Because I am feeling Victorian (haha! I appropriate you, O imperialist culture of the past!):In which I type a heck of a lot on cultural appropriation, cultural authenticity, imperialism, anime, manga, fandom, East Asian Studies, and Taiwan, with the gratuitous use of parenthetical interjections and multiple tangents and wish that I could have included feminism and gender studies to include all of my academic interests in one gigantic post.
I was going to start writing about this in response to coffee_and_ink
's post and her comments here
, except I realized it would get so lengthy that I should probably stick it in my lj.
Actually, a lot of it sparked thoughts beginning with the problems inherent in using a certain genre or type of literature/art/pop culture/what have you to extrapolate the psychology of an entire nation of people. Or an entire nation of schoolgirls, if you're talking specifically about shoujo manga studies. Much of this is also sparked by the fact that almost all of the scholarship that I've read on manga and anime has been about why manga and anime are somehow intrinsically "Japanese" and how they can be used to make telling arguments about the Japanese psyche. This is particularly the case when people can make a connection between culture and sex and/or gender, and so there does seem to be a great deal of focus on the extreme pornographic nature of anime and manga as well as the strangeness of an entire subgenre written for women by women (or for shoujo by women) dealing with two beautiful boys having sex with each other and how it indicates a certain perversion in the way the Japanese deal with sex and why the entire nation is completely messed up in terms of gender roles. I suspect that all these scholars have never spent a day or two on the internet with all the meta about slash, or they would see that this subgenre on male-male love by women for a female audience isn't exactly a specifically Japanese incidence.
I am in no way saying that slash equates shounen ai, because it doesn't and there are some distinctively different tropes between the two, largely because (I generalize horribly here) slash seems to be more based on romance novel conventions and shounen ai is based more on shoujo manga conventions.
But anyway, I still think it is rather silly to point to anime and manga and say, "Look! This means blah about Japan/Japanese culture/the Japanese!" One, it's pointing at not just a genre, but an entire group of genres in two very different media, which is just sloppy. Two, even when the argument about shounen ai being an indication of Japanese shoujo's fear of sexuality and their desire to stay in the sexually ambiguous space between childhood and womanhood limits the discussion of the genre to shounen ai (more of a subgenre, I would say, but I am splitting hairs now), it almost invariably completely ignores the fact that wow, shounen ai is a genre populated by many, many authors and has officially been in existence for about thirty years and as a consequence, has had at least one generation of authors and probably several generations of readers. Never mind the differences that thirty years can bring in a culture, never mind the differences of social and economic class, of region, of education level, of individual preference. Also, never mind that shounen ai (and much of manga and anime) borrows from assorted Western/classical and Chinese mythology and literature, even if it is on a shallow level. Anyway, to stop ranting, I think it is just sloppy scholarship to point at a body of work and make not a judgment about the pool of authors/creators of the work or the time period or whatnot, but a huge generalization about the psychology of the readers of the work, especially when said scholars don't even bother doing something easy like asking some of the readers and instead apply weird Freudian theories or somesuch. Plus, witness the huge fandom uproar whenever someone says "Slash means that female fans are afraid of their own sexuality!" and expand that statement to include an entire nation of people, and then see how it sounds.
Anyway, this was a really long way to get to what coffee_and_ink
was saying about cultural appropriation of the arts and just how problematic the notion of cultural appropriation is. I haven't read up much on this at all, but on a personal level, I'm very conflicted about it. I think Mely got around to the topic when she said something about culture being something learned
, not something inherent in someone's genes or heritage or sopped up with breast milk or whatever. And I very much agree with the thought that there is no national ownership of ideas, and the reader in me is all for the "all art is mine" approach. I think the notion of the impenetrability of Japanese literature or Islamic literature or Oriental or insert-culture-here is pretty stupid. On the other hand, I think it is difficult learning an entirely new canon of literature that differs completely from the canon you are familiar with, and since so much of literature does allude and refer to older works, yeah, it's hard. I mean, it was weird enough for me learning how to read romances without rolling my eyes and learning the tropes and the language and etc., much less learning an entirely different mass of literary works (or art or music or whatever you like). Ergo, as I found out the hard way, you cannot just show someone anime and expect them to know what everything means. Amazingly, people who have not seen chibi form before are very weirded out by people randomly turning into smaller, cuter versions of themselves ;).
I think, though, the flip side of this learning curve is the tendency to view it as an impossibly steep slope, or a slope that only a selected few people can climb, which is what I think happens in a good deal of East Asian studies academics and in anime/manga fandom. Er. I speak as someone who majored in EAS but wasn't particularly enmeshed in her small department and as someone whose last experience in the anime/manga fandom was six years ago, so grain of salt! I sort of want to equate scholarly jargon with fangirl/fanboy speak, as a certain code into a culture. Except I do think scholarly jargon has a place, because when I say things like "Japan," I really mean "the notion of Japan-the-nation in the early twenty-first century with the caveat that it is composed of many individuals of varying statuses and thoughts and opinions and what really is nation anyway but this is too long of an explanation to say every time so I will just say Japan." Or "the West" meaning "what Japanese discourse around the late nineteenth century referred to all the European and American nations by." It's hard to have a discussion without first defining all the terms. And in a way, that is what fans do -- think of all the meta discussions on what "slash" means, what "canon" and "fanon" are and all the arguments that happen when people talk about these things without realizing that their definitions of the terms are different. In anime/manga fandom the terms seem to be "yaoi" and "shounen ai" and whatnot, and I've seen several cycles of people claiming different linguistic origins for "yaoi."
I'm not sure if it's the combination of fandom terminology and the new cultural context, but the anime and manga fandom seems to be particularly suscept to the notion that you need credentials to watch anime or read manga (or just the GWing fandom ~1999?). I guess it's like this in most fandoms -- in sci-fi/fantasy, there's a canon of works that you should have read to be "well-read" (it was interesting seeing this at Norwescon!) and it's a way to identify members within the group. But it seemed like in every single argument on mailing lists in the Gundam Wing fandom, someone would invariably pop up and say, "Blah means blah and I know this because I took Japanese for a year!" Or because my Japanese friend said so, or because I went to Japan, or because I lived in Japan for eight years, or because I have done homestay, or because I wrote a paper on it (hee, that's mine). And I sort of wonder why people feel the need to justify their knowledge or their theories in this way. On the other hand, I'm not arguing, because this feeling of constantly not knowing enough is what lead me to do East Asian Studies, which I adore. And it's just particularly funny because (here is where I gratuitously flash my creds) I majored in this, took four and a half years of Japanese and did a two-month homestay there, wrote my thesis specifically on shoujo manga and anime and manga scholarship and to be honest, I feel like I have only gotten a hint of the answer. Actually, I think the answer is just, "It's complicated." Anyway, it does seem that people that I've seen getting into anime and into my department start out feeling like they don't know much, gain a little knowledge and start overgeneralizing or making huge statements of truth, then start splitting hairs and saying I don't know to everything. And then, finally, the big professors who have spent decades doing this have answers, but with about ten bazillion complications and exceptions and footnotes that they are generalizing.
Ok, I completely lost my point somewhere in there. I think I was actually going to talk about cultural appropriation. Anyway, all this was supposed to say something about how people can guard a culture or an artform as "theirs" or as something you have to be initiated into or have some sort of special knowledge to do. And while I would not say that you should go into an unknown canon and immediately start saying it's stupid because it doesn't conform to your canon, I would also say that these artforms, they are not mysterious things that need to be decoded by a Tibetan monk who lives in the center of the earth. And because of this, I think it is rather silly to say one artform is intrinsically Japanese/Chinese/American/blah, because saying that means that 1) culture is genetic 2) culture is monolithic 3) only people within the culture can understand it. This is where I start taking offense as a reader, because basically it's telling me that I shouldn't be going off reading other cultures' texts and whatnot because I'll never understand them anyway! And hey! I like reading, so I don't like it when anyone tells me I shouldn't read something.
Plus, having sort of grown up in two cultures, I personally think that nationality and culture and all that stuff are boundaries that people make up for themselves to make it easier to put the world in categories. Because in the end, how do you untangle the parts of me that are Chinese and American from what is just me and from what I got from reading books and growing up in Taiwan and going to college in America?
Again, I get off the point. This is where I put the big "but" in on why I think the opposite assumption, that all culture belongs to everyone and that it completely doesn't matter who uses what artforms, is also too simplistic (again, Mely says this better than me... I just say it with more words and confusion!). Aside from the problem of appropriating physical cultural treasure (i.e. the Egyptian collection in the British Museum), which I think most people can see the problematics of, I think the bigger problem with this assumption is that it is really idealistic and unfortunately ignores about two centuries or so of nationalism and the formation of national identities hand in hand with colonialism and imperialism. (Wow, I used "problem" three times in that sentence. Technically one use was "problematic." I like that word ^_^.) ( More text here )