly separates Anime (and the media like it that strive for progression) from those that seem apathetic to change is the effort they put into trying to create change. Allan Johnson, in his piece Patriarchy: A System An It Not a Him They or Us, best explained why this is true in a quote at the end of his piece:

“We’re involved in patriarchy and its consequences because we occupy social positions in it, which is all it takes. Since gender oppression is, by definition, a system of inequality organized around gender categories, we can no more avoid being involved in it than we can avoid being female or male. All men and women are therefore involved in this oppressive system and none of us can control whether we participate, only how…”

Though Anime seeks to create worlds that greatly differ from our own, these worlds still mirror our own, if they did not it would be far too alienating and unappealing as a form of entertainment. Just as we as a society cannot escape the influence of patriarchy, neither can a form of media that even loosely mirrors it. Through this study I realized that Anime the fact that Anime has so many progressive ideas hardly makes it progressive since it has just as many reinforcements. What makes it progressive is that, more often than most entertainment, it tries to move us forward socially. Making an effort is in the end better than not, and I think I can speak for all of us when I say that is a patriarchal participation we can all get behind.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Feedback from Blog Buddy Tara

Strong analytical work is shown throughout your blog. Two posts stand out the most; “Genesis and Gender” and “A Lesson from Happy Lesson.” In “Genesis and Gender,” you bring to the table a show that contradicts society’s norms about gender. You are very effective in conveying the ideas the show portrays. By pin-pointing the gender and corresponding personalities of two main characters, we are shown the counter-hegemony that exists. Furthermore, you present a key analysis of the “mistake” the show makes; people are either male or female. “A Lesson from Happy Lesson,” is a very interesting post about what seems to be a very interesting show. The unique family structure of the main character is a great source for analysis. By bringing to light society’s depiction of what a mother should be (calm, caring, nurturing, and problem-solving), as well as the media’s frequent attacks on “bad mothers,” your analysis of non-traditional mothering develops importance. The validity of the question you pose, “can someone be a good mother without fitting the mold,” is proven through the examination of the mothers in Happy Lesson. Also, you are very successful in analyzing the lesson the writers of the show subconsciously teach coupled with society’s take on non-traditional mothers.

Your strength in analytical writing will help you in many ways. Being able to successfully pull important ideas, themes, etc. out of a scholarly piece of work and use them to interpret and analyze gender in popular culture will certainly aid you in writing your final blog post. The facts that certain anime goes against societal norms in specific ways and that you have already effectively analyzed this fact, can be used to strengthen your final post. If this seems to be a dominant trend in anime, perhaps it could be used as a point of analysis.

You have created a distinctive blog which captures a unique area of popular culture, anime, and gender analysis all in one. The topic of anime is clearly evident throughout the entire blog, and you seem to be extremely knowledgeable, as well as interested, in your topic. Each post uses gender as a primary focus of analysis, had a clear point, and provided insight and evidence to the claim. It was; however, somewhat difficult to pair each post with its specific post instructions, making it difficult to tell if the analysis connects with the assignment; simply adding a label is an option. The sources used in your posts are relevant to their sites of analysis within the topic, and they help to prove your argument. However, it would be more effective to actually quote the author of the reading rather than just referring to it.

I thought it was great when you didn’t overlook the “mistake” that Neon Genesis Evangelion makes in their attempt to defy hegemonic norms. You write well, and you are successful in your analyses. I was; however, a bit confused by your response to Madeline Ashby’s post in that the stereotypes referred to are unclear. It would have been helpful to have more background information on anime in general for readers who are uncultured in the realm of anime. Incorporating actual quotes would help to further enforce your claims as well as provide a clearer understanding of the analysis as a whole. Also, it might be a good idea to proofread your posts again to eliminate certain grammatical mistakes. Overall, your blog is a fantastic examination of anime and race, class and gender. You are successful in your analyses and you exhibit your points clearly. I enjoyed reading and learning about anime in general, in addition to the actual analyses. I predict your final blog post will effectively wrap up the points you have made and the themes you have presented. Great job!

Friday, April 20, 2007

Blog Buddy work with Tara

1) Where has your Blog buddy shown strong analytical work (be specific—is it a particular post, a type of analysis, a site for analysis that seemed to click more so than others, etc)?

2) How could your Blog buddy use this strength for the final Blog post and presentation?

3) Think about the following statements in relation to your Blog buddy’s Blog and then provide feedback on each area (constructive praise/criticism):
The Blog is on a topic that has been clearly evident in the Blog posts throughout the semester

-The Blog is on a topic that seems to interest my Blog buddy

-My Blog buddy’s topic is one that has produced a good set of posts that were analytical used gender as a primary category of analysis

-The posts make analytical arguments.

-The posts are understandable and each post logically outlines and supports the argument presented.

-The posts were clear, provided insight, evidence, and analysis to connect the topic with the assignment for each of the posts

-The sources cited in each post are relevant to the topic and help to aid the understanding of the argument and/or assisted in proving the argument.

-The quotes used illustrate a broad range of course readings throughout the semester.

-The quotes were clear and succinct; additionally, the material was presented so that I could differentiate the Blog buddy’s ideas from that of the author cited.

4) Finally,

-I thought it was great when you...

-I found it confusing when you…

-You’re really great at…

-I wish you could focus (more) on/alter/edit/explain/expand on/etc these three things…

Thursday, April 12, 2007

A Lesson from Happy Lesson

The role of mother, within many forms of media, often carries with it certain connotations. Mothers within the media are often portrayed as caring, nurturing, problem-solving, patient individuals. They are often the cool, calm, collected and understanding part of the parental dynamic. Many would say that the media holds mothers in high regard when one considers all of the qualities it associates with being a mother, but these unwritten definitions can have very negative and even damaging effects.

Obviously, there aren’t many people who would argue that being called caring, nurturing, and problem-solving is insulting. Many would say that this depiction of mothers is positive and complementary. The problem, however, with this seemingly positive depiction is that is says “this is a mother” rather than “a mother can be this.” Unfortunately, this seemingly positive depiction, results in the alienation of all women who have children and don’t fit this mold. The question that I propose is this, “Can someone be a good mother without fitting the mold?” There is no anime better than Happy Lesson to explore that question.

Happy Lesson is the story of a young boy named Chitose Hitotose that is orphaned in his early teens. After spending some time in an orphanage, he eventually moves back into the house his parents left him with five of his teachers who act as Chitose’s mothers. Each of the mothers contributes to Chitose’s guardianship in a different way because their personalities are all so different. Together they provide an environment in which Chitose can learn everything he needs to know about life, while also getting more than enough motherly love…whether he wants it or not. Though unusual and probably not likely to ever take place in reality, one would say that in the anime Chitose is very well taken care of by his mothers, however, none of them fits the definition of mother. For example, Chitose’s science teacher, Kisaragi Ninomai, is incredibly introverted, seemingly emotionless, and incredibly reckless with her scientific pursuits; hardly the nurturing problem-solver. Her influence on Chitose, however, is irreplaceable and essential to Chitose’s development. So while she is a problem-causing stoic, she is ever bit the mother of Chitose all of the others have become, even if she doesn’t seem to be as mothers have come to be defined. Yayoi Sanzenin, Chitose’s school nurse turned mother, both fits the mother mold and doesn’t. She is calm, collected, and protective of Chitose, but she also is often seen drawing the sword she keeps in her waist and putting it against Chitose’s throat when his actions disagree with her wishes. She’s eccentric and often destructive, but just like Ninomai, she is irreplaceable. [Of course the constant sword threat would in reality be taken more seriously than I have. In Anime it is understood as a sign of an over-aggressive nature rather than a propensity to actual violence.]

Happy Lesson is a perfect example of how a mother can be a great parental figure without following socially accepted associations with motherhood. Unfortunately, the lesson that Happy Lesson teaches is not so readily applied to the actions of the real world when they feel a woman is a poor parental figure. In the book, “Bad” Mothers: The Politics of Blame in 20th Century America, author Norma Coates discusses how Courtney Love is often considered a terrible mother by the media. From what most of have been shown, the assumption that she is not at all a calm, collected, nurturing, problem solver would be an understandable one. Without getting into whether or not that is actually the case and supposing she isn’t, does it even matter? Considering the argument that Happy Lesson puts forth, that a mother need not be a mother to be a mother, should we leap at the chance to attack Courtney Love (and countless others) because they don’t fit the mold?

Friday, March 30, 2007

These are just a few characters from various Anime that clearly illustrate how the idea of masculinity and femininity can change greatly between social group. In the previously mentioned piece Boyhood, Organized Sports, and the Construction of Masculinities, author Michael Messnar states that gender identity is “shaped and constructed through the interaction between the internal and social.” Following this logic we can see why these characters, all of whom are men except one, could perceive themselves as masculine even though some would not. According to Messnar, it is a reflection of the differences between internal and social interactions in different cultures and social groups. Though these men and other fictional characters like Superman and Batman all perceive themselves to be just as masculine as the other, we can see that the differences between what there respective societies have taught them to believe is a masculine appearance greatly differs.

Genesis and Gender

Anime is very interesting in terms of its characters. The characters of almost every show both follow and reject societal norms them in very interesting ways. For example, one of the most talked about and respected Anime series of all time, Neon Genesis Evangelion, if filled with characters that are both hegemonic and counter-hegemonic. The show's main character Shinji Ikari is often faced with conflicts dealing with his self-esteem, how he feels others perceive him, and being true to himself instead of following the orders of others. A supporting character Asuka Langley Soryu is often faced with conflicts dealing with being the strongest, being the best, and almost every endeavor turns into a competition.

Now most of us would assume by reading these descriptions that Shinji is a girl and Asuka is a boy but in reality the reverse is true. Men are often perceived as those with aggression and a competitive nature, as addressed in the piece by Boyhood, Organized Sports and the Construction of Masculinities by Messnar. We perceive this because men re often socialized to be both aggressive and competitive. Messnar explains that many men engage in sports and other forms of competition to prove there worth among others and live up to or surpass the men before and around them. In Neon Genesis Evangelion, we see all of these qualities embodied by a female character. Shinji embodies many of the conflicts typically associated with female characters. In the article No: It’s Power is Distinct and Uncompromising, author Kiini Ibura Salaam discusses how hard it was for her to say “no” growing up because of the fear of disappointing her peers (“maybe,” “I’ll try” or “will see” would take the place of an all too decisive and offensive “no”). Female characters often are an exaggerated version of this basic idea; they are usually plagued with problems dealing with peer perceptions. We’ve all seen episodes of many shows with the girl who cares about not having the latest clothes, best makeup, or thinnest body. Rarely do we see any programs dealing with men facing these or similar issues.

Neon Genesis Evangelion succeeds in creating characters that defy the basic template that most forms of entertainment follow. It takes into account that not only men can be competitive, and not only women care about what the world thinks of them. It also acknowledges the truth that no of the conflicts I have addressed face men or women exclusively. In many ways, Neon Genesis Evangelion is quite progressive, but it makes one key mistake. Essentially, all it has done is swapped male norms for female norms and vice versa. It’s great that we have these very interesting characters that defy most of the established character norms, but it also introduces the new idea: people are either one or the other. It doesn’t do much (at least not until the final episodes) to acknowledge the fact that these characters can be both aggressive and self conscious (characters are red or blue, not purple). In the end, the show doesn’t really say “men and women are equal and suffer from the same problems,” it says “Shinji is weak like a girl because he has girl issues, and Asuka is aggressive like a man because she wants to be the best.” Also, the fact that “becoming the best” is associated with attributes that are associated with males implies that males are the best and you have to be like them to be successful or better; not a very progressive message at all.

Thursday, March 8, 2007

This is an excerpt from a post by Madeline Ashby on the blog Fandrogyny that I found interesting:

Thank you, Maura Egan. What with the NY Times reportage (if it can be called that) regarding Heroes and its fandom, I worried that this article might rely on the same old stereotypes of fans -- stereotypes that, in their own way, hurt women by excluding them. Part of what "straights" find so easy to pick on about fandom is the old-fashioned, mistaken impression that it's a predominantly male space. (Many female fans would disagree, I'm sure.) This isn't to say that the dated stereotypes about fandom doesn't hurt men, either -- the "40-year-old male fan living in his mom's basement" stereotype doesn't do men any favours. In reality it's unfair to all genders: the "Android's Dungeon" archetype within pop culture suggests that fans can be only male, only white, and only heterosexual. And those whom it doesn't exclude, it insults: male fans are somehow lesser, characterised as childish, weak, or unable to carry on adult relationships.

To which I responded:

You make a very important point in your comments regarding the fans of comics, manga, etc. The members of these fans have changed and most of the stereotypes used to refer to these members are outdated and do very little in the way of describing them accurately. But I feel, and you might agree, that though this doesn’t do any one any favors, it’s hard not to expect it. After all, most of the same people using these false generalizations are the same people who don’t understand how much the world of comics, manga, etc has changed in the last few years. If they cannot understand or are unaware of the changes within this form of entertainment, then it’s expected that they also will have incorrect perceptions of those who are entertained by it.

I highly recommend reading the rest of the post, and other posts.