The logic of yaoi

First a bit of a detour:

I was watching a public tv talk show where the panel was nattering on about the “death of the future” or some such, and a comment from the inevitable old sci-fi writer was thrown in to the effect that “kitchens have not changed since I was a kid”. “Where is my kitchen from the Jetsons?” was the question. The on-the-ball feminist social theorist came back with: “There IS something new in the kitchen – A Man!” And then went on to add, sometimes two men, legally married, sometimes very good male cooks, etc..

She hasn’t been to Japan.

So when I start plodding through my borrowed copy of Boy’s Love Manga: Essays on the Sexual Ambiguity and Cross-Cultural Fandom of the Genre, edited by Antonia Levi, Mark McHarry and Dru Pagliasotti (the pdf in some demented unicode variant so I cannot cut/ paste quotes dammit dammit dammit!) and run into a passage that skirts existing social conditions for women in Japan, in favor of an examination of BL/yaoi’s spread through the West, a few very loud alarm bells go off.

I had been hoping for some serious analysis on Japanese fen-made yaoi and commercial BL, with data and figures from Japanese women readers and producers. Why? how? how long? how many? likes, dislikes, tropes, trends and data, data, data. The field really might have the research, in Japan – but very little of it slips through to us gaijin. What I am going to get, I fear, is a big thicky collection of western academic fans talking to non-academic fans about their fave stuff, then adding jargon. We’ll see…

Much later: Aside from “the usual suspects” who are referenced often in this blog, (see the bibliography section – It updates every so often) this recent article looks promising: On BL manga research in Japanese by Jessica Bauwens-Sugimoto

I skim the Japanese english language online press and have become used to headlines announcing one more crisis in Japanese society; suicide, recession, unemployment, neets, hikki’s, herbivores, etc., but recently the tone of the articles has become (if can be believed) even more dire:

The Yomiuri Shimbun/Asia News Network, Sunday, Apr 22, 2012:
Japan: 33% of married women victims of domestic abuse:
“”A recent Cabinet Office survey shows that 32.9 per cent of married women or women who have been married in the past have experienced domestic abuse, such as physical harm or psychological harassment. According to the survey, 41.4 per cent of domestic abuse victims did not tell anyone about the situation. In many cases, they meekly accepted the abuse out of consideration for their children or economic concerns, the survey said.

The percentage of women who have experienced domestic abuse has remained constant with the two previous surveys conducted in 2005 and 2008. The survey, which was released Friday, is conducted every three years. When asked about the details of their experience, 25.9 per cent of victims said they were punched, kicked or shoved by their husbands and 6.2 per cent were assaulted repeatedly. Multiple answers were allowed. The survey also found 17.8 per cent had experienced psychological harassment and intimidation such as verbal abuse or their husbands always keeping a close eye on the people in their lives.

According to the survey, 14.1 per cent said they were forced to engage in sexual relations with their husband. When asked why they did not file for divorce, 57.3 per cent–the largest group–said it was because of their children. Economic concerns were next on the list at 18.9 per cent. The survey was conducted in November and December on 5,000 adult men and women across the nation, 65.9 per cent of whom responded.””

YIKES! Better not marry..

The Japan times, , April 19, 2012: Poverty a growing problem for womenThe poverty rate rose to a record 16 percent in 2009 and the number of welfare recipients reached an all-time high of 2.09 million this January, according to the government. But what is even more shocking is the finding a recent study that about 1 in 3 women in Japan aged between 20 and 64 who live alone are living in poverty. -MIZUHO AOKI

YIKES again! Want more?

Bloomberg Apr 25, 2012: Three Reasons Japan’s Economic Pain Is Getting Worse:
Throughout the industrial world, birth rates are falling, and fewer people are marrying. Japan’s rate (7.31 births per year per 1,000 people), already the world’s lowest, is still dropping. If its rate of decrease over the past two years is extrapolated, it reaches zero by 2017. Naturally, this dire outcome won’t actually happen, but the calculation does emphasize that the problem is increasing. By Jared Diamond

And then there was the article claiming that %40-50 of young Japanese singles had given up looking for anyone to date! (Dammit Google News.. find that article!)

UPDATE: Found it, but it looks like typical Japanese circulation-slugger bullshit by a small research institute that got a whole bunch of gaijin press attention:


Young Japanese ‘decline to fall in love’

Turns out the study was a year old:

…And that the study was bit methodologically challenged:

Although his politics are not mine, he gets a lot of things right, or at least better understood by doing the research before letting lose a few choice shots:

“”Every few years the Japanese media hypes some dubious phenomenon like Christmas Cake (women who are not married by the age of 25), Hikikomori (young recluses) or Enjo kosai (compensated dating). Now it is the Herbivore Man. Then the foreign media picks up on it and feeds it back to the Japanese people who believe it must be pervasive if Americans are reading it in the Wall Street Journal””

—end update/ retract—

Those of us with a cursory knowledge of Japanese society recognize that there is still a certain amount of old-school structural sexism in Japanese society. When I am in Japan, and my friend and I drop in on a couple it is the wife that runs the kitchen, while the menfolk sit and are served (although week night drinks are more “rationed” than served to salaryman-san). Of course there is more to it than this – I am applying Western goggles to stuff I barely comprehend, but one cannot help but remember the song: “…From the homicidal bitchin, that goes down in every kitchen…”

Perhaps I am over-estimating Japanese societal sexism, etc., and underplaying the sexism, etc., and economic barriers to family formation in my own culture?

Oh my, these desire things we impose on others, what a bother…

With all this in mind, and a pocket full of my own cultural assumptions I have a few notes on the approaches taken in “…Essays on the Sexual Ambiguity and Cross-Cultural Fandom of the Genre

For some reason, I started to read the chapters from back to front. so first up is CH14: “Hidden in Straight Sight Trans*gressing Gender and Sexuality via BL” by Uli Meyer

First impression? Be prepared to wade through a mighty dense thicket of academic queer theory to get a fairly summarized history of BL/yaoi, a few useful insights and a relentless attempt to promote Western gay/ trans/ queer analysis of subversive strategies of “reading” and passing” into the genre, by anecdotally referring to Western fan experience.

Take a western trans-gay-queer theorist with a honking big hammer and watch him bang everything with his faves. Well, we all have our fave hammers – we’ll get to mine later…

Trouble with this mode of analysis is that it bypasses all that remains conventional about yaoi, (a distorted mirror of gay desire for het women to enjoy as fantasy material) while ignoring the implications of why it remains doggedly within the conventions of a larger heterosexual societal view within Japan. Why is it doing this?. Would it stop doing what it does if it became gayer? or more like slash? And are the strategies it employs exclusive to the community, or common to any outsider community that must negotiate interaction with a larger unfriendly social?

To be fair, this is a riff on Meyer’s question as to why go hoyay(!) when there is plenty of naughty hetrosexual “ladies comics” pr0n out there – which is a damn fine place to start. But lacking in Japanese fujoshi correspondents, the question is dropped. Well, write what you know is a good strategy.

I would have welcomed more mechanics of subversive reading, sight, appropriation, as applied to the genre; the few examples that reference it directly yield useful insights.

If the stuff is all “fagoola crap” (as a woman colleague dismissed it, as in: “are you reading that…”) by (people adopting strategies akin to , or by actual) closeted girl-fags or transfags, or virtualized 2D queers then it is just a marginal enterprise done by “”sad, confused (2x scare quotes) marginal“” types. (Back into the well of loneliness with you all!) If it is a perversion, a thing that could spin off normal heterosexual female desire into weird dangerous unknown places – perhaps due to ever-increasing gaps between a really sucky reality and prescribed ideals – then it is violent and dangerous to the orders of reality in a way that westernized compartmentalized queer-study-ized theory fodder can never be. I have a hunch that this problem is already well discussed in the field.

Meyer clearly avoids suggesting that the Japanese (or Western) BL/yaoi enthusiast IS becoming a girl-fag, trans-variant and /or virtual queer and sticks to the line that modes of analysis developed for dealing with these can be shifted over to gain insight into western fans. His fault lies in enthusiasm at the expense of concrete examples much beyond “yaoi goggles

Put another way, I guess that reading Yuri pr0n has NOT made me a virtual lesbian, but that I have unconsciously adopted strategies of processing desire that are employed by some wimmens communities. Hooray! I am no longer an LFB! (Loser fan-Boy) – I can hardly wait to try that one out on /U. I suspect that I will get my virtual nuts virtually handed to me. (Almost as much as a fools errand as posting a social class reading of Aoi Hanna to /U )

So, while one 1968 Y/BL author may confess to feeling a bit virtually transgendered at that moment, one has to take that as a specific in time, with a grain of salt/ and wonder about all the rest of the authors and the readers (all while respecting the author’s brave decision to announce her preference to the world, of course).

This risks making me out as middle aged het boy being regressive/ reactionary toward queer theory applied this way, but I think that application is too simple, too westernized, too easy. By obsessively queering Y/BL within its native setting in Japan in such a manner, as opposed to when it gets lose in the world, one expands the definition of queer to such a degree as to essentially render it useless, or metrosexual.

You are trying to turn a main battle tank into a piece of farm equipment.
(cf Laumer)

After all, it could turn out to be a new mainstream form of woman’s pr0n! Part of the trickery of BL/yaoi within Japan is how it weaves within pre-existing pockets of allowed subversion (floating world, pillow stories, historic forms of sexual indeterminacy, theatre, yadda yadda yadda and historic tropes of same-sex narratives) to create a societal logic bomb,

…Historical narratives of m/m desire are privileged due to their association with martial histories, so the form must be “pure”, then why should not women avail themself of such a fine example… Women’s narratives of desire are frivolous within-the-household/ hen-party (inadvertent translation pun here!) material, so it can be safely ignored and tolerated. Women are less interested in desire and reading, (and reading erotica – essentially “pure-through-ignorance”) so no one will bother with this stuff, etc..

By mining historic tropes and forms, and twisting rampant societal sexism Japanese fen-created yaoi slips under the radar. As such it is grounded in carnival spaces – simultaneously transgressive and conservative, as all good parodic forms should be. It is no surprise that gaijin queers can adopt it, but that is beside the point. That western women slash fans like it too will merely point to certain parallel situations between Japanese woman readers and Western ones, but by no means all.

Carnival is one good approach. Heck, queer theory has piled plenty on it already, I wonder why it was not more directly referenced? I will yell out loud if other chapters use it well. (later: another approach to queering BL/yaoi: the women are virtual lesbians creating a separatist space – the m-m pairings are tokens of the interaction – yoai is an emergent sexuality in its own right – see later posts on A.Mizoguchi)

Dispensing with the parodic elements of BL/yaoi, I think that Adrian Piper‘s typology for confronting the Other, with slight variations is also a useful approach, and one of my fave hammers! I hope to hell that I am not insulting Adrian Piper by using her work in such a rude fashion within the context and the tone of this post, but I really think it works well enough to warrant a look-see!

The thing about escapist fiction is that sometimes you really really need to escape.

Time to mash-up Adrian Piper’s Logic of Modernism (Now see why I did a whole post on it earlier.) Strikethrough words are replaced by bold but left within the text to emphasise the method:

“”There are four interrelated properties of Euroethnic art yaoi that are central to understanding the development of modernism, contemporary Japanese visual culture and in particular the development of contemporary art Japanese women’s manga culture in the United States Japan within the last few decades:

1) its appropriative character;
2) its formalism;
3) its self-awareness; and
4) its commitment to social highly eroticised content.
By the appropriative character of Euroethnic art yaoi , I mean its tendency to draw on the art of non-Euroethnic gay male and gaijin gay male porn for inspiration. This may originate in the early Italian Renaissance pre-1990’s experience of drawing on the art gay narratives of an alien, temporarily remote culture–that of Hellenic Greece– pre-war Europe for revitalization.

The real lesson of the Renaissance, pre-1990’s BL/yaoi on this account, is not the rediscovery of perspective musty western closeted gay themed fiction but rather the discovery of difference as a source of inspiration.

Other early examples of the Euroethnic fujoshi appetite for appropriation include the influence of Bleh! Go add your own examples from Wiki Byzantine religious art in the paintings of Duccio or Cimabue; the Islamic and Hindu influences on the art of Giotto or Fra Angelico; more recently, the influences of Japanese art on Van Gogh, of Tahitian art on Gauguin, and of African art on Picasso; and more recently still, the influences of African-American jazz on Mondrian and Stuart Davis, and of African-American graffiti art on Keith Haring and David Wojnarowicz.

It is natural that a society dependent on colonized non-Euroethnic cultures for its land, labor, and natural resources export markets should be so for its some aesthetic and cultural resources as well. But the impetus in the latter case is not necessarily imperialistic imitative or exploitive. It may instead be a drive to self-transcendence of the limits of the socially prescribed Euroethnic female gay-porn loving self, by striving to incorporate the idiolects of the enigmatic (male) Other within them.

Here the aim of appropriation would not be to exploit deliberately the Other’s aesthetic language, but to confound oneself by incorporating into works of art amateur pornography an aesthetic language one recognizes as largely opaque; as having a significance one recognizes as beyond one’s comprehension.

Viewed in this way, exploitation is an unintended side-effect – the consequence of ignorance and insensitivity – of a project whose main intention is to escape those very cognitive limitations.
[. . .]

The appropriative character and formalism of Euroethnic art yaoi is, then, intrinsically connected with its self-awareness (or self-consciousness).
To recognize an alien cultural practice as different from one’s own, and as inaccessible to understanding with respect to content, is implicitly to recognize one’s own cultural practice as a cultural practice, with its own rules and constraints.

This just is the awareness that one’s own cultural practice fap material narratives of desire are merely one among many. And the recognition that alternative cultural practices are cognitively inaccessible just is the awareness that one’s own furnish the only available conduit for interpretation of formal anomaly.

So the cross-cultural appropriation of alien formal devices is a reminder of one’s own subjectivity, and of the fragility of socially constructed norms of behavior.

Self-consciousness of this kind is a necessary condition of innovation.””

—end hack —

This stuff makes its own gravy… If only because Piper’s original is so powerful.
The earlier post with a larger quote of the Piper text can be read here:

Perhaps I could clean this up and pass it off on Mechademia – I would finally get the verdamnt MUSE login, so I wouldn’t have to creep around the nets trying to score a copy. (or not!)

Chapter 13 next, or something else.