An academic conference in Yokohama, this weekend:
Queer Transfigurations — International Symposium on BL media in Asia.
Saturday, July 1 & Sunday, July 2, 2017,
Kanagawa University, Yokohama Campus
“My critical examination of yaoi begins with the premise that yaoi does not represent any person’s reality, but rather is a terrain where straight, lesbian, and other women’s desires and political stakes mingle and clash, and where representations are born.”
— A. Mizoguchi, “Theorizing comics/manga genre as a productive forum: yaoi and beyond”
‘Fantasy is fantasy and reality is reality’ opine the characters of the Genshiken, echoing a claim made by Dr Saito Tamaki that despite the libidinised nature of otaku (and fujoshi) consumption — or because of it — the Japanese fan, even (or especially) the most committed of these are able to keep the walls between real life and “play” separate. They are all in effect flaneurs, connoisseurs of their outre fictions and these fictions’ effects (or affects). The riajuu may be bombarded by the relentless flow of images and desires and retreat into numb passivity, even reactionary withdrawal but the L33T fan surfs the shock-waves and hacks the spew.
How’s that workin’ out for you all?
Ok, so what if this sounded a lot like an update of the old floating world brothel-crawler notion of “iki” — which incidentally influenced european ideas of the flaneur – – as well as trying to drag the old-school practice of situating narratives of minority sexualities and gender expressions in lurid pulp exploitation settings into a better neighborhood [see: https://heartsoffuriousfancies.wordpress.com/2015/08/21/your-own-private-game-of-laplace/] via Comiket, shoujo manga and its more interesting offshoots.
Along the way, a lot of folks pretended that they forgot someone(s).
If you are a not-quite-straight kid in Japan (or adult) and you value your privacy, this pretense or at least quiet convention had (and still has) its uses. The last decade’s general agreement about BL and yaoi in Japan was that %90+ of the readership was female and that the overwhelming majority of these were straight women who enjoyed it as a relaxing and amusing diversion. If you were a gei male, there was manly-manly Bara for you and nobody really bothered about what 3D women who liked women cared to read. There were even a few convenient broadsides from honest to goodness flesh-and-blood homosexual male polemicists who criticised the rotten tribes for acting like “dirty old men” (though the major flare-up of this controversy happened decades earlier). If real gay guys groused about the stuff, it must be some kind of odd straight-girl fantasy thing and therefore harmless. Pay no attention to the fujoshi behind the curtains.
Meanwhile in the euroethnic mostly anglosphere west, research spotty as it was, indicated that slash readership was closer to %50-50 male-female and that the desires and identifications of the readership were all over the map, with a strong ‘queer’ gradient.
Something was due for a change.
I wonder how many casual fujoshi will make their way to the conference this weekend? What the devil is a casual fujoshi anyway?
In truth, gay folk, queer folk have always, apparently been part of creating these stories and consuming them. Folks are doing the historical research so that concealment does not end up as erasure. At the same time, there is a vast readership and fandom made up out of straight women and even (per the two extant fan studies plus hints about secret secret publisher data) somewhere around %1 straight male readership (%10-15 of the male readership). And then there are lesbian fujoshi, who while unfathomable in terms of demographic representation, make up some of the most productive and articulate champions of the genre. And there are gay guys who like it too. (those fan studies would put them at %80 of the male readership or %8 of the total readership) Over across the boulevard are the Yuri fans with all those pesky mostly-straight male yuri-danshi (I still prefer the older, western-anglosphere LFB term), even if them’s are for a different conference (which I would also really like to attend). We LFB guys aren’t too good on holding up our end of the fandom, but our Japanese brethren keep buying the magazines, so that’s something.
A lot of the academic interest in fujoshi and otaku fandoms in Japan has been carried out as informed by queer interests and situates comfortably within a larger idea of “queer theory”. If you are going to read any kind of academic writing about your fave manga, anime and/ or games you are going to get hip deep in it fast. After all, BL and yaoi (and yuri and even weird otokonoko/jousou) stories sure look like ‘queer texts’. Lookie: same-sex bonking! How long can the publishers keep up the pretense that they are all just something like sci-fi-ish or fantasy allegory and mostly for straight folks dreaming in queer?
In Japan, probably for a while longer, especially if it has something to do with sales revenues.
Time for some Academic Cool Japan jiu-jitsu:
Take a close look at the conference presentations, the presenters and the moderators. All-star line-up! Welker, Mizoguchi, Nagaike, Baudinette, McLelland, Galbraith and a whole bunch of others whose names look vaguely familiar from my amateur theory scrapings. Note as well the titles and subjects of the presentations/ papers. This is about how a certain Japanese cultural product hits the rest of “Asia” and then creates its own context and readings. Ichiban Nihon Bunka!
Note as well, the absence of the dreaded fashionable academic neologism “Gl-ocal“.
Oh frabjous day!
Wonder how many Cool Japan bureaucrats will be in attendance? You wanted “soft power”? Congratulations! Now about the way Japan is sluggish about the rights and protections of minority sexualities and gender expressions and the upcoming 2020 Olympics… Do I hear whistling from the audience?
One academic not on the program (perhaps because the historic role of the wider shoujo genre is mentioned only in passing) is professor Rachel Matt Thorn, who in a recent Twitter thread went into the changing face of the Japanese fandom — at least the university-attending fans in her classes. TLDR: they ain’t the Genshiken. They are hyper-social, engaged, productive and even activist. I hope that she gets around to expanding upon these observations in her blog. [http://www.en.matt-thorn.com/]
(Update: per Twitter, prof Thorn plans to attend.)
I suspect that the student attendees at this conference will be equally unrecognisable to anyone expecting Genshiken style fans/ fujoshi, even as their updated versions will be undoubtedly surprised at the range, influence and effect of their fave genre. A few might even wonder if any of the diaspora product needs to be tracked down and studied, for the sake of a wider cultural perspective. …Won’t even get into speculation over the straight, fujoshi, fudanshi, gei continuum issues. I have a feeling that Dr. Mizoguchi has long since updated her 2010 observations to include male interest, even as the genre remains a powerful primarily female-authored form.
Readers of this blog know my angle on all of this and I would be curious to see how the conference presentations handle the clashes, not only between cultures, but between the readerships who want their fantastic allegorical (and somewhat racy) dream-in-queer diversions and readers who seek aspirational representation and support from the genre. So far the only strategy I can identify that does not involve proscription would stress authenticity as verisimilitude; in effect a value added approach — which is damn crass when real lives are at stake.
Unfortunately, publishing and content creation, like most capitalism is crass, and often brutal.
A final thought: Open Access = mega citations and academic fame.
It would be wonderful if the uni streamed the proceedings, or at least vidded them and put them up on YouTube. (Later: have been informed that presenters were not asked/ warned about the possibility of video recording, so that’s out. As someone who participated in a conference that let me use my blog nym, I should be better clued in on privacy concerns for presenters/ attendees.. Duh!)
(LATER: Howbout an audio transcript for Soundcloud? They embed well. I should stop; my previous gallery gig – we always tried to at least get a sound transcript from a presentation. We’d put a volunteer/ student intern in charge, do a little Audacity trimming and up it went, even if the sound quality was atrocious. Again, prior warning, privacy concerns… So much to consider…)
Publication of the papers/ presentations in an open source journal or collection so that the conference doesn’t end up on some shelf or stuck behind a paywall would be wonderful.
(LATER: Prof Welker points out that he “shares all published articles & book chapters on request. As do many scholars. Just ask!” Regging up an indepedent researcher account at Academia.edu makes requesting such fast and easy. I was even able to do so using my blogging nym. Such individual ‘sharings’ are legal and allowed by journal and/or publication contracts; which otherwise lock down academic articles and books behind paywals that even notorious [-cough- sci -cough- hub] russian academic study sites fail to worm their way past.)
Best wishes for a successful conference!