“Snapshots of American Culture: Japanophilia and the Otaku” now on Amazon

Learn more about this subculture that lies in the intersection of internationalism and fan culture. Now available in paperback directly from the printer (and higher royalties to the author- https://www.createspace.com/5262447 ) and from Amazon ( link ).  In exchange for some promotional marketing, I’ve secured a 90-day exclusivity contract with Amazon for the ebook version, available here.

front cover

 

Book description: Why do we love Japanese culture? What inspires hundreds of thousands of Americans to travel to anime cons each year? What are cons? What role does fanfiction play for the anime-loving community? How does Japanese culture influence our own? Can we predict what stories will be popular both in the US and Japan? This book answers these questions and more, offering insight into this unique and trendsetting facet of American culture as our world enters into an era of global art exchange unrestricted by geography.

Maze Runner Analysis: Sprinting Through Four Levels of Meaning from Psychological to International

 

The Maze Runner is a story of a young man, Thomas, who is brought into the heart of a Maze, and leads a band of boys out of the Maze into the “real world” of the adults. It is a post-apocalyptic story about growing up. Think Labyrinth without the whimsy and an all male cast. Think Lord of the Flies meets Ender’s Game. This story, which targets young adults, intimately resonates on multiple levels with US Americans of all ages.

 

 

Level 1: Psychological

 

On the most basic level, Maze Runner is a story about childhood and growing up. The symbology of biological birth and mental process of development are overarching metaphors throughout the film.

 

Let’s break this down. The movie begins with a boy going up a dark shaft into the light, imagery which evokes the birthing process. He is then whisked away into isolation (early childhood,) and, after much pain, is given a name: Thomas.

 

While the boys at first seem brutal, uncontrolled, and anarchistic, we see Thomas slowly being socialized with them. He’s partnered up with one of the youngest boys and is portrayed to be (labeled as) less experienced, less powerful, and in all ways but physically, “younger” than his teacher.

 

As the “day” (time) progresses, we see that the boys have a semblance of order and a power hierarchy. Thomas learns about the cliques: common talents lend certain boys to come together, and they are given jobs which reinforce those skillsets. Specialization leads to a stronger focus on what each person’s strength and, in some cases, an overestimation of what his capabilities are.

The heart of the maze where the boys live is named the Glade. Gally directly says, “The Glade is my home.”  This taps into the idea of a childhood home we have, complete with rules. Albee serves as a parental figure being more experienced (symbolically older) than any of the others. He creates the rules of the Home, explaining to Thomas “If you want to stay here…follow the rules.” Newt, another boy of the Glade, later confides to Thomas that he cannot imagine how different Albee’s life was before the other boys’ arrivals. This closely aligns with children’s struggle to see their parents as anything but adults. Like adolescents who grapple with empathizing with their parents, Newt contemplates how different Albee must have been, how his difficulties are comparable yet much harsher than Newt’s and Thomas’s own struggle (to grow up,) before the first arrival of another boy (before the first birth into the Glade family.)

 

While Albee’s pseudo-adult role and Newt’s internal struggles all mirror developmental phases of growing up, Thomas pushes his independence by declaring, “We don’t belong here.”  His pursuit of independence brings new, harsh truth to light: being evil is necessary. Time is running out for those living in the idyll, the Eden of the Glade. Intermittently, a boy is given a short of harsh medicine; a machine injects him with a “venom” that wakes the boys up to harsh realities of the adult world. All are overwhelmed by this poison and go mad without the normalizing, calming antidote found from the same structure that made the venomous machines.

 

Struggling with the fact that the cure is in the source, the boys are left to wonder if, truly, “Wicked is Good.” The black and white morality of the Glade is broken by the new reality that destruction makes way for creation and rebirth, and they are presented with the challenge of the ends/means dilemma. This part of upbringing overlaps with our next level of meaning, socio-educational.

 

 

Level 2: Sociological: Educational Level

 

Another layer of interpretation and resonance lies in the Maze Runner symbology resonating with socio-educational development of individuals in the US. Socio-educational development encompasses socialization, education of facts, and teaching of critical thinking skills.

As mentioned before, Gladers are isolated upon their arrival to the world, much like children are isolated from society (i.e. stay with their parents) from ages 0-5. After a period of time, new Gladers are introduced to peers, similarly to how children are enrolled in school at age 6.

The Gladers struggle to learn the Maze, but it changes every night. In schooling, children strive to learn the material, but each year they repeat the similar tasks with slightly deeper knowledge, and slight changes. (This is true of all subject areas, but perhaps easiest explained with a math example. In elementary school, we are taught that adding two things together always makes more than the previous two. In middle school, we are introduced to negative numbers, and adding two things together no longer always means having “more.”)

Several days later, Theresa arrives, and now the boys are interacting with a girl. Developmentally, we see the boys have now entered adolescence, and the opposite sex is part of their lives. They have mixed feelings about girls, from Chuck’s “Girls are awesome” to Gally’s continuing (increasingly loud) complaints of changes to the sacrosanct Glade.

Shortly thereafter, Thomas leads the boys to conquer the maze (the education system) and they are rewarded with the knowledge of the darkest realities of the world, from which they were protected while in the Glade. This aligns with US education of ages 12-14, in which children are educated about the evils of the world: genocide (particularly the Holocaust,) poverty (particularly the third world,) hunger, famine, war (WWI and WWII, and later wars on foreign soil that the US has fought.) Growing up in the United States, we struggle with a legacy that has committed atrocity, sometimes through direct action, and other times by turning a blind eye (ignoring what is going happening in other parts of the world.) We are proud to be US American, but there is some evil here. We struggle with “Wicked is Good.”

The leader of WCKD tells Thomas, “Everything we’ve done to you, we’ve done for a reason.” Perhaps, as adults, the best thing we give our children is new life, and the worst thing we give them is the world of our making.

 

 

Level 3: Generational – Hacker Gen

 

“You’re not like the others. You’re curious.” Alby to Thomas

 

 

This line heralds the arrival of the Hacker generation. Much of the plot and character tension of Maze Runner dip into generational changes of the past decade. Millennials and the post-Millennial generation, what I posit to be the “Hacker Gen,” have distinctive opinions towards both curiosity and change, which are examined in this film.

 

The Millennials, born in the 1990s, grew up in a tumultuous  world. In their childhood, they were impacted by the great hope and novelty of the internet. They were the first generation to receive instant gratification for any knowledge or physical pursuits. Their adolescence was marred by 9/11, which, at this time, is the most defining moment of their lives: They see their lives as pre-9/11 and post-9/11. The birth of the digital age influenced the world in innumerable ways, and this generation was trying to sort out their personal identities at the same time as being bombarded with these world changes.  They have developed an indifference to new things, and many institutions of higher learning are remarking upon their lack of curiosity. Gladers or the other young people in the film, are described as not having the curiosity that Thomas exhibits. They do not want to go into the unknown, they do not want any more information than what they already have, and they want to stay in their habitat which they’ve made as stable as possible. Thomas, is the newest young person (youngest) and exhibits a curiosity on all dimensions, and thus is a member of the Hacker Gen.

 

The Hacker Gen is curious. They are born into the broken world that the Millennials have become disillusioned by, and they see hope for improvement. They are intimately aware that “the only thing constant is change,” and they work the system in a positive way, using their abilities to work with, instead of against the systems that be.

 

Thomas, the personification of the Hacker gen, flies through puzzles and challenges, but also pushes for change. Not only are members of the Hacker Gen curious about the broken systems of the world, but they hope to change them. They are pushing for more change, not less. Millennials, personified by Gally, see change as negative and intimidating, possibly because the biggest change that crystallized in their lives is 9/11. Gally, when prodded by Thomas to explain his dislike of the boy, vents, “Ever since you go here, things have started to change.” Gally (Millennials) doesn’t want any more change, and Thomas (Hacker Gen) pushes for more change.

 

At the very end of the film, we see one final cross-generational conversation. An adult, who in this extended metaphor would be standing in for a Gen Y-er, which is the last generation to have postive view of change, consoles both Thomas (Hacker Gen) and the others (Millenials along for the ride,) “Don’t worry, kids, everything’s going to chage.”

 

 

Teasing out generational identities through distinctive traits:

 

 

Generation Appx Birth Year (current age) Defining History Generational Response Fight for Civil Rights and improved life circumstances of
Generation X 1963-1983 (31+) -post Baby Boom-Cold War -highest rate of volunteerism among generations-Are currently “set in their ways” and no longer embrace large changes. -racial minorities
Gen Y 1984-1989 (25-30) -last generation to remember a time before the internet -Grapples with change, but embraces it.-adapted to use technology. -homosexuals
Millennials 1990-1997 (17-24) -1st generation born into the internet and cell phone age.-their childhood is defined by the great hope the internet would have to change the world for the better.

-Grew up with the joy of instant gratification of the digital age.

-Disillusionment and unable to grapple with huge changes (internet, 9/11) that occurred at the same time as stressful adolescence.-This disillusionment is manifested in the rise of emo-music and the popularity of films/books to have darker tones.

-Overwhelmed by the plurality of ideals and identities presented to them; therefore, defined by a lack of curiosity. (No news is good news, mentality)

-ableism
Hacker Gen 1998-2003 (11-16) -Younger siblings of Millennials, these young people see the world as filled with flaws and systemic flaws, and strive to navigate around them. -Adept to change.-Curious of new facts. TBD; possibly redefinition of gender roles

 

 

Level 4: US American Culture

 

On a final level of resonance, we see US American acculturalization being an active agent in the film. In addition to the well played racial diversity among the Gladers, we see two tenets of USian culture come into importance through the plot of the film: devaluing of the past and risk taking.

Insert graphic of US perspective on time, vs european and chinese.

 

America runs. Running is a very apt metaphor for the speed of American culture. Sprinting perhaps more so. When one runs, the destination and velocity are key: One’s focus is on where they are heading, especially the next few steps ahead. What is passed is of no importance. The next twenty to fifty feet are the most important to handle, and all else falls away.

Our culture as a whole has a similar priority span. The past falls away, the distant future glimmers in our periphery, and the immediate future consumes our thoughts. The ever present question is “What’s next?” For politics, for marketing, for mass media–What’s next?

Maze Runner teaches this beyond the title and rising action of running the maze. Minho instructs Thomas several times “Don’t look back.” Yes, this is in relation to the act of running, but the larger significance of it reaches deeper. Later, Newt states assuredly, “It doesn’t matter who you were. What matters is what you do here, now.” The importance of immediacy over history and austerity is again reiterated. This idea is further concreted by the combination of ever present change, as stated by Theresa at the beginning of the story and the adult man at the end.  The past is devalued and priority is given to the present and immediate future.

 

“It seems to be a law of nature, inflexible and inexorable, that those who will not risk cannot win.” -John Paul Jones

 

This quote by the Father of the US Navy is printed on the pages of my US Passport. As illogical and unreasonable as it may seem, risk taking is rewarded in US culture and economics. There are structures in place to promote risk taking behavior and ventures. This idea is tied up with the free enterprise ideal in US capitalist economy, but, where one idea flows deeply in one part of society, other parts of society feel that pull as well.

In Maze Runner, Thomas takes risks over and over and is rewarded each time, either by surviving, winning battles, or being praised. He conquers fear over and over and pushes forward. At one point, Minho queries Thomas’s confidence, “Are you sure about this?” Thomas replies, “No” and they begin their next risk against the Maze. Risks are rewarded in the Maze as they are in our country at large.

 

 

Conclusion: Having multi-dimensional resonance is the most effective way of creating a successful piece of art. Even if one dimension doesn’t resonate, others might, and then a type of familiarity is acquired for the non-resonating significance/content. Maze Runner is a best-selling novel and now the first installment of a four part film series. Not only is the world dark and intriguing, but the story resonates on multiple levels–as seen in this post: psychological, educational/sociological, generational, and cultural–and if one resonance layer doesn’t hit, another probably will. This multi-functionality of the story allows it to be easily accessible and significant to consumers, while tapping into and giving voice and validity to their internal struggles and tension they deal with in their everyday lives. Maze Runner functions as an impactful story for most people, and this impact makes it a cultural artifact of our time and a piece of Great Art.

 

 

Disappearing Women: Part 3

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.”

 

Disappearing Women: Part 2

Step Two: Feminine Bodies, Masculine Masks

Title of this section is after Fanon’s Peau Noire, Masques Blanches

Our next category has fewer examples, but they are still a salient contribution to the self-image of women in the two countries. If women must give up part of themselves to be successful in a man’s world, then why not simply have it all by disguising themselves as men?

The manga ran 1996-2004, the 2007 drama was so successful that it was remade a mere three years later with a new cast but same set. The remake features a new subplot twists in which the school is facing financial difficulty, explaining the poor condition of the buildings and interiors. ouran1youre beautiful

Japanese examples which have seen international success include Hana Kimi (aka Hanazakari no Kimitachi E and Ouran High School Host Club, which both feature female protagonists who must crossdress and pretend to be male students in order to accomplish their goals.  This theme pingpongs around Asia, with Hana Kimi being remade in Korea, Taiwan, and Indonesia. The Korean television series You’re Beautiful, about a girl posing as her twin brother to be in a boy band, was remade in Japan and Taiwan. Even mainland China sees a version on this theme with My Bratty Princess (2005) in which a princess disguises herself as a ruffian to take down nobles a notch and redistribute their gambled money to the poor.

mulan twelfth

Western examples of cross dressing female protagonists are fewer, but just as impactful.  There are many permutations of and allusions to Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, and even Disney has a princess who cross dresses to find a “reflection of herself” that she feels is authentic (Mulan). The best playwright of the English language and the second largest broadcasting company in the USA certainly influence our culture on a massive scale.

Now we have female role models needing to pretend to be men, outright, in order to qualify for a possibility of success. With this even more broken self image, we see the need for women to completely put away their female identity in order to exist in certain spheres. This sets the stage for our third category.

 

Honorable Mentions for Feminine Bodies, Masculines Masks:

  • Victor, Victoria- In which a female singer crossdresses as a male singer who crossdresses as a female singer.
  • 2004’s ½ Prince, a Taiwanese Manhwa comic in which a female protagonist is granted the chance to be a male character in an MMORPG, in which all players’ avatars must be representative of their birth-assigned genders. ½ Prince became an underground international success.

Victor Victoria12 prince

Disappearing Women: a three part study

Disappearing Women: Tracing Femininity and Women’s Gender Roles through TV and Film Media in the US And Japan

PART 1

In America,

books teach us how to imagine,

tv media how to interact,

music how to feel,

and videogames how to think.

 

I first gave this talk in January of this year. I was grappling with the multifaceted and often oppositional if not antipodal portrayals of and messages about women in visual media, which featured female protagonists and feminine target audience. After ruminating on the idea, I saw the emergence of three categories divided along the lines of how the protagonist dealt with the idea of femininity and her struggle with her  feminine identity. I saw a lessening in the depiction of women’s physical attributes/identity, while the mental and emotional side of women grew stronger. Lets trace this disappearance.

 

Step One: Breakthrough Women Breaking

 

The strong female protagonist, with whom the female target audience identifies, struggles with doing it all, and suffers a break–physical or emotional–from overexertion. The character tries to balance personal and familial life with professional ambition, and something has to give.

Popular in the US and Japan. In Japan, the manga began in 2000, anime ran 2006-2007, drama 2010.Popular in Europe, especially France, and Japan. In Japan, the manga started in 2000, anime 2006-2007, drama 2010.Popular throughout Asia, inspiring manga-based anime and j-drama in Japan, as well as dramas in Hong Kong, South Korea (2009), Taiwan (2001-2002), Indonesia (2002,) and Mainland China. In Japan, manga was published 1992-2003, anime 1996-97, film 1995, drama 2005-07.

In Japanese media, we see several examples of this in a range of popularity and across demographics. Japanese media targeting female audiences are split into two demographics: shoujo, which targets girls ages eight to sixteen , and josei, which targets women ages seventeen to fifty-five. Examples of shoujo media with this theme include The Wallflower, a story (released as a manga, anime, and j-drama) of a woman who hides away her femininity in her pursuit and love of all things horror. Also Kaichou wa Maid Sama (manga and anime) and Hana Yori Dango (the manga, anime, and j-drama of which have been popular for over two decades) both feature high school-aged female protagonists who at one point suffer exhaustion from working jobs, having active after-school lives , and studying, to the point of being hospitalized/given medical care to heal.

source: shinealightrose.blogspot.comanego

 

gokusen

For the josei demographic, we have the series Pride, where a woman has a good career and supportive friends, but lacks romantic development, eventually descending into a relationship with domestic violence; Anego, in which the career woman protagonist outright says her professional life gets in the way of her securing dates; and Gokusen, where the female protagonist must hide her familial life to keep her dream job as a teacher of high school students.

DevilWearsPrada-Web mona movie-dreamgirls-poster-backgrounds-wallpapers

In US media, the examples abound. With the narrow category of female protagonists who sacrifice personal/familial life for their professional development, there are major motion pictures such as The Devil Wears Prada (2006), The Iron Lady (2011), and Zero Dark Thirty (2012). Widen the scope of the dilemma and even more popular films fit this category: In Mona Lisa Smile (2003), the female characters are presented with a choice of professional (academic) ambition or familial life, but no depiction of a balance of the two is portrayed. Dreamgirls’ (2006) empowered women protagonists could have good careers or good family lives (i.e. good husbands) but not both. The first three installments of the Twilight saga (2008-2012) in an artistic twist of this theme, set up the choice of financial security or family (i.e. the ability to bear children.)  Even the acclaimed Frozen (2013) featured a female protagonist who, for 95% of the film, had hide her emotive side (often seen as a feminine trait) in order to be a good ruler.  

With all these examples of women having to give up part of themselves in order to be successful, are we addressing the struggles of women or teaching our daughters that they must adapt themselves in order to survive in a man’s world.

The Beginning of Transnational Media 101

In the fall of 2008, I was granted the opportunity to conduct research on the influence of art on Franco-American relations in the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris. My thesis began as a simple intellectual exercise–contrast two French artists from different era whose domestic success carried over to the United States. However, the paper quickly began to evolve as emerging similarities between the two artists proved to be key in their transAtlantic triumph. The final paper outlines a rubric–a set of five criteria–which artists must satisfy in order to have the economic viability and compatibility in both domestic and international markets.

More interestingly, at the time of the research and drafting of the paper, Sony France was conducting a multi-branched initiative to push French chanteuse Camille into US American markets. You’ve heard of Daft Punk. You’ve probably heard of Edith Piaf. You haven’t heard of Camille, and she does not meet my five criteria. If she did meet the criteria, her chances of American success would have increased, at the very least.

This paper serves as the springboard for my subsequent and current research in transnational media, and I am now able to release this paper on this blog.

 

“Daft Punk and Edith Piaf: Similarities between Two French Artists Famous in the USA”