Yesterday, the Baltimore Police Department created a new webform for victims of sexual abuse to report “sexual offenses related to the Netflix series, ‘The Keepers’.” This form was promoted via their Facebook and social media with the tag “#TheKeepers”.
Tumblr is exploding with clips from a pop rap song with lyrics that invoke women’s empowerment and global sisterhood by Mona Haydar, a Syrian-American who first attracted international attention in 2015 with her “Ask a Muslim” interviews. “Wrap my Hijab” is an anthem for unity and women’s empowerment, the chorus empowers “women [of] every shading,” while the final verse joins together “Somalis,” “Iraqis,” “Punjabis,” “Egyptians, Canadians, and Americans” who still “wrap [their] hijabs.”
While tumblr and social media are particularly resonate on the “make a feminist planet” soundbite and the lyrics pack a positive and uplifting refreshment, the grating zurna accompaniment may be a barrier from this tune ever getting radio play or breakthrough popularity. On the other hand, this video being released shortly before the US attacks on Syria may elevate the anthem to new levels as the American people call for peace.
Read more about Mona Haydar and her new single:
- The Daily Good article by Pip Usher: https://www.good.is/articles/hijabi-viral-video-muslim-syrian-american-rapper-mona-haydar
- HufPost’s article on the song: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/mona-haydar-hijabi-music-video_us_58e051b6e4b0ba3595959130?ncid=engmodushpmg00000004
- NPR’s article on Mona Haydar’s “Ask a Muslim” interviews in the wake of the Paris terrorist attack. http://www.npr.org/2015/12/27/461124403/faced-with-fear-a-muslim-woman-makes-a-stand-by-setting-one-up
- Mona Haydar’s website: http://www.monahaydar.com/mona-who
“We don’t discriminate against people based on what countries they come from — we discriminate against them based on their age and weight,” Jimmy Kimmel stated in his opening monologue. His audacious claim whizzes right by racism and sexism– Racism being the elephant in the room that magically stole the card for “Best Picture -Moonlight” in an unprecedented Academy slight towards a critically-acclaimed film.
Despite the historic amount of “black” films being nominated (18, with 5 winning,) there is real, constructive criticism about how “black” these films really are. A look at the white directors, white producers, white writers, and a majority of white crew behind the cameras of these and virtually all the other films nominated reveals that we are not as far in fighting racism as we would like to see ourselves.
A perfect example of this racism erasure is the insertion of a fictional white saviour into Hidden Figures, as pointed out by Da’Shawn Mosley. While this film is acclaimed for its historical accuracy, the white screenwriter of Ms. Margot Lee Shetterly’s book decided to take creative license in making it more palatable to white audiences. In his adaptation, the boss, Al Harrison, takes a crowbar to the segregated bathroom at NASA and also invited Katherine Johnson to the control room to view the historic space flight. In reality, and in Shetterly’s book, these doors remained closed to Ms. Johnson for the entirety of her career at NASA.
While we have seen a sweep of nominations of films with black protagonists this year, I can only wonder if we will see a “white-lash” as we have recently in culture, politics, and society. First with the Hugo awards. Then with the post-Obama white-lash that carried and inflamed (still ignites) xenophobic violence across the US. Now we have a step in the right direction for Hollywood, and one can only hope that we do not see a similar pattern of push-back.
- Transcript of Jimmy Kimmel’s opening monologue for the 2017 Oscars, http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/jimmy-kimmel-s-opening-monologue-transcript-oscars-2017-980304
- “A discussion of Blackness in 2016 films and this year’s Oscars,” facilitated by Foundry UMC’s Racial Justice Ministries Team. Panelists: Tim Gordon, Oscar-winner Russell Williams II
- “Hidden Racism” by Da’Shawn Mosley, https://sojo.net/articles/hidden-racism
The journalist and feminist political activist submitted a scathing critique of the state of film today in its portrayal of women. This article ran today and raised eyebrows–and awareness– to the celluloid dismissal and demeaning of women.
X-men: Apocalypse was released in North America last month. The film misses the mark on many of its lofty ambitions. The actors are sincere but their characters are not compelling for those who haven’t seen the previous films (recently). The settings and scenes jump from continent to continent, creating a quasi-fast pace for a story that doesn’t make much progress until an hour in. The themes and messages are numerous–too much commentary is conveyed all at once–making the point of the film rather messy until the very end.
However, fans of the series will find it engaging and dense. We see a smooth and thorough development of the characters who play roles in the canonically later films. (This series parallels Star Wars, with a primary canon trilogy being released first, followed by a subsidiary prequel trilogy.)
The biggest missed opportunity would be the inclusion of the lyric version of “Figlio Perduto.” The music from “Allegretto” of Beethoven’s 7th is used in the turning-point of the film and reprised in the credits. However, only classical music buffs will recognize how much depth and context the song adds to not only the emotional scene but also the overarching message of the film.
Linked via the graphic below is a lyric video explaining the significance of the song. Damnit Jim, I’m an analyst and not a videographer, so don’t judge the sophomoric quality of the video. It gets the info across. (Link also here)
Bonus: Cherik lovers will also appreciate Marc Winslow’s music video using a rendition of the song by a male singer and set to clips from “Les amitiés particulières,” a 1984 French GLBT classic film. Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zPO_nOL9WnA
Dark Pasts, Bright Futures: Reconciling WWII Human Rights Violations through Art
“Art shows us who we think we were, who we are, and who we are on the brink of becoming.”
It is a common point of frustration and complaint among young American scholars in Germany that the Nazi regime is erased from public discourse and apparently public memory. I remember quite clearly, one day after a lecture in my DAF (Deutsche Als Fremdsprache) Twentieth Century German History course at Universität Stuttgart with other foreign exchange students, a diatribe among my colleagues as we walked back to the S-bahn. One of the young men was incensed by the way the professor had glazed over direct questions about the hateful, inhuman Nazis.
The rant is a familiar one to any American holding even a passing acquaintance with modern day German society. My mind drifted to a previous semester’s reading while still in the United States: Harald Welzer and several others had tackled this cognitive distancing with a book entitled “Opa war kein Nazi” or “Grandad wasn’t a Nazi” in 2003. My lingering impression of that work was the enormity of reconciling the image of your loving grandpa, who spoils you nonstop, with someone who may have committed atrocities or at least turned a blind eye to them.
Past hurts are often the deepest. How do we tend to them?
Memorial Day Sunday, May 25, 2014: Christ of the Hills Church, Hot Springs Village, AR
After applauding for the men and women who had served in the military, the congregation of this Methodist church began singing a patriotic hymn, and my eyes wander over the people around me as the familiar words tumble out of my mouth with rote certainty.
Some of these individuals were members of the G.I. Generation and fought in World War II. I had recently viewed The Railway Man in the theater, a film starring Colin Firth and Nicole Kidman. Based on an autobiography, the protagonist Eric Lomax had suffered inhumane indenture and torture at a Japanese prisoner of war camp. The Japanese beat the prisoners. The Japanese treated the prisoners as slaves. A young Lomax was waterboarded on screen. His psyche was shattered by what he experienced in the War. Much of the frame of the story takes place in the years after the war as the survivors carry on with their lives. One of Lomax’s friends and fellow comrade from the FEPOW camp, described their common struggle with “battle fatigue.” (“Battle fatigue” is the antiquated term for the psychological difficulty soldiers have with reacclimating to civilian life after traumatic experience. We now refer to this as PTSD.)
When we surrendered, the Japs said we weren’t men. Real men would kill themselves or die of shame, but we said “No. We’ll live for revenge.” But we didn’t. No, we don’t live. We’re miming in the choir. We can’t love. We can’t sleep. We’re an army of ghosts.
Stellan Skarsgård as Finlay, The Railway Man
Hatred and revenge tear at the minds of the survivors of the war. They don’t escape the memory of the inhumanity of man. Tragically, this story is not unfamiliar to the American audience. While The Railway Man is a film based in autobiography, other permutations of the same story have come to the silver screen with a perhaps disturbing regularity.
In 1983, David Bowie (well known to my generation for handsomely daring a young girl to traverse “through dangers unknown” to protect her baby brother) and Ryuichi Sakamoto (well known to American Otaku for his breathtakingly beautiful orchestral compositions) starred in the Japanese-British film Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence. Based on the novel The Seed and the Sower by Laurens van der Post, this film even-handedly shows the psychologically destructive force of war on both captor and captive in a WWII Japanese prisoner of war camp. In the film, all men are oppressed by the experience, reducing them to their basic emotions. Sex, shame, violence, hunger, grief, self righteousness, and survival are all touched upon in a disorienting pace. Once again, the white POWs struggle with the Japanese concept of honor and shame in the face of human rights violations: the trailer remarks, “They were all honorable men, but oh what deeds could be done in the name of honor.” This film once again showed the American audience atrocities committed by the Japanese on Allied forces, but it wasn’t the first major motion picture to do so.
The Bridge On the River Kwai premiered in 1957, won seven Academy Awards, and is a considered classic in American film. Based on a novel of the same name by Frenchman Pierre Boulle, a white officer played by Alec Guinness pridefully bears starvation and entrapment in an enclosed cage as he refuses to give up the rights guaranteed to himself and his men in the Geneva Convention. The most fantastic and exaggerated telling of the goings-on in labor camps, the men prisoners arrive at the camp whistling a cheerful tune, and at the end of the movie, depart in the same manner. The captive Lieutenant Colonel bests the Japanese Camp Commandant through pure stubbornness in the face of darkness and death.
These three films, while the chronologically first two are based on novels and the third based on autobiography, are remarkably similar. All three are set in prisoner of war camps. The Railway Man is set in a construction camp for the Burma railway, which is the same railway to traverse the bridge over the river Kwai in that film. Despite the fact that Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence mostly takes place in the hospital wing of a labor camp, human rights violations are a reality for the captives.
These three films touch on our legacy of pain from World War II. Our past hurts are the deepest. Their scars invisible, hidden to the casual everyday observation, only to be drawn out in these works of art. The men who lived these circumstances survive still. How do we honor their sacrifices? How do we acknowledge their suffering with dignity? How do we show them respect, but by looking unflinchingly at what they have endured for our sakes? For our freedom? For our prosperity?
How do we rectify the horrors committed on us in the past? One answer to this unanswerable question is to acknowledge and remember the horrors we committed on others. In 2011, I first heard George Takei drumming up interest in his self-proclaimed “legacy project”–a musical reflecting his childhood in a Japanese internment camp in Arkansas. Growing up on the East side of the United States, I have no memory of learning about Japanese internment in my primary education. My first acquaintance with it was in a human rights course in college, and I gained more awareness from visiting museums in Oakland and San Francisco when I lived there shortly in the winter of 2005. The barbarity of our own government towards its citizens hovered in the periphery of my mind, but I was all too aware, then, of my peers’ ignorance of this truth.
Now, Americans are much more familiar with this uncomfortable part of our past, and, thanks to Takei, interment is in our society’s consciousness. The latest, and perhaps largest, incorporation of internment into our popular culture was season 3B of MTV’s most popular young adult television show, Teen Wolf. Running January through March of 2014, this season’s story arc incorporates elements of Japanese culture and folklore into the previously established Western supernatural myth structure. A mainstream, young adult audience was presented with the world of oni (Japanese demons), kitsune (trickster fox spirits), yakuza (mobsters), and more. This introduction makes future stylistic or cultural influences from the land of the Rising Sun more accessible and familiar to them. Furthermore, the crux of the season hangs on events that occurred at a World War II Japanese internment camp in California. “The Fox and the Wolf” (episode twenty-one of season two) is an episode conducted almost entirely in flashback, showing the young viewers the hardships endured by displaced Japanese at the hands of often corrupt if not unnecessarily violent military personnel. At one point, the white captors steal much-needed medicine from the internment camp to sell on the black market. For the first time in American television, historical human rights violations by representatives of the US government are presented to a teenage audience. These young people will not only grow up with a more realistic image of our country but also more mature patriotism towards it.
Teen Wolf is not the only piece of popular culture that has ridden the wave of awareness of Japanese internment. On Independence day of this year (2014,) the edutainment giant TED released an article listing ten pop culture artworks reflecting this dark chapter of America’s past. Perhaps the most surprising entry is a song written by a former member of the band Linkin Park telling the story of a family being in an internment camp.
The main antagonist of the aforementioned season of Teen Wolf is an ancient evil spirit possessing a teenage boy. The spirit wreaks havoc on the community, and “draws its power from pain and tragedy, strife and chaos.” In several occasions, it goads characters to draw from past hurts and anger to break into violence. This spirit in many ways symbolizes the destructive force of hatred in societies. “Sometime the hating has to stop,” says Eric Lomax, as he pieces his life back together, confronting the revenants of his traumatic memories from World War II, emerging from the experience in friendship with the Japanese soldier who was his captor in the POW camp.
How do we address the horrors of the past? Reconciliation is the hardest part of conflict resolution. Honesty is not easy. It is not easy to remember the wrongs we have visited on others while someone perpetrates atrocity. Dialogue is not easy. Winston Churchill once said, “Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.” The way to honor the pain of the past is to strive not to be inhumane in retaliation to inhumanity, but rather to seek the humanity in every person, no matter his/her actions.
In high school English, my blessed teacher Dr. JT stressed literary criticism by inspecting the theme and technique of works. Simply, analyzing transnational media lies along these same lines: we must look at the content and casing to discern transnational merit of works.
When analyzing the dizzyingly broad spectrum of all media, content and casing remain rather nebulous concepts. Casing refers to the techniques used in the execution of a piece of art, while content refers to the underpinning theory or underlying theme it communicates. Another way of looking at this duality is that casing is the packaging or production (value) of a work, while its content is the message or moral portrayed. Casings envelop content: in Great Art, casings conduct and reinforce meaning (content), and in lesser works they act as distraction from it, creating dissonance in the cohesion of the work and detracting from the quality of the end product.
Content and casing are of equal import, but both are to be employed concisely and with economy. During the creation and conceptualization phase, if too much emphasis is placed on casing, the final product is formulaic and empty. Case in point: Superman: Man of Steel (2013) which has astronomical production value but no well-developed content. On the other end of the spectrum, any work that is all content with very little attention to casing or execution would be inaccessible and unmarketable to a large audience. Examples of such works remain obscure and are mostly found as crowd-published literary pieces penned by an author who lives in his own head, or video games designed by someone who only cares about their own enjoyment and not the player’s.
Casings are analyzed on an accessibility gradient ranging from overused cliche or trope, through the familiar, then to novel. Genres, structures, styles, and techniques (such as using tropes, well-known archetypal story arcs, or familiar non diegetic music in film) used within a work are more accessible the more familiar they are, and are harder to process if they are newer and unfamiliar. If one were to assign numerical value along this spectrum, we would see that younger people on average respond more favorably to material found on the novel side of the scale, versus perhaps elderly, who would respond more strongly to more familiar casings and styles of execution, closer to the overused tropic area.
Contents are analyzed on what I have seen as resonance. Law and Order creator Rene Balcer also described this idea as “cultural pressure points” (In a talk at UPenn’s Kelly Writer’s House, October 30th, 2014.) For franchises and larger works of art, people want something they can sink their hearts into. One feels resonance when one empathizes strongly with a character, or a certain story touches one’s heart, or alternatively one experiences catharsis after watching a protagonist (or antagonist) struggle. Great Art is often qualified by the elicitation of this type of emotional response. Resonance points, then, are traced from historical, political, economic and sociocultural events through population’s experiencing these episodes to nuggets of truth that deal with, comfort through, or explain these matters. Points of resonance echo in the heart of a people.
All this muddled theory makes more sense when applied to actual works. Let’s develop this further looking at two examples of popular American media previously introduced.
Teen Wolf is housed in a high school genre, using the familiar young adult structure of absent parents and inept teachers. It also utilizes familiar folklore, specifically werewolves and, later, other fantastic anthropomorphic creatures. Its presentation of scenes both real and unreal blurs the lines of fantasy and reality, a common cinematographic ploy. The content of this series touches on several resonance points: In the story, the protagonist is bitten and turned into a werewolf without his consent, and his ability to exert self-control and even self-awareness is brought into question. This resonates with burning issue of consent in our society and popular discourse. The friendship and bonding of individuals who are very different in personality, temper, and background presented in the story resonates with our society in two ways: US society is founded on the idea of integrating and embracing diversity (i.e. the inclusion of differing individuals) and the increasing visibility and importance of found families. With the inclusion of several well-developed female characters, women’s agency resonates in the story. Family is a final resonance point as the role of family in the process of growing up is a recurring theme through the seasons.
Supernatural operates within some of the same casings: absent or flawed adult role models, folklore becoming real and the lines of reality and fantasy are blurred. Additionally, this show cashes in on brotherhood. The content corresponds to these structures: morality is a large theme inspected as the male protagonists mature, move from reactive to proactive characters, and change their perspective from a black and white idea of good and evil to more shades of gray. Second to morality, another resonance point tapped is the struggle of balancing familial responsibilities with professional ambition. Using gender identity displacement, the tension of traditional versus non-traditional roles is presented especially in season five. The (male) protagonists are confronted by ancient and almost absolutely powerful adversaries, who compel Sam and Dean into proscribed, traditional paths, outright telling them at one point–in a brilliant ripping from Fox News talking heads–to “know your role.” This application of the burning issue of changing gender roles (especially in regards to women’s roles) is a point of resonance for many women from differing countries, making the show relevant to their lives and exportable across those borders.
The most salient works of Great Art marry casing with content. This is difficult when imagining a single audience, but grows trickier when the ingredient of internationalism is included. Internationally popular casings are fleeting and transient, and symbolism varies greatly (in variety and significance) from the East to the West. A look and feel (casing) of a work may be novel one place and overused somewhere else. Content must similarly differ, and we must suss out pervasive and extensive resonance points to be successful across borders.
What makes some art transport profitably overseas and others not? This was the subject of a thesis I wrote while studying at Universite Paris VII Diderot: I used comparative analysis to create a list of commonalities of the successes of Edith Piaf and Daft Punk as artists who gained popularity both within France and the USA. These included: being influenced by diverse artists outside of their immediate cultural sphere, maintaining creative rights, ability to connect and maintain relationship with audiences, continuous transformative creativity while maintaining recognizable fundamental identity. I posited that meeting these criteria would bolster the chance of success in both countries.
These qualities were in regards to particularly music and specifically France, but when dealing with the dissection transnational media, larger forces are at play. Japan and America already have a close, strong friendship with a stronger trade relationship between the two. Our positive relations are so strong, even other countries have taken note. Danish-produced webcomic Scandinavia and the World published a one-cell rendition of this mutual love in 2012 entitled “Fangirls.” SatW features the misadventures of humorous characters who are anthropomorphized nations. In this comic, a female Japan and a female America, each toting artifacts and accessories of the other’s culture, exclaim, “Oh my god!!! I’m your biggest fan!!!”
Our love of Japan is so strong it is frequently manifested in our popular culture. Outside of the internment awareness campaign of George Takei, elements of Japanese pop culture are often cultivated, integrated, or alluded to in our film and television media. In this year’s Hannibal, a highly critically acclaimed NBC miniseries featuring Hannibal Lecter and characters from Thomas Harris’s The Red Dragon, the second season is completely structured after traditional Japanese Kaiseki dinner, with episodes named after course dishes, including Sakizuke, Naka-choko, and Mizumono. American viewers are now aware and curious about this element of Japanese cuisine. Shortly after the season’s premiere, Kaiseki dinners were in high demand, resulting in many societies for the promotion of Japanese culture and other groups affiliated with Japan to feature them during fundraising banquets.
Another American television series to integrate Japanese culture is the ten-year running Supernatural. It has featured several “monsters” based on Japanese folklore, including Buruburu and okami. Additionally, it has referenced Japanese films like Godzilla vs Mothra and Battle Royale, as well as the recurring mention of hentai by bad-boy protagonist Dean. Additionally, this spring MTV’s Teen Wolf featured a Japanese centric season (3B,) which employed elements of Japanese mythical yōkai creatures, kitsune (fox spirits) and oni (demons).
Beyond television, American film elevates Japanese culture in increasing frequency by paying homage to Japan’s style and imagination. Pacific Rim (2013) and the Transformers film series (2007-2014) both borrow heavily if not directly from Japanese media. These homegrown pastiches and tributes to Japan edify and proliferate its “cool” public image.
Looking back at Japan’s exportation of media to America, we can break down successful works and franchises, taking them apart and seeing what makes them tick for the two peoples. (Continued in next blog post.)
This past August saw a precipitous rise in the public awareness of the deep seated sexism and misogyny within videogame culture. Two events highlighted the chauvinism. First a climax in the hate campaign against videogame designer Zoe Quinn, who was the target of slanderous remarks that her games received good reviews on the site Kotaku from sleeping with the critics. When an actor, most well-known for his role in the Geek classic Firefly, echoed the virulent opinion of these malcontents, he coined the #Gamergate tag and became a spearhead and point of legitimization for the anti-women movement.
More recently, Anita Sarkeesian, an infamous videogame culture critic most well-known for her “Tropes Vs. Women in Videogames” webseries, cancelled her upcoming keynote address at Utah State University after receiving a threat of a mass-shooting at the venue, and the school not taking necessary steps to ensure her, and her audience’s, security.
The videogame community is polarized: on one hand, you have feminists (or feminist allies) who believe that much of videogame culture is misogynistic and wish for this to change by increasing the visibility of games that have more even-handed portrayals of gender. One the other hand, are a select few, but very powerful and well organized, male gamers who believe that women are taking over their artform and calling for the censorship of their favorite games. It is important to note that the goals of one side do not respond or address the goals of the other. In plainer terms, the goals of the sides are not mutually exclusive, as one would believe them to be, considering the fiery opposition and tension between them.
I consider myself in the first camp, but, in an exercise of empathy, let me try to address the calls to action of the polarized, masculine minority. They believe with absolute certainty that women are calling for the censorship of their favorite games. I have no idea from where this idea originated. No artist nor journalist would ever call for or endorse censorship. It is contrary to their self-interest to promote state mandation of art and eliminating free speech. The notion is groundless and only exists to give a fervent fire and invoke the idea of rights being infringed.
This leads us to the first call of action against women who are supposedly taking over the videogame artform, threatening men’s historical and traditional centerplace in this culture. These men are grievously upset by the idea of women-creators in their art.
This is the crux of their argument, and the point from which all the hate starts. Why are they experiencing this emotional response?
Bear with me for a contextual tangent. I studied political science in uni, and during my sophomore year, I studied the United Nation’s Declaration of Human Rights. This document was created on the heels of the Second World War, and was adopted by the UN in 1948. Article 27 in this historical document details a universal right to art. At the time, learning that the UN included such a superfluous right, in the very same document that mandated a freedom from slavery and torture, mystified me. I agree that art is important, but is it truly that important?
Yes, it is. Art is a type of expression that all individuals utilize. We communicate through our paintings, our songs, and dance. While some artists live and die for their art, no person is untouched by some form of art. It permeates our culture and our lives. On the level of the individual, certain people are inclined towards certain arts: one who has aptitude to visualize three dimensional space may become a successful architect, one who has high color distinction and love of textures may enjoy fashion design, a lover of words may write, and so on.
In the USA, while each person has a right to art and to create, we do not protect all artists equally. While it is easy to see the community split apart on the lines of race and class, we must not forget that gender also plays its part in shaping of the art community. Men are regularly excluded from the USian art community. How? Simply put, making art, in nine cases out of ten, is seen as an anti-masculine activity. Men who are artists are not as masculine as their non-creative peers, especially in blue-collar culture. This idea is wrapped up with the common preconceived notion that artists, especially those in visual arts, are effeminate or gay. Want to be fashion designer? Painter? Composer? God forbid, dancer? It is hard to partake in any of these forms without your masculinity being called into question by both women and men.
Now, of course, not all artforms in the US are subject to this split, however, the rift does cause pressure on the forms where men are in charge, and in these forms we see a sort of hypermasculinity emerge. In literature. In rap music. And now, in videogames.
A blue-collar man cannot say he is fond of drawing, but he can say he designs characters for videogames. A boy in the projects cannot say he enjoys composing classical music, but he can say he creates music for FPS games. A teenaged young man cannot say he storytelling or thinking of different ways to tell a story, but he can be an RPG script writer.
As women start invading these roles, these men are, rightfully so, afraid of the idea that their outlet for art will not longer be seen as a masculine occupation of their time and a manly way to utilize their talents. I don’t think that these thoughts are ever expressed in such words, but the undercurrent is there.
These men have a basic human right to art. We have created a society that alienates them from that right, and so they have clung to the few artforms that we allow them to be apart of and maintain their self respect and esteem.
In conclusion, I am in complete support of men being allowed to participate in and create art without their integrity and manliness being called into question. We, as feminists, need to support men in their right to art as much as we support women, and as broadly. If we eliminate the dire need for a male haven of art, we will alleviate the reflex, gut-reaction of right infringement, disenfranchisement, and disempowerment.
Step Three: Gender Identity Displacement
When women and girls are confronted with role models that are only destructive to their psyche, the simplest solution is, oddly enough, to become men. Imagine parts of your identity as building blocks: one for assertiveness, another for demureness, one for pride, one for humility, one for social capability, another for gestures and physical communication skills, and so on. Some of these traits, society teaches us, are rewarded in men and others are rewarded in women. In this final category, a female target audience empathizes with a male-gendered protagonist (or sets of characters) with feminine identity components. Since these female stand-ins are in narratives for female audiences, the plot or major force driving the plot is often romance, and so we have two (or more) male-bodied characters in a romantic situation. In Japan, this genre is established in print and television media as “yaoi,”, but in the USA, “slash” is limited to the fanworks (fan fiction) and grassroots interpretative reactions to male -dominated character dramas.
Fascinatingly, yaoi and slash originated within years of one another in Japan and the US. In the late 1970s, doujinshi mangaka parodied the contemporary boy’s platonic love stories, spinning them into romantic and sexualized versions. Also in the late 1970s, female Star Trek fans began writing fanfic about the protagonists of their favorite starship. Stories would be about Kirk and Spock, abbreviated K&S if the relationship remained platonic, or Kirk slash Spock, abbreviated K/S if the relationship became romantic/sexual. This coined the term “slash” for the future generations of fan fiction writers to codify their works.
In Japan, yaoi has become a well-established genre, even becoming a major avenue for media exportation, reaching its most recent peak in international popularity in 2009-2010. There are thousands of yaoi titles, but I will review a couple here briefly. Yaoi follows formulaic character roles: the protagonist is almost exclusively the uke, the “receiver” or bottom of the sexual pairing, and the main romantic interest is the seme, or the “attacker” or the top of the sexual pairing. Ukes are drawn effeminately, with large eyes characteristic of female or prepubescent boy characters, and often have feminine personality attributes. In Junjou Romantica, Misaki (girl name for a boy character) spends much of his screen time cooking, cleaning, or thinking about dates. In Okane Ga Nai (1999-present,) uke Ayase becomes a domestic partner for the the seme Kanou in lieu of working a job. The roles these male (uke) characters play are traditionally facets of femininity.
Slash is harder to define as it remains a grassroots literary movement with, as of yet, no institutionally-backed artifacts. Like yaoi, slash is most often slanted through the point of view of the more effeminate, “bottom” character. These slash protagonists retain parts of their feminine identity while still being able to succeed in their professional lives and hold equal footing with their romantic partners.
Yaoi has been popular the world over, and slash is on an exponential growth of popularity over the past four years, gaining legitimacy by leaps and bounds over the past ten months.
Disappearing Women, Conclusion:
In a country where a woman is shot and killed for talking back to a catcaller–in a country where a woman has to carry around her college mattress in order to get a fair acknowledgement of her sexual assault claim–in a country where there has yet to be a female president, American women are overburdened with the realities of a world set against them. They burn to fulfill their aspirations. In the quiet of their private lives, they turn to art to assuage the hurts of daily microaggressions and larger structural oppressions. Even in fantasy, they cannot fathom nor imagine a realistic female character that would believably solve the problems of micro-sexism and macro-chauvinism and accomplish their own personal goals and have a well balanced family life. Such a woman is unbelievable. Such a woman is unimaginable. So we turn to male characters, who wouldn’t have to deal with the problems we face. By displacing elements of our feminine gender identity, we are able to more easily process other elements of it. When we engage in these narratives, we suspend the feminine gender building blocks of “unhealthy beauty ideals,” “sexism in the workplace,” and “the dangers of travelling alone.” With these parts of our identity temporarily displaced, we can focus and process other elements of our lives and our feminine identities, like “sexual agency,” “building healthy, equal, and sustainable romantic relationships,” or “balancing professional ambition and personal life.”