The hammer of desire

On hand-waving… 

‘Art is not a mirror held up to reality but a hammer with which to shape it.’
— Bertolt Brecht

Objects-In-Mirro rblurr web

…Or a distorted mirror; one that does not announce its distortions. There are no OBJECTS IN MIRROR etc. markings below the images. The pretty pictures are but entertainments. If you take them as reflections, you do so at your peril.

Yet Contemporary Japanese Visual Culture (CJVC) operates with strong feedback loops between producer, publisher and consumer/ commenter/ transformative fan worker and gives rise to certain effects, most which could be roughly categorised as over-emphasis. More interesting is the way the process also serves to mediate participant opinions and desires. The temptation to stare into the mirror is great. As is the temptation to try to bend the reflection to one’s ends.

A few right-wingers and/or cults have in the past made clumsy attempts at taking advantage of this effect; so far their successes have been limited. A nominally ‘apolitical’ fandom holds advantages as well as drawbacks. But when the fandom devours stories that point towards a fleeting shadow of social progressivism, the temptation to nudge the canon is hard to resist.

At what point does Contemporary Japanese Visual Culture (CJVC) pick up the hammer?

Tgirls web

“Fuji TV announces Japan-first lesbian drama, but attracts criticism for ‘outdated’ portrayal by Andrew Mckirdy

Fuji Television has announced a drama series featuring a lesbian love story as its central theme — a first for Japan.

But a prominent lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) activist has slammed the show’s promotional material for portraying an “out-of-date” image of same-sex couples.
[…]
But Maki Muraki, the leader of nonprofit organization Nijiiro Diversity, which promotes workplace equality for LGBT people in Japan, believes the show is sending out the wrong message.
[…]
“Having two girls lying naked on a white sheet and using words like ‘forbidden’ is a little out of date, I think,” Muraki told The Japan Times on Thursday.
[…]
“The things we do are not about sex. We face a lot of difficulties in our life, for example in the workplace. To be told that the image of us is one of sex doesn’t make me happy.”
— http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2015/10/22/national/social-issues/fuji-tv-announces-japan-first-lesbian-drama-heels-advances-lgbt-rights/#.VkPujdSNg7X

A machine translation of an interview with Muraki-san:

https://translate.google.ca/translate?hl=en&sl=ja&u=http://www.huffingtonpost.jp/2015/01/01/lgbt-maki-muraki-1_n_6403210.html&prev=search

And a presentation on workplace diversity policies in Japan that she worked on:

http://www.outandequal.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/0M12501.pdf

A few western fans gush over Transit Girls:

http://yuri-goggles.com/2015/10/23/transit-girls-j-drama/

More Google-fu reveals that Transit Girls is most probably going to be a live-action Citrus-lite retread. Nearly underage step-sister angst and fanservice. Not much chance to confront any real-life issues. Erica Friedman’s Okazu blog review was short:

“…just a typical unrealistic Yuri trope – sister[s] by marriage fall for each other. Snooze. LGBTQ activists in Japan are about as thrilled as I am. [link to Muraki-san reaction piece] You know what I say about this – how lazy do you have to be to not even leave your living room to fall in love.”
– Erica Friedman, Okazu blog, Oct. 28, 2015
http://okazu.yuricon.com/2015/10/31/yuri-network-news-%E7%99%BE%E5%90%88%E3%83%8D%E3%83%83%E3%83%88%E3%83%AF%E3%83%BC%E3%82%AF%E3%83%8B%E3%83%A5%E3%83%BC%E3%82%B9-october-28-2015/

Decide yourself (?) See FOOTNOTE FOR UPDATE (1)

http://jp.jplovetv.com/2015/11/transit-girls-1-transit-girls-ep1.html

The subs look like they are in old-school/TW Chinese. Skimming through looks like they swiped a bit of Kanojo to Camera to Kanojo no Kisetsu as well.

Contrast this to her review of Otouto no Otto:

“If there is, in 2015, a single series I would call “most-anticipated,” Tagame Gengoroh’s Otouto no Otto (弟の夫) is that series.

Tagame-sensei is best known in North America for his overtly sexual comics by about and for gay men, known as bara, with an emphasis on large, hairy men (what are called “bears” in western gay vernacular).

The protagonist of Otouto no Otto (弟の夫) , My Brother’s Husband, is Yaichi, a single father, who has been estranged from his now late twin brother for many years. The volume begins on the day his brother’s widower, Mike Flanagan, arrives at Yaichi’s home. Yaichi is not at all comfortable with Mike, or the fact that his brother was gay, or married, but Kana, his daughter, can’t see the problem. The only problem she sees is that she had no idea she had an uncle at all! So when she invites Mike to stay, Yaichi can’t really say no.”
– Erica Friedman, Okazu blog, Nov. 8, 2015
http://okazu.yuricon.com/2015/11/08/lgbtq-manga-otouto-no-otto-%E5%BC%9F%E3%81%AE%E5%A4%AB/

Is this juxtaposition unfair? Can Bara auteurs can do things that Yuri and BL auteurs can’t?

Meanwhile, IRL New York:

Equality, Then What? New Plays Explore Modern Gay Life
By ALEXIS SOLOSKINOV. 5, 2015
http://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/08/theater/equality-then-what-new-plays-explore-modern-gay-life.html

Note how the reviewer raises an eyebrow at the designer stage props.

The article is somewhat of a follow-up on:

A Baby for the Gay Authors Behind the Daddy Penguins
By Jennifer 8. Lee
October 2, 2009 7:30 am October 2, 2009 7:30 am
http://cityroom.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/10/02/a-baby-for-the-gay-authors-behind-the-daddy-penguins/

How’s that for a range of fictional treatments of LGBTQ lives and desires; from silly fantasy through to social realism written by and for the community? Note the strident “anti-“ in the comment section that plays the class card. (And yes, the author of the piece has the numeral 8 in her name. Google her for her wiki page if you are wondering.)

I sincerely hope this stuff pops some reactionary county clerk’s cookies (or not; I suspect the whole controversy was a cynical attempt to cash in on the wingnut celeb circuit) Here’s a backgrounder, to soothe residual knee-twitching:

What’s Good for the Kids
By LISA BELKINNOV. 5, 2009

“…approximately 1 in 5 male same-sex couples and 1 in 3 female same-sex couples are raising children, up from 1 in 20 male couples and 1 in 5 female couples in 1990.

In most ways, the accumulated research shows, children of same-sex parents are not markedly different from those of heterosexual parents. They show no increased incidence of psychiatric disorders, are just as popular at school and have just as many friends. While girls raised by lesbian mothers seem slightly more likely to have more sexual partners, and boys slightly more likely to have fewer, than those raised by heterosexual mothers, neither sex is more likely to suffer from gender confusion nor to identify themselves as gay.

More enlightening than the similarities, however, are the differences, the most striking of which is that these children tend to be less conventional and more flexible when it comes to gender roles and assumptions than those raised in more traditional families.

There are data that show, for instance, that daughters of lesbian mothers are more likely to aspire to professions that are traditionally considered male, like doctors or lawyers — 52 percent in one study said that was their goal, compared with 21 percent of daughters of heterosexual mothers, who are still more likely to say they want to be nurses or teachers when they grow up. (The same study found that 95 percent of boys from both types of families choose the more masculine jobs.) Girls raised by lesbians are also more likely to engage in “roughhousing” and to play with “male-gendered-type toys” than girls raised by straight mothers. And adult children of gay parents appear more likely than the average adult to work in the fields of social justice and to have more gay friends in their social mix.

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/08/magazine/08fob-wwln-t.html

115,772 same-sex couples in the USA were raising children circa 2009. So says the statbox on the side of the article. That’s less than half the population of my town. C’mon folks, get with the program! Or perhaps I need to get with the program, as an “old” who hasn’t being paying attention to the changing social.

Since the NYTimes Magazine was running a series on the topic, here is some more fieldwork (note the approaches used):

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/10/theater/review-dada-woof-papa-hot-about-gay-men-and-parenthood.html

An older generation, a LGBTQ commune

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/09/magazine/out-of-the-woods.html

And still you get no guarantees;

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/10/25/fashion/weddings/unhitched-for-a-lesbian-couple-marriage-equality-was-no-guarantee-of-marriage-quality.html?_r=1

These families exist because in their neck of the woods the state can no longer deny folks their rights to get married and be parents. And random jeebus-spouting, publicity crazed asshats cannot grab the power of law and regulation and use it to bash a subset of queer folks for smug and profit. It means that happily married guy couples and happily married gal couples are afforded the same rights as everybody else. This is how we expect it to be in civilized countries. In some European countries these families, like all families would enjoy even greater rights and benefits; generous mandatory parental leave, better health and education opportunities, and even less Kim Davies.

Meanwhile in Japan…

Representations of minority sexuality and/ or gender expression in vernacular narratives are treated as entertaining variants on the theme of having a minor super power. Even Hato Kenjiro gets a super power (no, not be-dazzling Mada…)

It seems you can now build an interesting story either with the MC being bitten by a radioactive spider or by having the MC struck by sudden same-sex desire or with the incomprehensible urge to start dressing in clothing not conventionally ascribed to their gender.

Clumsy ensues.

Why not try all three?

You could kick it up a notch by actually having realistic tōjisha characters from the start, but perhaps Japan still finds that to be ‘too political’. There is also the readership’s fond attachment to the ‘out of the blue, its only you, mad love to ensue’ (tm) dance. If everyone already had super spidey powers the comic would be boring.

The limits to this type of use seem not to be “realism” but a simple-minded form of narrative utility. (lazy storytelling.)

Sometimes the thought experiment justifies the hack. There might not be that many crossdressing, liminal/ conflicted fudanshis struggling with their awakening sexualities at real university otaku clubs in Japan and even less of them back in 2009, yet Hato Kenjiro remains an interesting and useful construction. But Saki is right, the club should meet and try to make friends with some real gay/TS/TG folks.

At least these representations are not pulled out of the central casting sack for want of a quick clown or villain.

A sympathetic “truthy” representation of LGBTQ-ish characters is certainly better than using them as orcs and shikigami novelties and serves at least a few wider societal goods, but we should be cautious as to how far we suspend our disbelief. While these may serve an incidental purpose of “queering” a narrative, providing visible (shadow) representations of lives and desires, even offering the chance for the majority straight vanilla audience to dream in queer, ‘cross-dream’ or at least cheer on the cause of justice and true love; unless these narratives are positioned as testimony for and by the (tōjisha) populations they claim to represent, then these effects are afterthoughts and subject to problems.

And those of us who would examine why they exist risk missing the central question of their creation, use and popularity.

Why are all the straight boys and girls reading (and sometimes making up) so many stories about minority sexualities and gender expressions?

What’s with that? 

Sect detail mot web

Fanservice/ Mild kink?

Tourism?

True Romance?

Poisoned riajuu well?

Do the right thing/ Social Capital ?

For great Justice?

Admiration/ Akogare?

I should go on about each. Perhaps later. (1)

For now, please jump to the long-standing critique, visible (for example) in Erica Friedman’s weariness with the yuri genre Story A‘s refusal to engage with larger social concerns, supposedly rooted in the distaste of the readership for “the political”.

This observation is sound for the moment. It can even be taken as a mild reproach towards the timidity of the publishers and the conservative tastes of the audience. Stick to gauzy depictions of “forbidden love”, high school romances and secret crushes but avoid realistic depictions of the daily grind (and the daily joys) of living an “out” identity. Study after study, as well as the obvious structure of the stories themselves remind us that the main audience for these tales of “forbidden love” are not the people “in the life” / lives supposedly depicted, but the rest of us curious (mostly) heterosexual tourists. The timidity of the representations, the reassuring same-old same-old plots and the aversion to tackling serious issues is a side-effect of conservative traditions of production and conservative expectations in our escapist reading and viewing matter.

And you thought this meandering essay was going to be about social/ political activist tropes in vernacular stories that featured LGBTQ characters? I was going to go on and on and (shudder) make recommendations, do some re-inventing the wheel, mouth off and give free advice… Unfortunately, that too will creep in. But it is an afterthought. The focus must remain on the majority, nominally straight audience for these little tales and how this audience limits or could get behind activist stories.

Let me try to make this clearer by example. Assume there is enough of a market in Japan for a subset of gay desire to have their own vernacular narrative form. We’ll call it Bara. Gay guys write and draw stuff for other gay guys. Some of it is heartwarming, some of it looks extremely nasty, but it is a conversation within a social, with characters from that social. Whether or not it wants to go activist is it’s own business, because in the end it will be preaching to the choir. Few rotten girls go buying Bara mags for inspiration for their fantasies. Maybe they used to for drawing tips? Who knows, there are now pose-books out there for aspiring mangakas.

But for BL, Yaoi, Yuri and a few other odd genres that center around fantasies of gender expression, there is no “this is for real lesbians and or gay people and or trans people” subsections and/or “riajuu welcome but you may find it boring” sub-genres. And despite some of the warning disclaimers on Japanese (and other) fansites, there are no “real lesbians don’t act like this, these are straight fantasies, proceed at your own delusion” stickers on Yuri Hime or on Transit Girls. Obviously this warning is implicit, but we are easily distracted, we often forget. It would all be easier if we stuck to sci-fi and made all the queer folk Cat-aliens. Japanese Cat-aliens. Gay Japanese Cat-aliens. Oh wait, we tried that alreadyNevermind.

Along with real Japanese queer folk who might wish to see characters that they can relate to, somewhat realistically and sympathetically presented, we have a huge pile of straight boys and girls visiting for the fanservice and staying for the feels. Apparently my taste in feels, or at least the tastes of my Japanese LFB counterparts runs to the simplistic (or fantastic – and don’t forget the fanservice, we want our fanservice!). Across the boulevard, the shape of the rotten girls’ hearts is apparently equally simplistic (and fantastic – they want their fanservice too).

Understanding why we silly tourists come poking around could be useful.

Time for a digression!

There is an elephant in the room and it needs to be vaporized. It is the old “reading this stuff will make you gay“. First off; as quoted/ noted previously, gay folks have to deal with overwhelmingly straight narratives all their lives – these do not turn them (back into???) straight. Ah! that just means that gay is insidiously, powerfully contagious! Fine, then everyone would be gay by now. Besides, these stories are overwhelmingly cooked up by straight people. Ahah! That’s why they don’t work! Guys, stay away from the Bara! The Genshiken’s Hato Kenjiro is safe, fake girl-made stuff won’t turn him. Or it will turn him into… (dum dum Dumm..)

Don’t laugh. The contagion theory is still very powerful. Youth are considered especially vulnerable. Even if the gatekeepers admit the impossibility of the majority of readers being bent by these silly stories, there are always the few on the margins who should at least stay unhappily straight, marry, reproduce and then go off to have a sordid mid-life changing adventure later. Or kill themselves. More to the point is the worry that the proscription against the queer, as a social category itself may be threatened. Story A and “I’m not gay, its only you” may be grudgingly tolerated as fire-breaks but you get the sense that the mythical “authorities” would be happier if all that stuff stayed in the seedy floating world of “The Black Lizard“.

Too bad that we have finally figured out that this kind of bullshit is a drag on the smooth functioning of a modern post-industrial society and its economy. And no, we aren’t going back to slavery, bond servitude and private health care insurance plans either. (Right wingers forget that in the early 20th C it was business heads who pushed for early social policy innovations – they wanted them as common utilities that couldn’t be snapped up by the competition and used for unfair advantage – only my workers get a hospital bed, yours die, I will own whole town by next year!) Have an asbestos suit, welcome to Star Fleet, now get back to your post.

You doubt me? Go read why Bismark instituted old-age pensions.

Once the “contagion effect” is dispensed with, or at least toned down to a dull roar, we can go back to wondering why all of us straight people are reading Yuri, BL, Yaoi, even gender-benders and Josou weirdness. Start from the fanservice again and work through it.

And what of putting complex “political” situations into silly “feels” tales? Won’t the iyashi be killed?

Transit Girls could suddenly get “political” as easily as the usual “personal”. There was a strong tradition of hard hitting politically aware gekiga manga well into the 80’s, (Here is something typically class conscious, socially aware and grim) though the genre faded to yakuza grinders thereafter. Shoujo manga and later anime offshoots pioneered socially transgressive subjects and genres but now feels set in its ways. Transit Girls won’t break any new ground because it’s a Citrus retread and it is safer to play out the almost-incest schoolgirl forbidden lurv story but there is no structural storytelling reason why a tale of two young women who happen to like each other has to creep out and/or stick to hackneyed “personal” story tropes.

The limits lie in the perception of what the audience will buy.

Would a mostly heterosexual audience run away from a tale if a bit of social realism or “political” was snuck into the story? Can we lay the blame at the feet of Japanese LFBs and rotten girls? If you are a young person who suddenly finds themselves having feelings for someone of your own gender and all you have to go on is BL or Yuri (as the case may be) you sure have a good argument for being pissed off. Congratulations, you are now a unicorn! A bit of realism would sure feel supportive, even reassuring. Something that gives the idea that mundane every day life, friendship and happiness is within reach can go a long way. In some respects, the Story A bubble at least provides a small personal space where the impediments are manageable and a happy ending is possible.

Most of the time the impediments are personal: bullying, whispers at school, parents, the thwarted opposite sex suitor who thought they were close to winning true love. It does all get a bit claustrophobic, doesn’t it? Sure the meet the parents challenge can be dramatic. And the usual steam (and cheese) can be squeezed out of the step-sisters under the same roof set-up. But there is no reason why you can’t get good story mojo out of I can’t visit my partner at the hospital if it is done well. At very least, tossing one small true love vs structural discrimination challenge ups the story’s realism points. It also assumes that there is life after the happy pair graduate from high school. Will we fanboys and fangirls buy it?

If it works well once, can it too become a trope?

Then we can try for the family register hell episode!

Followed by the same-sex-partnership certificate on Friday, fired on Monday episode.

And the “stop listing our kid as a bastard” episode.

Better ration these lest the tale gets too dire: give the lovebirds a chance to surmount the obstacles, catch their breath, and cuddle. Friends and supporters can grin and give a thumbs up. A whole new slew of happy event tropes could go a long way too: visit Comike, go to a public bath and relax after, visit a shrine with your friends on New Years (hey, wait a sec, where have I ???) The audience wants a few victory parties and their D’awww moments too. Sooner or later some enterprising auteur must stage a vacation- marriage in Hawaii.

Throw too many bureaucratic bigotry hurdles at the couple all at once and it will smother the tale in grim. Then you end up back on the old “thorny path” cliché; which would be downer and a waste. Unless you personify each structural obstacle (Nurse impose-the-rules Ratchet comes with a tragic back story) and appropriate the endless level-up battles of shonen fight grinders as some kind of fantastic comedy exercise. (Once Nurse Ratchet is defeated, she realises that her opposition was because of a long suppressed childhood disappointment, resolves this and becomes an ally)

Too ridiculous?

Since the playset field somehow got flipped on…

…I always suggest a rich beta couple hovering in the wings (I’m hobby horsing, so what?) Maybe they went to New York on family business empire duty for a few years, met and tied the knot. Per the conspicuous consumption deployed in the play referenced in the above NYTimes article, a shitload of posh from the prop dept goes a long way toward legitimizing ways of living in aspirational fiction.

Ah, for the support of the wealthy and sophisticated almost-foreign other. Naysayers can’t even play the nihon-jiron card.

I’m playing clumsy social tinkerer here. I wonder what someone more knowledgeable about the issues would have to say about the series if they could contrive to find a way to watch it? Or if better extant examples exist?

Along with the attractions of more “truthy” representations of minority sexuality and gender expressions in terms of verisimilitude, interest and a ripping good yarn with a happy ending (or a wise and poignant one), the possibility for the advancement of a social policy agenda comes into view, at least to the extent that the changes advocated and the support for these can be personalised. In other words;

We’ll probably keep reading if you make the political personal.

Heck, we might even start seeking out stories with such tropes in them. Why? Here’s where I go out on limb:

1) Do the right thing:
People as individuals are fundamentally good at heart. (Hand-waving; it gives us bystanders something to do.) Neighbors and small socials invariably support and encourage diversity if given a risk-free chance, though older and/or wounded ones may struggle dramatically with their initial reactive positions. Common folk support one another, this is the wisdom of the village. This is flattering for us hand-wavers. It makes us feel like we are townspeople in a Jimmy Stewart Christmas movie.

2) Fight the evil machine:
Only bureaucracies, faceless edifices of power and profiteers enforce repressive structures and punitive rules. Again, we didn’t act like shits towards you folks, it was the bad bureaucracy!

3) The wars are over:
Conformity/ taboos/ rituals which once saved the tribe now weaken it. A new generation points the way forward. … Even if we did behave like shits it was because of the “old ways”; which we are so over with…

4) Careful with that hammer Maxwell.
Don’t go overboard on the new personalised political challenges; keep the main story on track with all the usual hackneyed melodramatic same old same olds. Yup, the happy young couple still get the bed-sheet publicity pic – we drooling fans expect it.  All peasant village weddings come with a wedding-night charivari! We really do get into hand-waving, and pot banging, and…. Any excuse for a party.

Sure it’s all fantasy, but it comes with a bonus drama CD.

Given the opportunity, there seems no great reason why a readership that is somewhat predisposed to open-mindedness (we are reading about the MC’s neh?) would not adopt a supportive attitude/ enjoy the fantasy of activism, especially if the d’awwwwww payoff is presented at no cost to us.

In the United States, reactionary forces recognise this and have spent decades subtly insinuating narratives of fear and cost into arguments against human rights and social justice issues. Social justice reforms sound good but in reality they will steal our jobs, destroy our families, degrade our manliness, corrupt our youth, slip into our daughters’ bathrooms, cause bad weather and tooth decay…

…And they will take down those damn slaver flags.

Less so in Japan.

As Japan is a culture of conformity, surface appearances, restrictions and arbitrary rules, the overwhelming majority of which have long since outlived their raison d’etre, the attraction of putting the different folks out on the front lines for societal change is universally attractive. (sounds like the plot for the Seven Samurai) A large amorphous issue like gay marriage (what of all the rules and regs and forms and laws and procedures and the prefectural governments and the constitutional amendments needed?) might be too much (for now). But when a tale or a campaign takes aim at specific day-to-day petty injustices, most of which are part of the larger portion of the soul crushing bullshit that everyone has to suck up and smile at, we have a market for some good ending aspirational fiction. As long as Japan doesn’t get serious again and have everything end in a hammer-of-the-fates disaster barrage. (The Japanese movie happy ending: everybody dies.)

Unable to get an apartment (or twice the key money), bullshit at the municipal office, sleazy yakuza blackmail(!), a loved one alone in a hospital, civil union-ish certificate on Friday then fired on Monday; make the challenges specific, personal, understandable, unfair and let them loose to tug at the heart. I sense the chortling shades of Victor Hugo and Charles Dickens in the shadows.

To a degree, the instability of traditional patterns has already wormed its way into the tropes of the social depicted in Japanese manga and anime. Fifteen or twenty years ago, the young MC’s family would have been fun, supportive and very nuclear. Now fractured families, absent parents, single parent households, dramatic fob the kid off on distant relatives (note the setup in Transit Girls) or not even relatives settings are all over the landscape. Strong, intact families like those in Wandering Son are rare exceptions. Compared to these, having two moms or two dads would read like an idyllic solution.

And here we come to the final reason why all of us vanilla fanboys and fangirls might be paying attention and cheering from the sidelines, even if it is a bit unfair:

Put the queer folk out on point

One would have to be in suspended animation to miss that for all the sturm und drang, the activist agenda advancing LGBTQ rights in the West has done an amazing job. It might not look like it from the eye of the storm, and it has been one heartbreaking mess of a long slog, but their activists and advocates have scored an impressive set of wins. Big wins that have and will shape society for decades to come. Compare these to say, average family incomes in America over the last 20 years. You have to respect what works. Seeing anything that works gives us all hope.

Is this too odd a reason to add to the pile of why so many straight boys and girls are fascinated with the odd notions they themselves dreamed up about LGBTQ characters?

Compared to the the rest of any progressive agenda, LGBTQ activists have done the impossible and that makes them mighty. So much so that reactionary types will even whisper of a “gay conspiracy“. Conspiracy? When is decades of hard work, organizing, lobbying, advocating and litigating a magical thinking “conspiracy”?

Guess what the reward is for a job well done. (2)

And yup, popular art forms get drafted do their part. Note the tone of this review, complete with the reference in the lead to earlier civil rights issue films:

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/arts/film/fall-films-emancipate-once-forbidden-love/article21023368/

See also:

http://www.slate.com/blogs/outward/2014/08/22/love_is_strange_anti_lgbtq_workplace_discrimination_happens_in_real_life.html

I remember hearing about the first movie; Love is Strange a year ago, it sounds like it is on program. The appeal to social justice is clear, compelling and personal. After all if someone can lose their job for one thing, anyone can lose their job for any other form of religio-bureaucratic sanctioned bullshit. I live in Canada. Most of the provinces (like states, only bigger) still implement constitutional guarantees that mandate taxpayer-funded school boards for certain faiths. You want to keep your taxpayer-funded job, you go to mass on Sunday and you watch your Facebook posts. Exceptions are at the discretion of the board. How’s that for faith-based exemptions?

The second film is new to me; it might be a bit too stridently bolshie for American tastes. The third, I had a chance to view inflight and it felt like a Cumberbach vehicle. It got grim really fast. We know what happened to Turing. Since I loathe the British class system, I found no entertainment value in watching a fetishization of its murderous small-mindedness.

Doubtless there are many more useful examples out there, with at least half of them making up episodes in Glee. I must get over my aversion to anything that flies under the dread flag of Fox.

In the meantime, off the top of my head, something close to this was pulled off for the girl couple in Mouretsu Space Pirates. Not content to have the thwarted arranged marriage trope leave a dangling disappointed dude, it went on to show our plucky heroines unmasking the boy as a young Goebbels fronting a crypto-fascist conspiracy out for power and big bucks. The arranged marriage was just part of his campaign to seize power. Well; that was kind of political, even if set in a scifi far future light-years away.

Why bother?

Activist themes and tropes within stories cannot directly change society, at best they can “win hearts and minds” and displace older tales of dire abjection and deviance while lessening “the shock of the new”. We all tend to resist things we have not run into before; if we run into them in fiction, we can fool ourselves into feeling some manner of familiarity with the situation and the folks caught up in it. Coupling a story to appeals to justice and enlightened self-interest; This sucks, we wouldn’t like this to happen to us, we should support a fix so that everyone can breathe easier has been a part of storytelling since we all sat around the fire in caves. Ally of Justice makes for a nicer story than “when bad things happen to people, run away from them and/or throw rocks at them to drive them off otherwise the bad things will get you too“. The latter may be closer to human nature at its worst, but it raises problems for story tellers; they risk getting rocks themselves instead of a meal.

These concerns are for the rest of us scared villagers. For someone who finds themselves trying to negotiate a queer identity, having stories that say “you are not alone“, and “this is normal, life is good“, “be proud of who and how you are“, especially ones that are not too fantastic and/or loaded with dire oppressions can be a life-changer. Not everything has to be a “fight the power” tale to do some good, but it’s OK too to add “why should asshats think they have any right to jack you around?” to this above list.

Why now?

Significant reform is more than ever now possible in Japan. At first glance the Oyagi-cracy of the LDP looks like the barnacle least likely to do anything progressive: first looks can be deceiving. It has been argued that Japan’s perpetual party of power, the LDP is no longer anywhere as ideological as it appears and that it will swipe any policy platform, even socially progressive ones, if it thinks another (non-communist) party could possibly get traction from such. For a supposed right-wing party, its appetites have become amazingly ‘catholic’. It has assimilated policy initiatives from opponents and allies alike, especially if these present a good face for Japan to “the West” (look how smooth-running and progressive our society is, please invest and do business with us.) Bonus points if the grab pulls the rug out from under an opposition (or even an allied) party. The Olympics are on the horizon, Japan doesn’t want to look like Putin’s reactionary Russia. Mrs Abe shows up at the Pride parade. The LDP reads Krugman for economic policy advice. It’s not personal or ideological, it is just what it takes for the LDP to remain in power at all cost and render any alternative parties or alliances thereof weak and ineffectual. The LDP is the developed world’s most left-wing right-wing government. They have a parliamentary supermajority and they no longer give a flying… squirrel about ideology. They can pass progressive legislation at the drop of a hat if it suits their party’s strategic purposes.

Operator: Main screen turn on!

in case you missed the original

Clickee for old time’s sake

To paraphrase Michael Cucek, You have no chance to be government, make your time. [https://www.google.ca/search?q=youtube+micheal+crucek&oq=youtube+micheal+crucek]

Aside: Shisaku and Tokyo on Fire are great Jp politics/culture backgrounders! (from whence I have have cribbed much of my sloppy analysis)

UPDATE: Tokyo on Fire does a short segment on “Tokyo’s First Same-sex Marriage Certificate”

Conceivably the LDP could even do something really nasty and militarist: full equality and marriage rights at all levels of Japanese government and civil society for same-sex couples as long as one of the couple is serving in the new bent-article-9 JSDF! Yearly mandatory visits to the that shrine required too. Nothing too good for our patriotic boys and girls in uniform. Supermajority, remember?

This loony example belies a serious point. The main legalistic impediment to same-sex marriage rights in Japan is a close reading of the Japanese constitution. Marriage is supposed to be between a man and a woman. Any move to revise the constitution to fix this legitimises the Abe/ LDP program to revise other parts of it. Similarly, the re-interpretation of article 9 for “collective self-defense” points to the strong possibility of other re-interpretations, as long as one is willing to legitimise the entire exercise of re-interpreting.

Political chess-playing ensues. At least the pieces can move.

Despite initial appearances there never was a better time to sneak a few progressive social reforms through the Japanese Diet. Or I am completely deluded and the removal of one class of institutionalized pariah-dom in the Japanese social will so threaten the mechanisms of control and subservience that keep the salaryman at his (sometimes her) desk for 12 hours a day and the rest of the losers happy to scrape by on low-paid temp jobs, as to completely up-end the power structures and economic foundations of the nation. There goes our weekly group hate sessions… And those sound trucks.

Naw… The entire Abe/ LDP program has been to build up a monolithic appearance of progressive stability in Japanese society and politics. No more Prime Ministers of the month, no more low-class cabinet scandals, no more bureaucrats fighting out policy initiatives with competing press leaks. A nice promise of structural reforms for the business world. Quantitive easing to grease export earnings. Woman-omics. Now if they can get the Olympic stadium embarrassment cleaned up; the old pols who ran the original stadium committee have been ritually shamed and neutered. Abe’s technocrats can now step in to save the day. Everything looks stable and peaceful. As long as mildly progressive social reforms don’t come off as looking like something forced upon Japan by pesky outlanders, the pols have no reason to dig in their heels. We are talking at most of gay marriage here; not ending the whale hunt or that messy thing with the dolphins…

Oh my; a silly manga and anime blog is going on about pop poli-sci and Japanese politics!

Muda Muda Muda!

Watch for my future post on Keynesian macro-economics and Japanese monetary policy presented as allegory in Gintama:

You wipe first, you lose“.

Uh.. Where was I?

Any progressive and/ or activist themed expansion of the range of tropes and stories available to the hack mangakas and anime script teams is pure profit for ambitious authors a and publishers, as long as these new tropes can be successfully deployed at least once. I think the fandom/ public could well be way out in front of the publishers, authors, producers and TV executives.

Given that CJVC already supports a number of viable market niches that at least superficially appear to venture into the territory of representing (and perhaps supporting) minority desires and gender expressions, simple capitalist competition and the need for new interesting grist for the story mills should be sufficient to grease the wheels of social progress a bit.

There is no structural reason for the absence of activist, progressive story- lines in CJVC. Advocacy is possible and can advance progressive change. Politics has a nasty habit of getting personal but the personal is the realm of storytelling. These stories can once again recognise this as we take comfort and inspiration from the possibilities set forth in their telling and enjoy the opportunity to vicariously support progressive social change. Because the rest of us were all too busy and tired and distracted to have done anything to fix our shit; perhaps you folks will have better luck. We’re rootin’ for you…

Hand-waving for great Justice!

(1) Hmmmm… I could draw a pyramid chart of these and cash in big time over in theory land. Mudakun’s hierarchy of prurient interest over Yuri and BL ™. Come for the novelty pr0n fantasies, stay for the abstract concerns. Where my newest bit of why are we interested about this stuff slots in is another matter.

(2) For a job well done, you of course get another job. And raised expectations. And spectators cheering you on. And the idea that perhaps your program could make a nifty ‘point of the spear‘ for some larger, more diffuse program of change. And that your unique experience gifts you with rare insights and the facility to give general relationship advice to couples, fix defective technology by touching it and dress sharp. Such is the price of success!

 

UPDATE AND ENDNOTE:

This was not my brightest post but I still figured I needed to thrash out some of the ideas. Further attempts to develop them hit a snag, so still working on the troubling intersections of “gay” vs “shadow of gay, written by straight folks for their own odd purposes, not all of which involve pr0n” on one axis and realism vs fantasy on the other axis. Realism implies a certain temptation towards activism. Leave it at that for now.

Transit Girls has finished its run, and by reports, is not execrable. Shoujo, rushed, but at least the background characters are supportive. Google with the terms “watch” and perhaps the optional “247” (note download tab) added to the series name and you can probably find eng. subbed versions somewhere out on the intertubes. Raise ad-blockers to maximum, ahead full impulse.

The Okazu review of the entire series is also out:
http://okazu.yuricon.com/2016/01/25/lesbian-live-action-transit-girls-%E3%83%88%E3%83%A9%E3%83%B3%E3%82%B8%E3%83%83%E3%83%88%E3%82%AC%E3%83%BC%E3%83%AB%E3%82%BA/

At some point Viki and/or Crunchyroll might get with the program too.

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2 thoughts on “The hammer of desire

  1. Man, nobody complains when opposite-sex relationships aren’t being portrayed realistically in fiction.

    Okay, that’s not even a little bit true, and even if it were it’s no reason not to complain about the way same-sex relationships are portrayed. Speaking of Glee, I remember being upset a while back about how it apparently threw the idea of bisexuality out a ten-foot building, never mind the fact that I’ve never watched the show. I also remember being upset about the way yuri has at times portrayed lesbian relationships as somehow more inherently as more “pure” and sexless than relationships involving men, which is rather the opposite of what Muraki had to say about Transit Girls. So, okay, I’m not immune. Almost nobody is immune. But I’ve taken a few chill pills since then and, wth, there might not be any J-dramas that portray same-sex relationships in a way that I care about right now, but the only way there ever will be is if Transit Girls or some other show gets popular enough to justify more of something slightly different. Maybe J-dramas producers will one day make something as good as Korea’s Daughters of Club Bilitis, without the whole getting pulled off the air thing. *sweatdrop*

    I guess my point is that hoping you’ll identify with and endorse the portrayal of some LGBT character in some show is a hope more justified, but just as futile, as the hope that a straight person will identify with and endorse the portrayal of some straight character in some show. Chances are probably kind of low, but if you’re straight there are lots of other shows to try, and if you’re a Japanese lesbian, you’ve really only got that one J-drama and a pile of trope-saturated yuri before you’ve got to outsource. The only way to fix this problem is more lesbian J-dramas (which is what Transit Girls is trying to do anyhow) and also cash. :/ Lots of cash.

    I feel like there’s also something to be said here about how the Japanese have never really bought into that whole ‘art as an imitation of reality’ thing to the degree that Westerners have. Yes, there is something to be said about that: Life and politics are complicated :B

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