Sunday, October 13, 2013

Week 5: Exploring Issues of Masculinity in Everything from Otaku to Moe

In relation to this week’s topic of otaku, I thought of the anime WATAMOTE (abbreviation for  the very long title: Watashi ga Motenai no wa dō Kangaetemo Omaera ga Warui) [No Matter How I Look at It, It's You Guys' Fault I'm Not Popular!]. The story is about a high school girl named Tomoko, who is s-l-i-g-h-t-l-y disillusioned about her own self-image and popularity at school. She is a hikikomori and the anime explores her mundane life of playing otome games and going to seiyuu events, but all in a comedic light. It is such a funny anime! If you haven’t seen it, then, I recommend it.
Link to Wiki site: Watamote
Link to Anime: Watch

In relation to the readings, I was so fascinated with the critical work on otaku culture and its intersections with Gender, Masculinity, Feminist Studies.

Alisa Freedman’s “Train man and gender politics of Japanese Otaku Culture” explores the emergence of the Otaku movement and the ways in which they have shaped Japanese popular media. She also discusses how the rise and popularity of otaku culture has been contextualized in relation to national concerns of low birth rates. Moreover, Freedman discussion of otaku reveals different cultural perceptions of otaku for the American and Japanese cultural audience. While the former equates otaku to geek culture, loosely defining the term as anyone who has a hobby, in Japan, there seems to be hostility toward the otaku phenomenon. This is due to, as Freedman notes, the media hype surrounding the multiple crimes committed by men who have an "obsession" with anime and manga. Freedman, though, sheds light on otaku culture by showing how they are not “backwards”, “maniacal” or “perverse”, but rather investigates the productivity of otaku especially in redefining masculine identities.

I think Freedman’s interrogation of otaku masculinity can be better contextualized theoretically by referencing scholars such as Raewyn Connell. Connell proposes the concept of the "patriarchal divdend" which he argues is man's ultimate goal/objective in his pursuit for a masculine identity. But he points out that this masculinity is of a particular sort—one that accentuates a hegemonic masculinity. The ones who have access to the patriarchal dividend are ultimately those with capital power.  In relation to Densha Otoko, the TV series, (since I have seen this one), it is because Yamada is financially able that he gets Saori (or Hermes). Happiness in Densha Otoko is intertwined with capital. (Honda’s idea of “love capitalism” is further explored in Patrick W. Glalbraith’s article on Moe). I wonder, too, if the ideological principle[1] that the TV series is premised on, in fact, rejects the figure of the otaku rather than celebrating his emerging role into mainstream society because in order to be with Saori, Yamada must conceal his otaku-ness and to some extent compromise his otaku identity?

In Galbraith’s essay on Moe, his discussion on balancing gender identities through consumption is really interesting.  Galbraith writes, “boys are becoming ‘shoujo’ (little girl) consumers” (n. page), but this phenomenon is not seen as an emasculating gesture. Instead it empowers the otaku consumer to ultimately redefine his masculine identity to resist “love capitalism”. I am, however, a little concerned about the ideal representation of Moe as virtuous and pure because these unrealistic values attributed to Moe (young girls) validates a discourse that a woman’s role is to comfort man—that she exists for the sake of pleasing man. Moe, is a misogynistic construct and the femininity she exhibits harkens to conventional and traditional values tha contributed to the marginalisation of Japanese women. In response to Syu-chan’s justification for his obsession of Moe, I find it problematic that young girls' bodies are ultimately being employed to reason and satisfy his social incompetence and loneliness. The potential risk of Syu-chan’s reasoning is that while it may seem innocent, it gestures toward, to some degree, a validation of child pornography (so as long as it is an anime character and not a “real” human girl it is okay)? I ask this, in response to the argument that “moe characters express desires that are not of tis world, and it is thus a logical conclusion that they would appear non-human”. Here, the implicit claim is that since Moe characters are not really human, it is okay to use them for one’s own pleasure and purposes. In the interview[2] “Otaku Talk” Toshio Okada says “sexual fantasies are becoming more and more virtual and ‘virtual sexuality’ proliferates in Akihabara”. Although one’s admiration or obsession of Moe character(s) can be seen being harmless since it is contained within a virtual reality, what would happen when one is unable to distinguish fiction from reality?

Similar to Freedman’s discussion on the representation of otaku masculinity, Slater and Galbraith also interrogate the social constraints and limitations and the impact it has had on men in Japanese society. The essay focuses on the Akihabara Incident, and particular attention is paid to Kato Tomohiro as a victim of the societal pressures to conform to a hegemonic masculinity. Both Freedman’s and Slater and Galbraith’s essay makes visible the stratification of masculine identities. The idea of stratification alludes to Demetrakis Z.Demetriou’s theory of how men are also prisoners of a patriarchal system that privileges certain forms of masculinities.  While I understand the theoretical framework in contextualizing Kato’s failed masculinity, I do not understand Kato’s reasoning for committing the crime. According to Slater Galbraith “feelings of estrangement prior to the attack were read back into fragile relationships with his family, especially his mother” (n. page). Here, Kato’s justifies his actions by blaming his mother rather than blaming a patriarchal system that sets up impossible or unattainable standards of masculinity. The fact that this is not a point of contestation in the article show how discourses against mothers/women  have become naturalised.


[1] The idea that one must conform to hegemonic standards of masculinity to be a functional and productive member of society.
[2] The interview also provides 3 points of contrast between Mania and Otaku (scroll mid-page). [interesting!!]

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