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.

Monday, March 5, 2007

This entry is a response directed at the blog entry "Anime Philosophy" posted at:

You’ve made some strong opinions based on your observations, but I think your opinions reveal that you fail to realize that most of Anime is satirical. Most of the negatives you feel Anime embraces with open arms are put in not only for straight-forward humor, but also as a satire. For example, let’s say a man gets slapped about in an Anime for accidentally falling into a girls’ bath room. This is a satire of all those moments in reality when men have been referred to as perverts for situation that have been misunderstood. And the abuse could be seen as a satire of not only all the Anime before it that used similar situations but also cartoons like Charlie Brown in with Charlie was constantly harassed by Lucy in verbal and physical was for little or no reason. But the message the Anime is conveying is quite multi-layered. It could be as you said: “men are weak, power to the women.” Or it could be the complete opposite. We are empowering men by showing the viewer that he clearly did not deserve the beating he got, and making women into violent animals. The Anime could be saying “men are angels, and women have no control of their emotions.” In fact every possible explanation, including yours, makes a false or negative portrayal of someone. And that very truth is what reveals to use that it is a satire. If everyone can laugh at everyone involved, then it must be a joke (at least that’s the idea). The creators make Anime this way purposely so that it appeals to both males and females almost equally.

Most people miss the satirical component of the Anime structure, so I hesitate to judge you on that. But I must say I found your “decent strong female character” opinion quite interesting. Ghost in the Shell’s Motoko can hardly be seen as a “decent strong female character” because of the following:

A) She almost completely lacks emotion making her more robotic that human. This can be understood since she is after all half machine, but the lack of emotion hardly makes her a good example of a female character

B) The only points in the story line when her gender is brought back to our attention are when she takes her clothes off.

Though she does often show emotion, they are usually highly generic displays of curiosity or regret that do little to shed light on the soul of the character, and make her little more than “a cyborg with breasts;” hardly a fair representation of women. Noir suffers from the same exact problem. Even though the use of female characters was obviously a way to take a fresh spin on Action Anime and make the protagonists women (not a way to “bash” on men), they still have made the characters very void of emotion. In essence, the role of protagonist in both Noir and Ghost in the Shell could have been filled by a men or women. Faye Valentine is no better. Sure, she’s a great character from a great show, but she’s ditsy, brings trouble, irresponsible and often lacks foresight. She has a lot more emotion than the characters of the aforementioned Anime (is strong-willed, sometimes clever and speaks her mind; all great qualities), but she is often used in the Anime just for her physical attributes (notice how much time she spends on screen, and then compare it to the amount of relevant contributions she makes). None of these women fit the mold of a “decent strong female character.” They all say women are either close to lifeless shells or prone to stupidity, and are only good for their physical attributes; hardly an empowering statement.

I feel many of the opinions you’ve expressed (even those I have not begun to criticize), though supported with examples, suffer from the same problem. You have taken Anime at face value and refuse to look beneath and behind what it shown to find what is trying to be conveyed. Like its subject matter, Anime is often so much more deep than it appears, even when it doesn’t seem made to be. If you would only challenge yourself to understand why certain things are done in Anime as opposed to exploring other options, you would see that you have very little to complain about (since most of what you’re complaining about is actually just a joke). Many of the real problems exist in what seems “okay.” There is so much more that I have not yet begin to discuss, but they become quite obvious when you give Anime the consideration it requires and beckons for. You may still arrive at the same conclusions that you have now, and it not my intention to steer you away from them. It is just my belief that your argument would have more credibility and fortitude if you did not so obviously make yourself susceptible to the surface of something as multi-layered as Anime.

Thursday, March 1, 2007

Wooldoor's Giggle-Wiggle Funny Tickle Non-Traditional Program Multicultural Round Table!

This is the Drawn Together episode.

1st Entry: Drawn Together

For those who still believe that cartoons are for children and Adults who still collect comic books, it is my sincere hope that over the course of this blog I will be able to change your perception of Animated Entertainment. Before Diving into the world of Japanese Animation, I would like to begin to illustrate how cartoons are not at all what they are generally perceived to be by exploring Comedy Central’s Drawn Together. I will admit, most of my knowledge lies within Japanese Animation so I thought it might prove to be a bit of an undertaking when I challenged myself to find a popular American animated program with questionable gender portrayals (please excuse my sarcasm, it is unprofessional of me). By chance, I happened to stumble upon what I believe to be the Holy Grail. The subversive ideas on masculinity and femininity conveyed through this one episode reveal a great deal about what our society views as acceptable and unacceptable when gender is regarded.

The show, Drawn Together, is a mock-reality show featuring typical cartoon characters such as the superhero and the princess. The show throws character from a variety of child-aimed animated genres into one house (very much like The Real World or Big Brother) and allows them to act without the normal censors of a child’s cartoon. The idea behind the show is to combine the generalizations of reality television with the fantastic qualities of animated characters. It is within these characters and their satire of reality television personalities that we begin to see very thought-provoking ideas about how we really view the people on these shows and what that says about how we view people in reality.

The episode I have chosen for analysis, “Wooldoor’s Giggle-Wiggle Funny Tickle Non-Traditional Program Multicultural Roundtable,” focuses on the character Wooldoor Sockbat who creates a television show for children that in the future turns everyone in the world into a homosexual. Sockbat is based on your average Looney Tunes cartoon character; he is colorful, seemingly elastic in motion and appearance, and can “poof” as he runs. His personality on the show matches his happy-go-lucky exterior quite closely (as did the show he produced within this episode). The show, one that taught tolerance and acceptance, was called by fellow character Princess Clara “a breeding ground for homosexuality” and the fight to save or destroy it began. Throughout the episode, Sockbat is protected by fellow character Xander P. Wifflebottom, who is often referred to as the token gay member of the household. Wifflebottom, who claims to have seen the future, warns Sockbat of an impending threat sent back in time by those who have resisted the global change to homosexuality and seek to kill him. The threat come in the form of a Terminator-type robot built by heterosexual rebels of the future to be the quintessential heterosexual male and to kill Sockbat in the past before the homosexual future can be realized. Though Wifflebottom acts as the primary protector in this episode, Captain Hero often lends assistance by inadvertently distracting the robot with manly heterosexual conversations about what they both like about “baginas.” The episode ends with Sockbat being saved by the love that blossomed between Captain Hero and the robot during their conversations about “baginas,” and Wifflebottom dies from a sprained ankle.

During the course of the episode, the male characters are either portrayed as either a hyperbolic stereotypes of homosexuality or masculinity. Wifflebottom is depicted as a physically weak man with many female characteristics. Sockbat is depicted as a clown with an excess of happiness which makes him susceptible to homosexuality. Captain Hero and the robot are the “real men” of the four. They talk to each other about “baginas,” makes jokes at the expense of women, and slap each other high fives. But of course, an excess of masculinity also makes you homosexual. First, starting with “what it is to be masculine,” talking about genitalia and slapping each other high fives are by no means the definitions of what it means to be a man. Second, homosexuals are not necessarily physically weak or effeminate. But of course, as Diane Raymond mentions in her essay “Popular Culture and Queer Representation,” homosexuals of any sex are rarely ever depicted as normal folks but instead always embody some type of stereotype associated with their sexuality. In addition, the association between female characteristics and being physically inept goes as far as saying that women possess these unwanted characteristics that make them inferior and by being homosexual you’re one step closer to becoming weaker like them. Third, homosexuality is not some ridiculous epidemic that is highly contagious and silly. Throughout the episode, the idea that one can become homosexual in response to even the smallest influences is conveyed; as is the idea that homosexuality is something for idiots. Homosexuality is the sexual preference of a group of people, not an unstoppable epidemic that must be stopped by censoring media, not acting too masculine, and not acting too feminine. Finally, since it is obviously impossible for men to have a close relationship without being homosexual, Captain Hero and the robot obviously must be.

The other half of this episode follows the female characters of the house Toot Braunstein and Foxxy Love (with the exception of her initial expression of disgust at the beginning of the episode, Princess Clara does not appear). Braunstein, a spoof of Betty Boop, is overweight, constantly depressed, irritable, and only made happy by the prospect of food in the near future (she is often seen as the “bitch” of the group). Love picks up all of the remaining female reality show stereotypes. She wears barely any clothing, is “a black woman with attitude,” incredibly thin, and unknowingly suggests that she has an eating disorder. In their storyline, Braunstein continuously goes on about a Weiner mobile that gives out free hot dogs to those it deems worthy. Love eventually gets so irritated by this that she locks Braunstein in a closet. It is eventually discovered that Braunstein was right about the Weiner mobile, but she is left in the closet while Love enjoys the free hot dogs. When Braunstein later becomes angry because of this, she is depicted as the one who needs to “chill out” and her angry is conveyed as almost completely unwarranted.

Although there are many things that one could take first notice to (and far more than anyone could ever list), I must say I was first drawn to the fact that the creators successfully included as many stereotypes as they did with only two characters as canvas (we want to make generalizations, but we still don’t want too many women in the show). The second factor that caught my attention would be that of Braunstein the Bitch versus Love the Attitude. It just seems all too convenient that the attractive and thin Love would be called sassy and funny while Braunstein who causes little to no trouble at all would be dubbed the bitch. But then, how could we justify making fun of her weight and her social problems if we did not first label her a Bitch? It makes you wonder, how does one gain the title Bitch after complaining about being locked in a closet by the Attitude?

The obvious argument to be made in defense of this show is that it is a satire. And I completely understand that, in fact, I enjoy it as much as any fan might. It does make fun of a lot of reality show norms that have become monotonous, predictable, and almost seemingly scripted. That being said, there is a still a very questionable factor that is present that most may not consider. A satire is used to exaggerate real-life realities in a fictional yet feasible and similar world. This show does that in many ways successfully. We can look at the Bitch versus the Attitude and say, “Yes, that does often happen in reality television and even reality. People do often choose to side with the more attractive one.” But are we then inclined to say, “Yes, gay men are like that…well not all gay men but most.” Is that a fair statement or a perpetuation of a stereotype? What about masculine men being the ones who talk only about genitalia and nothing else. Is that really how all men are? Is that even how most men are? You might say that these are also intended satirically; these are popular stereotypes that are being used ridiculously in order to make them seem as ridiculous as they are. But eventually it becomes very hard to say where the stereotype ends, and actually beliefs begin. And if this show is only a hyperbole of actual reality shows, what does that say about the people picked for those shows? Producers and those in charge of creating a reality show’s “cast of characters” pick characters that they know will appeal to large audiences (and ratings show that they’re right on the money most of the time). A network would never air a show such as Survivor or The Real World is they did not feel it was going to be appealing, or at the very least acceptable. So the question that Drawn Together puts forth is, “If this is so appalling, why does it appeal to us even when it’s not a joke at all?”