Monday, April 23 2007

Anime, Pop Culture, and the Virginia Tech Killings

This post is an attempt to look at reaction to the killings at Virginia Tech through the lens of popular culture, specifically by examining how a isolated hobby such as anime relates to the overall American culture. There is not much that can be said about the tragedy itself that hasn't already been said, but hopefully we can learn something by studying the reaction to the killings without dishonoring those who were murdered.

Hi! My name is Civilis and I'm an Otaku.
Hi! My name is Civilis and I'm an Otaku. The consensus of the English usage of the word Otaku is to refer to a fan of anime, manga, or other Japanese popular culture. It is, at first glance, an odd hobby, and the reasons behind my personal interest in the subject are best left for another time. The reason such a hobby even exists is that it is a product of modern technology and the overall expansiveness of Western and specifically American culture.

In an earlier post, I looked at how people can be viewed as belonging to a number of subcultural groups, based on family background, education, occupation, political affiliation, and other interests. I proposed that these groupings overlapped to some degree, and we can examine where the overlap is greater or less than what would occur by chance and try to identify the roots of correlation. I finally expressed that I was more interested in groups based on hobbies or other interests rather than the more widely examined groups based on demographic factors.

The fact that there could be enough of an interest in a specific subcategory of foreign TV to drive a market is in itself pretty amazing. Commercially, it relies on the ability to be able to produce and distribute to those with the interest effectively, meaning that it has to be cheap enough to produce the DVD and it has to be distributed in areas with enough fans that it makes economic sense to invest in selling the product. The hobby now relies on the
internet to spread interest in the hobby and allow geographically diverse fans to communicate. In short, the hobby is a product of modern economics and communications. Without the ability to use modern communications to reach a widely distributed but thinly spread fanbase, or the economic ability to bring a complicated product over and adapt it across a language barrier, the hobby would not exist.

But any hobby, interest, or other grouping relies on reaching enough people to sustain it, no matter the technology level. Take a look at popular entertainment: theater, music, and (later) movies. Before the ability to record, these had to be produced locally, meaning you had to have sufficient population density to get the talent naturally or a patron with the money to bring the talent together, and you listened to what was available locally. Outside of a major urban area, choice was limited, and therefore the correlation between geographic location and specific entertainment styles was high. If you lived in this area, you listed to that variety of music or saw that sort of theater. The ability to record music or turn theater into movies allowed a wealthy patron (or group of investors) to distribute choice entertainment to a wider audience, so one had gained the ability to choose between what was available locally and what was popular enough to be distributed nationally, and the amount available on a national level expanded as the number of producers of recorded entertainment expanded. Radio and TV enabled the expansion of single source of entertainment, say a radio or TV station, to serve a wider area, which caused competition between overlapping stations (this has, alas, been lost to some degree because each station now seems to be part of a larger, multi-station chain).

To summarize, technological improvements have meant that producers of hobbies and interests can produce more effectively, which has enabled more choice for consumers, and has driven the explosion of diversified interests we see today.

How does this relate to the reaction to the shooting at Virginia Tech? There seems to be a rush to blame one or more cultural factors, and specifically cultural factors that are subcultural groups that tend to correlate with teens and college age adults and those which have an established correlation with antisocial activities: video games, violent movies, and rap music. I play games, including video games. I am constantly amazed as to the sheer inaccuracy of media reporting on this subject, and on any hobby I have knowledge of. I suspect it is because the sheer number of cultural groups is such that most members of the media have little experience with many hobbies and interests.

The killer played video games. Therefore video games must be bad. We see this sort of logic all the time. In an earlier post, I looked at why there may be a correlation between political leanings and interest in anime, and saw that while there may be a correlation, it is based on indirect factors. But talking heads, especially talking heads with an agenda, can't or won't take the time to see if the correlation is indirect. Perhaps anti-social kids are more prone to find video games an engaging source of entertainment and are more prone to having destructive psychological problems build without receiving intervention.

Is there a negative correlation between being heavily involved in politics and playing video games? Of course, between the age and the time factor, there are obvious reasons most people in politics don't have any first hand experience with video games to see how absolutely incoherent their knowledge of the subject is. Similar conclusions can be drawn from other hobbies blamed for violence.

At some fundamental level, American and Western culture is both strengthened and weakened by the overwhelming number of hobbies and interests anyone can choose to invest time in. Fundamentally, we must recognize that we have much less in common with our neighbors and colleagues than we once did, and that this freedom to pursue different courses of happiness is a fundamental good that nonetheless has a cost.

Posted by: Civilis at 08: 27 PM | Comments (3) | Add Comment
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Lurl, weeaboo.

My cat's name is Ebichu.  Last anime I watched was Wolf's Rain (I like Bones, but I had to bail halfway through).  Took two semesters of Japanese in college; prefer to watch japanese movies with subtitles rather than dubbed.  I have seen every Zatoichi movie ever made (the last one sucked; the one where the thugs beat off a retard was the best).  Lost them in a hard drive crash, unfortunately.  I have a noren in my kitchen doorway; it helps keep the heat of the kitchen from the living room (it works damn well, too).  It says, "Yu," which is supposed to be for a bathroom, but I got hot water in the kitchen so eat me.  I wouldn't mind visiting Japan, even though I'm 6'1" and weigh more than three average nippons put together.  I have masturbated to hentai, but I haven't fantasized about anime chicks while with a real woman.

Whew.  I feel much better now.  Gonna go say twelve Our Fathers and twenty Hail Marys now.

Posted by: McGurk at Apr 25 11 55 (Ri74D)

2     Gonna go say twelve Our Fathers and twenty Hail Marys now.

As I am Catholic, this brings up the question, is there a link between Catholicism and anime?  I suppose there has to be some link, given the sheer number of anime nuns, but considering most anime nuns seem to have more in common with the Punisher than Mother Teresa, it's a weak connection.  And I don't want to get into the idea of hentai nuns.  I'm sure there have to be hentai nuns somewhere.

Looking further, there seems to be a subsection of American males with an interest in women dressed as Catholic schoolgirls, so I wonder if the link is in this direction.  Considering I haven't had time to shop for indulgences this month, I better stop there lest I go too far.  (Or are indulgences just an enviro-elite thing these days?)

It's nice that someone, even if its just a fellow mee-nuvian, is reading what I write.  Thanks, McGurk!  I'll add you to the sidebar when I have a chance.

Posted by: Civilis at Apr 26 20 14 (EF4di)


Well, as someone who has actually gone to catholic school, I can say that catholic schoolgirls in their uniforms were horribly unattractive. 

Of course, I went through school in the 70's, when everybody was fucking ugly. 

Posted by: McGurk at May 25 09 24 (Ri74D)

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