Whenever I think about anime humour, the first thing that occurs to me is that it is very often self-deprecating. This is especially noticeable whenever a joke centers around a male character. He may be a brainless pervert, a loser geek, clueless about girls (and in many cases, all of the above), and he will often be teased by the female characters, sometimes even physically abused in a slapstick manner.
I’m not going to pretend that anything about “anime humour” is unique. If you’ve ever watched a Japanese variety show, you’ll understand that the tendency towards exaggeration and silly jokes is hardly confined to anime. And, of course, the gender bias in slapstick is a common media trope in general.
Still, I did get to thinking about how “anime humour” and “fandom humour” overlap. It certainly makes sense that fans of anime would engage in self-deprecating humour themselves. You can see this in words like “waifu” or the common fandom joke: “Your favorite anime is shit!”
In general, people use self-deprecating humour to create an aura of approachability. There’s really nothing inherently wrong with it. It’s good to have a sense of perspective and the ability to laugh at yourself.
Self-deprecating humour can also be indulgent and self-serving, though. In the fandom context, it can come across as a self-defense mechanism, a way of deflecting outside criticism while carving out a distinct identity for oneself. By making fun of themselves, fans establish themselves as an in-group. Outsiders can only laugh at them, not with them.
What got me thinking about this critically was the exchange I had with iblessall in the comments of my post on otaku sexuality last month:
iblessall: It seems to me that the awareness of sexism might tie into this whole idea of the otaku with self-deprecating humor in a way that validates acknowledging it without doing anything about it or really caring at all. “Oh, haha I watch sexist stuff. Yeah, I’m trash haha.”
Frog-kun: I think that self-deprecating humour serves as a way for people to distance themselves from the harmful implications of their media. Yes, that can prevent people from grappling with serious issues, but it’s also partly the reason why most anime fans are harmless in real life. Fans tend to distance themselves from media by cracking jokes about it and having perspective about how they must look in front of other people.
iblessall: Yeah, it’s most definitely not as simple as “don’t use self-deprecating humor anymore!” Personally, I’m not a fan of it and generally avoid using it (“Chinese cartoons,” etc) because, for me, it’s important to acknowledge that, yes, I am the kind of person who likes these kinds of things. Of course, there is the matter of also acknowledging that I am the type of person who likes shows despite their sexist or otherwise troubling messages. I’m able to reconcile that all without self-deprecating humor, but that’s just my way of handling things. For others, self-deprecating humor might be that coping mechanism.
As I write this post, I think of the Twitter community I follow and the culture of “shitweeting”.
To put it simply, “shitweeting” is about posting silly, tongue-in-cheek tweets. Often, these tweets read like a series of absurdist in-jokes, purposefully designed to be amusing in a nonsensical way, sort of like the Jabberwocky poem of Alice in Wonderland. (dril’s tweets are the prime example.)
A good deal of the anime tweeters I follow cheerfully poke fun at silly anime cliches and at themselves for being amused by them. Underscoring all this irony is a genuine affection for anime for all its warts and oddities, I feel. After all, why would these people keep watching anime if they actually disliked it? Would they build communities and avidly tweet about new episodes week after week if they didn’t sincerely enjoy what they were doing?
Because anime humour itself tends to be so self-deprecating, I get the impression that the shows themselves reinforce this type of engagement from the viewers. You’re supposed to enjoy it, but in an ironic sort of way. It’s so easy for viewers to make fun of harem tropes when anime constantly makes fun of them too – while not actually challenging the formula in any meaningful way.
In the end, irony and self-deprecating humour become a way for the anime creator and viewer alike to rationalise the status quo. Those anime cliches are a feature, not a bug. If you can’t handle or at least tolerate them, you’re not truly part of the community. This probably goes a way towards explaining why anime critics tend to be scorned when they speak up against these sorts of issues.
Now, the reason I point out these things is not because I hate anime cliches. In fact, I frequently make the same sort of self-deprecating jokes I’ve described in this post. I like what I like, and I don’t see anything wrong with other people liking what they like.
But at the same time, I believe that there’s a social context behind these fandom interactions which can’t be ignored. The urge to make anime feel unique and special manifests in many different forms, and fandom humour is one of them.
Before I finish off this post, I feel I should mention Flawfinder’s recent post: Why I Can’t Find Anime Comedies Funny. Now, I very rarely ever agree with Flaw on anything, and that’s probably a good thing. With this particular post, I found myself raising eyebrows at ‘I think American comedy is the “standard” for laugh out loud humor’. But it also occurs to me that this sort of viewpoint tends to get shouted down in many online anime communities. I think the English-speaking anime fandom could very well benefit if people didn’t just compare anime to anime.
And in my view, anime comedy could certainly stand to have a bit more “bite”.
It’s ironic, but I think this post ends up coming as self-aggrandizing and rationalizing as it describes self-deprecation and argues against rationalizing.
I’ll break each of those down.
First, self-aggrandizing. Though you note it’s not unique to anime, it’s really not. I’ve watched geeky comedies, and sports-based comedies, and the concept of self-deprecation in fandoms is always there.
Tying this into shit-tweeting, it’s a subcategory of shit-posting, that had been around for a long time. Aside from deflecting “media-identity” criticism, it’s also used to deflect “low-effort” criticism, “Why are you getting so serious over my shitpost? It’s just a shitpost man!” and after a while it becomes not just deflection, but the goal.
It’s sort of interesting, how anime humor is not special. Sure, the specific manifestations change, but they also change year by year, and on the whole, it’s the same old thing as in so many other media.
Second, the rationalization, which ties directly into the above. You said this:
This is a rationalization. I say this because I used to think as you do, but enough time on Reddit, MAL, and other fan communities have shown me the truth – the author might want to wink at you and give you plausible deniability so you could say you’re only enjoying all those boobs ironically *winkwink*, but most people enjoy it unironically, and without any sort of shame, or acknowledgement that it’s something you “shouldn’t” be enjoying.
And after seeing enough of that, one realizes the creators don’t mean for you to enjoy it ironically either – they give you all these things because they’re what you enjoy, and after enough time, the creators aren’t all too different from the fans. They may rationalize it when asked, but they do it because they enjoy it, unironically. Like “Shit-tweets”, the “ironical” part is a rationalization that falls away, and again, isn’t at all unique to anime.
Yes, these things help foster an “Anime culture mentality,” but that mentality isn’t justified by these things, which is why in the end these *are* shit-tweets :P
Hmm, it’s really hard to avoid being self-aggrandising when it comes to meta discussions like these. I mean, I made my case and said what I wanted to say, but on retrospect, I should have drawn those explicit comparisons to other fandoms that you did. Other than that, I think you’re basically restating my argument, but with stronger words.
I do want to respond to this part, though:
Good point about the “plausible deniability”. It’s something that’s easily latched upon. I personally interpret the authorial winking as being present, even if others don’t necessarily perceive it that way. The most important thing is that there’s an opening for you to rationalise. I think it’s perfectly possible, for instance, to enjoy something genuinely but then respond to it with irony when pressed about it later. I’m not sure if I’m disagreeing with you by saying that.
Maybe I’m too used to overthinking my cartoons that I can’t help but think that everyone has a complicated relationship with their media that they can’t (or won’t) necessarily articulate, partly because they’re shaped by what everyone else around them is saying. If you take those very same MAL/Reddit/etc. people and put them in a different social context, they might actually respond to the very same scenes very differently, in my opinion.
Anyway, that all says way less about anime and more about communities of people, which nicely brings this comment full circle.
My problem with anime self-deprecation is that it’s mostly cheap shots and it’s painfully obvious that they don’t really mean it. Japan isn’t exactly known for having a mean streak in its humor, unlike the West or the British where it’s pretty damn standard. Even Daimidaler, despite its crass sex humor, doesn’t really go far enough with it and the result is kinda lousy.
I have my own issues with shittweeting, but I’d rather not get into them anytime soon. They’re small potatoes compared to those terrible death threats sent to Whedon’s account just because of a minute problem that wasn’t even all that important in the latest Avengers film.
Personally, I generally can’t stand mean-spirited humour, so that’s probably why I focus my problems with self-deprecation elsewhere. Plus, some types just click with you or they don’t, so there’s not really an interesting conversation to be had there. The social implications of humour, though? That really is interesting to me.
It still astounds me that the only place I ever see anime fans compare anime to something non-anime related is on the Crunchyroll forums. Even on TV Tropes’ and Gamefaqs’ (awful) forums, it’s like anime and everything else is kept on opposite sides of a giant steel wall made out of disease-infested crocodiles.
People just need to stop taking things too seriously. There have been several times when I’ve felt like that, and have just gotten angry, both at shows like push male characters to the limit at their perversion and lewdness.
But it’s only a cartoon, not innovative art.
Is there any point where we draw a serious line in the anime sand media that we watch. Even disregarding the defeatism of characterizing animation as mere “cartoons” instead of potentially “innovative art” (which, if everyone agreed with your sentiment, would guaranteed condemn anime offerings to that of the lowest common denominator), you have to understand how much media in general affects viewers’ psychology and sociology. The messages, inadvertent or not, within our anime shape viewers’ thinking, and if they aren’t self-aware of those messages, a culture of toxicity develops. That culture, in turn, not only bleeds into our thoughts. It also diffuses into our actions.
“I think the English-speaking anime fandom could very well benefit if people didn’t just compare anime to anime.”
This is one of the biggest problems with going ‘hardcore’ about anime, or really any form of media. If you watch anime and only anime you lose perspective on other things, so you literally are unable to compare anime to other things because that’s all you know. Except life. You could probably still compare it to life. I imagine most people who watch anime these days are alive or at least were alive at some point.
But yeah anyway this one of the bigger things which would lead to opinions like Flawfinders being “shouted down” as you put it. That sort of classic anti-intellectual “don’t bring your standards for criticism into anime!” that we see so much of. Which is a shame, because it shouldn’t be exempt from thing like that. Now, I don’t think anime is unique or special. Certainly the way I feel about it is unique and something I don’t get out of other media, but I still think it could stand to learn and take cues from them. And vice-versa while we’re at it, since pretty much every fandom is like this.
And yeah, for the record I’d also agree I’d love to see a little more ‘bite’
I’m not quite sure about this, though. I’m not quite sure I can pinpoint my issues with the thread of though both leading to and from here, but it kind of seems like you’re doing exactly what you’re criticizing. Maybe Guy or someone else will come along and explain it better. I’ll just say I think most people who do enjoy these sorts of self-deprecating jokes do so in a pretty unironic way.
ALSO HOW DARE YOU CALL MY TWEETS SHIT
You know, just like I said in my reply to Guy above, I realised after I wrote this that I spent an awful lot of time saying, “Anime is not unique!” but didn’t give many specific examples of things that are supposedly just like anime.
Personally, I feel as if I’ve participated in a lot of fandoms casually, but I’ve never really engaged with them deeply like I have for anime. I can draw comparisons to TV shows, books, games, D&D etc. but I always feel like I’m being shallow with them. Problem is that it takes so much time, effort and (sometimes) money to commit to more than one fandom full-time. No wonder fandoms end up so insular!
To be honest, my main frame of reference for all this is academia. Several academics I’ve read have commented that academia itself is a fandom, which I thought was super enlightening. One of the things that has always struck me about academia is that scholarship only really thrives when interdisciplinary work. That’s something fandom desperately needs, especially now that we’re hearing more and more about the toxic side of fandom.
I’m getting lazy with this comment, so as for the rest of your comment, go read what I wrote to Guy in response :P
Insightful. I’ve never thought about it and your post made me do some introspection.
One of the situations where I use self-deprecating humour is to discredit elitism. Like, you’ve seen the panty shot collages with the caption “IS THIS NOT WHAT YOU’RE HERE FOR?”; my version is “People need to sort out their priorities in life if they derive self-importance from what Malaysian claymation cartoons they enjoy”.
I remember tammylain saying a similar thing back when people were being snobs about Me!Me!Me! appealing to base desires– something about how “we all started watching anime because we wanted to bone Eva girls”… or something.
And yet, though I put down the medium because clearly taste in entertainment is a pitiful thing to take pride in, I do love animeand otaku culture.
I also often refer to myself as a “weeaboo”, though the meaning I intend differs slightly Some people are very quick to make fun of anime watchers and use the word “weeaboo” to generalise and disparage, and calling myself a weeaboo offhand is sort of a way to not feel affected by the insult. Reappropriation, right? A very common phenomenon, just think of queer, n—-, faggot, etc. Rido’s MAl profile says “I love meeting and talking to other turbonerds.” Hey, we’re nerds, we know that. And you know what? We love it!
On another note, there’s one form of self-deprecation that annoys me: when people debase themselves to a patently exaggerated extent to fish for compliments or to insidiously debase others. Humility serves to reassure people, but take it too far and it will instead belittle them. You’ve probably encountered its most extreme and direct form: “/Even I/ can do it, so you must be retarded if you can’t!”, but sometimes it is more subtle– imo, a decent writer claiming they suck feels insulting for all decent writers out there, and manipulative towards the interlocutors they’re fishing compliments from.
Interesting comment! You’ve given me a lot of things to think about as well.
The funny thing about “dismantling elitism” is… well… I’m not sure what elitism even is, tbh! If it’s taking interest in anime as an art form, I’m all for it. Like you, I’m into otaku culture, and I think in this neck of the woods people don’t give the medium enough credit. Anime’s connection to film and other forms of animation are totally valid angles of analysis, but that tends to get buried under all the fandom stuff, you know?
Or maybe I’m only saying that because I don’t feel as if I interact much with snobby people who actually look down on people for their tastes :P
Also, I think what you call “reappropriation” could also be what I called “deflecting criticism”, and I think the distinction depend a whole lot on context! I mean, one of the reasons people crack self-deprecating jokes is so that they don’t feel affected by someone else’s insult, like you said. I figure it’s healthy to do, but you have to be conscious of why you’re doing it and what purpose it would serve.
And ditto to your last point… although with some guilt, since I’m pretty sure I’ve been guilty of fishing for compliments lol. It’s sadly a human thing to do when you’re feeling down.
Oh, I haven’t given much thought to what elitism means, but I use it to refer to people who believe there is prestige to take in one’s taste and who belittle people with taste they consider unrefined. It either stems from an obnoxious misguided sense that art criticism is a science which one has to find the truths of, or from sheer insecurity; if you ask me, anyway.
I, too, think that a lot of people don’t give anime and manga enough credit. While I’m a fan of the mainstream material that the outsider eye dismisses for understandable reasons, I think there’s also volumes of buried treasures full of personal artistic expression that art Enthusiasts (this is such a better word than “critics”) would acknowledge, if pointed to the right works and prompted to read up about some of their creators.
Now that you mention deflecting criticism, there’s a fine line between insecure self-deprecation and proud reappropriation. I like to wear my Haruhi and Lucky star shirts sometimes. I I’m confident enough in my charisma to display my hobbies with pride and not shame.., or is it that revealing my powerlevel another misguided sense of pride meant to deflect criticism offhand, born of insecurity in my hobbies?
(I don’t think it is in my case, but the example goes to show that the line is blurry, I think.)
I think it’s important to keep in mind that social cliques aren’t anything unique to anime fans or online communities. You don’t need self-deprecating humor to be a part of a social clique or to keep people you don’t want out. I say that because I have seen fans act the way you say using self-deprecating humor as a part of social membership, but I’ve also seen it used in other ways as well. The two things aren’t tied together in any special way I think. I’m the type of person who will usually give a social clique the middle finger if I can’t be 110% myself so it’s the sort of thing I notice immediately. One of the things about humor is that people don’t need to be 100% in the know to enjoy it. Empathy and all that. Other people are enjoying it and it’s a fun time? We don’t need a reason beyond that for people to take the first step into become otaku. More often than not people imitate what they see first and figure it out as they go and experience it for themselves. If we want to understand that process we have to start at the beginning as well.
One point to make about self-deprecating humor in anime is that it isn’t necessarily ironic, or even if it is ironic that doesn’t always mean we understand the irony. I find that Japanese humor is usually both honest and passive aggressive. Making fun of anime that have a stupid harem premise in a show with a stupid harem premise can also be an illustration that stupid harem premises are a meaningless indicator of story quality. “You think I can’t tell a good story with a bunch of boobs in between? Fuck you!” that is usually the impression I get from such comments inside anime. Sure, it’s a very polite fuck you, but then I know Japan to be a very polite place in general so of course it is.
It isn’t hard for me to see how writing passive aggressive humor could be therapy for a writer in a culture where saying such a thing directly would never be okay. I get that because I grew up in a similar situation. All of my relatives on my mom’s side of the family are that way. (they idolize Japan actually and I was at one point unwilling to watch anime in part because of that connection) Want to get away with saying something honest? Say it sarcastically. That way no one is sure if you just had their back or pissed in their cereal in front of everyone. When you are forced to keep quiet about truth you come up with creative ways to let it out. If you actually say something directly you will get a mix of looks that range from loathing to respect depending on what it was you said. I get the idea that Japanese society is very much the same way. The nail that sticks out gets hammered down and all that. If you want to find where someone stands you have to chase down their motivations and guess. Or you know… ask. That can work too. I don’t speak Japanese so it’s mostly guessing for me.
I think the idea that many anime are ironically self-deprecating is a misunderstanding by western fans and online communities in particular. The explanation is accepted as universally true despite how horribly untested it is. I can only think of a few examples where it is true off the top of my head… Welcome to the NHK and MM! both come to mind. MM! is about getting off to self-deprecation and Welcome to the NHK is about living as a NEET. That said, I can think of many more where any irony is aimed at something else entirely. OreImo comes to mind. Most LNs fit and manga and VNs aren’t much different. I still remember cringing every week at people calling OreImo satire. The entire time I wanted to scream at people and tell them that OreImo is a tribute from someone who loves otaku culture and not a parody from someone who wants to condemn it. It seemed like the most obvious thing in the world to me. Insert 99% of LN based anime here and I can make the same comment I did about OreImo to some degree or another.
As I see it anime is something that is by and large loved by the people who make it. If I had to guess I would expect the reason to be how it helps people cope with stress. Insulting someone gets that person fired up and instead of reacting to that with restraint like they would while dealing with other people they are watching anime on their own and all those nasty feelings being held in check come out into the open where they can be dealt with. Who is going to genuinely insult something they appreciate in that way? It’s essentially a holy experience. Welcome to introverts on the extreme edge 101 I guess. If there is an extremely introverted nation on this planet it’s Japan. I don’t know for sure that real Japan is as passive aggressive a place as I suspect it is, but well… I suspect it is.
Of course I ultimately don’t know what creators are thinking when they make stuff. I am simply noting differences in presentation between various anime and trying to make sense of motivation. I guess what I’m hoping to get across is that self-deprecating humor is not always self deprecating. With anime I think it’s usually not. Just like an acknowledgement that someone feels a certain way isn’t necessarily an endorsement of how they feel, it can also be a method to illustrate how dumb they are for feeling that way. This is especially true in a character driven setting which is what anime usually is. A character’s statements shouldn’t be considered the same as the words creators would speak for themselves. I don’t know why so many anime fans and critics alike fail to see that as an option the moment boobs show up. It’s something obvious to everyone as long as the topic isn’t sexual in nature. Maybe I’m just not nearly as boob crazed as a should be? >_> I swear they are a magical device that turns brains to mush and I feel like I’m missing out on the high.
It’s worth pointing out that feelings of self-deprecation are not necessarily an agreement of worth. It’s very much possible to feel shame without feeling guilt. In addition it’s possible to indulge in fantasy shame. The popularity of 50 Shades of Grey should be all the evidence I need to make that statement. It’s also easy to relate with shame as a nerd I think regardless of how well you know anime or anime communities. Those social cliques do let new people in. Some of those people do agree with the shame aimed at them. Some like myself reject it entirely. I’m inclined to think the majority of anime fans are more of the later, but I’ve no way to measure my own bias here. I can say that I’ve found that rejecting shame takes far less willpower than accepting it does and is actually the more natural and honest response, but then being myself has always made more sense to me than trying to be someone who fits into a specific identity box.
I can honestly say that a critic isn’t going to put me on the defensive unless they make me feel guilty and I think most of my anime loving friends are the same way. We throw around self-deprecating jokes, but we are really making fun of the people who actually believe them. I say that not as justification, but to illustrate the truth of the situation as I see it. The reality of the joke for better or worse is sadistic in that case, not self-deprecating. It’s not a way to keep the critics out, the critics haven’t even scored a hit yet. They are trying to scale a castle wall that is so unimportant to us that we haven’t even bothered to close the front gate. Often times the seemingly defensive “Why so serious?” is really something more along the lines of this: Why not come in through the front door like a rational human being? No? You need to show me how cool you are by scaling the wall? Okay… There are piranha in the moat. I’m not going to feel bad if you fall in.
Many of the loudest anime fans are incredibly proud of their status as a fan. Loud anime haters are the same way. I think you will find that a form of elitist sadism is far more common than self-deprecation with those fans. I say that because it includes many of the online fans I meet and it seems like an obvious motivator. Many of my closer friends are a lot more quiet about their fandom, but tend to think the same way. In as far as western fans go I think rejecting guilt is normal and natural. It’s another side of rejecting authority which is something Americans in particular tend to be pretty good at. Being right or wrong for doing so is it’s own thing. If you reject an authority they can’t make you feel guilty no matter how much they shame you. Instead that shame is just fuel to power the fuck you they want to return to sender. That is not what I think the appropriate response should be mind you, but it is often how I feel so I get it when other people act it out.
I don’t know for sure that anime creators feel the way I think they do, but I can say that shame is a common theme in anime. It shows up in everything from the most serious plot driven stories to character dramas to “stupid” boob shows. The message I see in all 3 is usually a universal one. Be yourself! Be you! Even if society call you a worthless or you are a huge pervert, be true to yourself. It’s not a very Japanese message if you think about it, but it makes sense in the context of dealing with stress from shame and guilt. In practical application that becomes be you here because you can’t be you anywhere else. That is at the heart of what Otaku culture is I think and a part of why Japan was the place to give birth to it. Is it the secret to understanding otaku? I don’t know for sure, but I think it might be. It’s a step in the direction of understanding if nothing else. I remember the gist of a quote from one “stupid” boob show that stuck with me. To paraphrase: “If you want to understand a culture you need to investigate the parts of it they hide away.” There is a lot of truth to that I think. It’s coping with the standards of society when they don’t work in our favor that creates room for culture to grow I think.
As always, sorry for the rant. You got me thinking about something that has been on the back of my mind for a long time now and I felt like I had something of value to add so I wrote it up as quickly as I could. There is a lot of nuance to all this I can’t capture without writing a whole book on the subject. Hopefully it was coherent.
I more or less agree with you on this. As an outsider looking in, most anime/LN seem to at least partly concern itself with exploring the tension between the individual and society.
That’s how I read Oregairu. Each character attempts to reconcile the demands of society with his or her individual nature in contrasting ways (compare Hikigaya and Hayama n this regard).
That’s also partly how I interpreted OreImo. How much social deviance in others are you prepared to accept? How much social deviance can your society handle? And honestly, how do you write a forbidden love story in this day and age? We’re pretty much down to consensual incest (that’s mostly a joke).
I suppose this should come as no surprise given the target audience for anime/LN (younger people) but that tension is arguably never fully resolved regardless of how much we might wish to characterize those concerns as ‘immature’ (a word that’s a conclusion trying to pawn itself off as an argument) or ‘adolescent.’
Granted, those concerns get replaced by more mundane concerns and coming to grips with other weighty issues (like loss and death).
Yeah, society is a common theme in Japanese fiction. It seems especially common in LNs. It always seem really straightforward to me. I get confused by the critics who get crazy ideas about the message of an anime only to incredibly wrong time after time after time. You would think they would modify their expectations or something.
It’s interesting to me that Japan is one step away from consensual incest in easily accessible fictional mediums. If you read VNs/Eroge there is plenty of it. I don’t really like it or get it, but I do find it’s existence fascinating. I’ve spent far too much time thinking about the moral implications of incest thanks to Japanese fiction! … >_>
I don’t really know how fictional incest can be viewed as acceptable in Japan. My first thought is the obvious one perhaps. It’s not. I’m not actually sure that is true though. I mean It’s clearly not acceptable in mainstream Japan, but what do the people making anime think of it? I can think of practical reasons why I don’t like incest, but I can’t turn up a moral one I really believe in. I wonder if it’s the same process for people who have given this stuff too much thought in Japan as it is for western fans.
I think, generally speaking, the Japanese don’t expect their art to reflect reality to the degree that maybe western audiences do. The Japanese might in turn be baffled by why stories of incest make people uncomfortable when those storiesw so obviously aren’t reflective of reality.
I have no cites for that. It’s just a personal observation that’s likely not worth much beyond providing an alternative explanation to keep an open mind to all possibilities.
Do they even get caught up on the whole critiquing art thing in the first place? I wonder if that isn’t a western problem we have created for ourselves. Either way I expect plenty of Japanese people don’t like the fact that their nation is known for making incest comics if only because of how they think it paints Japan.
Listening to Japanese creators talk about how they feel about their creations I rarely get any sense that they feel guilty about it. On the occasion someone speaks up the argument is usually something along the lines of saying this is obviously all make believe. So yeah, I’ve no doubt some people do feel the way you stated because I have seen them say as much. I do wonder how many people feel that way though.
To be fair, I know plenty of western fans who think the whole art critique thing western anime(and gaming) critics get caught up on is nonsense. I’m actually one of the more moderate voices among them… lol
Well, first off, let me say thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts. I disagreed with pretty much all of it, but I appreciate your effort to engage.
It would take me too long to spell out all my disagreements, so I’ll just stick to what I know best. Frankly, Lifesong, I’m really not impressed with how you chose to stereotype Japan in your comment.
You say things like this: “If there is an extremely introverted nation on this planet it’s Japan. I don’t know for sure that real Japan is as passive aggressive a place as I suspect it is, but well… I suspect it is.”
Even if there was a grain of truth to such a description, in the context of your argument it’s just hot air. These stereotypes have been challenged and outright refuted by many scholars, both Japanese and Western. I particularly recommend you read “The New Japan: Debunking Seven Cultural Stereotypes” by David Matsumoto, which directly addresses the claims you put forth. There are other books and articles I can recommend to you if you are seriously interested in the cultural debates.
Also, when speaking about what Japanese fans or otaku think, you should mention sources. Even just “This is what my Japanese friend said” is better than nothing, even though that would of course only apply to your hypothetical friend’s opinion and not to all Japanese citizens everywhere.
There’s a reason why I did not discuss Japanese fandom in this post and focused only on how Western fans might interpret Japanese anime. It’s because Japanese fandom is beyond the scope of this article. You’re attempting to refute an argument I didn’t even make.
I’m being extra harsh here because what you’ve done is just so common in discussions about anime. Understand the limits of your knowledge and exercise humility. You’re entitled to your attitudes and opinions, but please, don’t make uncited claims about something outside of your area of expertise.
EDIT: Also, to make myself perfectly clear, telling someone “You don’t understand Japan, so your interpretation of an anime is wrong!” is another way of pretending to speak for another culture as if you have a privileged understanding of it. People can certainly be wrong and insensitive about cultural nuances, but playing the “Japanese culture is different!” card to deflect criticisms is extremely wrong-headed. It simply reduces an entire culture to an unchanging object with essential defining points.
EDIT2: It could be that I’ve misinterpreted what you’ve been trying to say, because I admit I had trouble following your argument. I think I can understand your intent and I respect it, but this part of your argument came across as problematic, even if you did not intend it. I think I approached my reply a bit too heatedly, so I tried to tone it down.
Yeah, you misunderstood when you thought I was being confrontational before. I wasn’t. My thoughts seemed relevant so I shared them. That’s it. My comments was meant as additional material for thought and not as a direct argument for or against your post. If I wanted to make an argument I would have written it very different. I probably wouldn’t bother including ideas you can refute with your own so easily. I guess I’ll try to make an argument now that I need to defend myself.
I’m very much aware that we can butt heads and say: But my idea of Japan is this! I don’t want to do that. You’re telling me I’m arrogant, but these issues are questions I have that I admit to guessing at. I am not going to stop myself from asking questions for the sake of humility. I know full well that my knowledge is limited. That is why the topic is interesting to me in the first place. Knowledge is more important to me than humility will ever be. That said, if it bothers you I will stop doing it here. I see you striving to learn, that is why I choose to engage. I also want to learn what I can. I like reading your posts and picking your brain even though I often disagree with you.
You certainly misunderstood my comment about introverted Japan. It was a tongue in cheek comment. I thought the “if” made that obvious, but I guess not. I usually try to make people laugh even when I’m writing seriously. It keeps my writing from being boring, for me if for no one else. I usually go back and edit it out because I realize the joke will be missed… I didn’t do that here. I thought the joke was obvious given the content of your post. I don’t blame you for misunderstanding. It’s my own fault for writing that comment up so quickly.
You are telling me to be humble, but I’m not claiming to KNOW any of these things about Japan. They are thoughts, questions I have with directions that sometimes seem obvious, but still questions. The problem I have is that the things I do know don’t add up with the claims I often see critics making. That doesn’t mean I have the right answer, I just know something isn’t right. I can dismiss what they are incorrect about with ease.(and I can demonstrate why and how they are wrong) The rest is often guess work. I stated it as guess work. I don’t know what more you expect from me as a disclaimer. (I am trying to describe a thing I don’t know the “proper” words for. Please keep that in mind)I’ll acknowledge that I might be wrong and that what I’m saying is just a best guess. If you want to chastise me for being “problematic” I’m not sure what to say. I’m trying my best to be accommodating to your ideas while sharing mine. I feel like an atheist being told to ask forgiveness from a god I don’t know. /shrug
I can’t stress enough that I know my guess work is guess work. I’m in the process of separating what is valuable from what isn’t with criticism. I’ve been engaged with that process since before I started blogging. Actually it’s something I’ve been interesting in since I was kid. Being able to tell when someone else is incorrect isn’t that hard I think. Coming up with an accurate to life answer can be incredibly hard. It’s a task I’ll probably never finish and I realize that. It’s still one I think is worth doing.
I will admit to thinking little of academic “experts”. After bad experience with numerous doctors who have fancy PHDs and doctorates after their names I don’t really trust anyone as an expert until I see it demonstrated. I’ve seen first hand that educated people make the same mistakes of assumption that non education folk do. The difference being that their authority is more dangerous. The self righteousness of an educated idiot angers me in a way I can’t easily explain. I realize that anger as a personal failing and I’m sorry if it frustrates you. That said, I do like to read. If you have a list of books you think I should be reading about Japanese culture I am happy to give them a look. I’ve read a few, but it’s a been a long time. I didn’t like Japan much when I read them. I’ve saved the one you recommended to an amazon wish list.
Aren’t the critics who are claiming works of anime and manga as satirical when they don’t understand the nuance even more guilty of lacking humility than I am? I don’t make those claims when I critique. They bother the hell out of me. I don’t want to get rid of criticism, I want to improve it. My end goal is that we all understand better what it is we are doing, not that we all come to the same answer. I don’t need to be the one to figure things out as long as the person who does is willing to explain.
It is very much possible to critique without assuming. That is what I attempt to do. And yeah, that does give me a moral high ground with critics. It’s the same moral high ground I take when I say that writing objectively isn’t hard. I am angry about the arrogance of critics, especially the ones making a career of it. It’s incredibly frustrating to me that so many of them are so bad at what they do. You tell me I can’t deflect criticism the way that I do. I actually can and I can demonstrate the process, but that isn’t even my point. I don’t want to deflect it, I want to return it and tell the critics to get their act together. I’m certainly not without my own moral take on all of this. I just usually try to avoid preaching it.
If you want sources for how people behave in passive aggressive ways in Japan go read personal blogs by people who license anime and manga. It’s one of the number 1 things I see them complaining about, especially at cons when they are offline and safe. I mostly follow VN folk, but I see all sorts of people anonymously writing about their experience with Japanese business fairly regularly. Reading the comments on Japanese news is also a good way to find hints.
I don’t have any one source for anime licensing blogs because I don’t care to follow them that much in general, but culture is a topic I actively look for. I don’t take any of it at face value, but passive aggressive personalities is not an idea I invented. It’s also a thing I have a degree of personal experience with. I’m not 100% sure when I’ve spotted it, but I do know what it looks like if that makes sense. Do I think it applies to all of Japan? No! That was a bad joke on my part… I don’t necessarily think I’m right. I’m happy to take on a better understanding if you can give it to me. If you’re just telling me to fuck off because you don’t like what I have to say… /shrug. I can do that too.
I think Peter Payne(J-list guy) has written about how people in Japan tend to be passive aggressive. I’ve also talked to a man who licenses merchandise from Japan to sell at US anime cons and he actually brought it up when he mentioned the challenges of dealing with Japanese business. I also see it portrayed in anime. How often are we inside the head of a character who smiles on the outside while thinking something else entirely? Am I arrogant for recognizing that? If there is a better way to define the thing I am describing go for it. I’m genuinely curious to hear it.
Restraint causes stress. I can probably find a scientific study to provide evidence for it without too much difficulty. Actually just type “restraint causes stress” into google and I bet you find one. I want to say that it is a fairly well known concept in health. Even If I’m completely wrong about “passive aggressive Japan” it is a culture that praises self restraint. How does that play out? I don’t really know. Basic scientific information tells me that restraint = stress. The next part is a logical jump I think. Stress = creating ways to deal with stress.
I don’t intend to be arrogant, but I would rather be correct than humble. Ultimately it’s still a question. I don’t know and I know that I don’t know. Maybe I should mention that I am far more read on the topic of health than I am on Japanese culture. Most of what I know about Japanese culture has been picked up from a great distance. I’m probably just as frustrated by the fact that I feel like more of an expert than anime critics as you are with me for feeling that way. I don’t want to be that expert. I would love to find someone else I can trust with that role. I don’t have someone else I can trust with that role. They always disappoint me.
What I will claim is a better ability to follow anime than many anime critics. If that makes me arrogant /shrug. It’s something I’ve demonstrated to myself many times. I couldn’t chose to believe otherwise if I wanted to. I will claim it because I’ve been writing anime guides for over half a decade now and I’ve picked up on a lot of things anime do. When I watch a show I usually know what to expect and I’m proven right about 90% of the time. Meanwhile I see most anime critics making the same moralizing/inaccurate claims when a new anime starts and having their authority disenfranchised over and over and over… They seem to be wrong about what a show is or will be as often as I am right. I’m talking about things that can be objectively measured and not my opinion of the artwork. Of course I look down on their criticism. It’s as bad as the worst of the anime they are critiquing. No amount of trying to be nice to them or to empathize with their position is going to change the fact that I think they really bad at their jobs.
I’m not sure what I understand myself, but I’m pretty clear on being able to read the signs an anime is giving off better than many western critics do. Why? Because I go into anime with a different idea than they do and I come out right and they come out wrong. It happens over and over and over… The critics say at episode 1 a show is going to be all about time travel. I say at episode 1 that it won’t be because the signs point to other things. 5 episodes later It isn’t about time travel and everyone is complaining. The fans are insulting the critics for being stupid and the critics are insulting the fans for being assholes. Am I arrogant for recognizing when I’m right? Maybe I am. I will say it’s not something I want to be right about. I’m am very much frustrated that the critics are often so ignorant.
Maybe if I put it this way my concerns will make more sense to you. As I see it most paid anime critics are doing the same quality of work as the English translator for the NGNL light novel. I might actually argue they are far worse than that. they are unprofessional at best and ignorant at worst. Forget being experts, my mom who knows nothing about anime is more likely to understand some of the things an anime is telling them than they are. (and yes, I have actually tested that on a few occasions.)
Sorry for the length. I didn’t want to leave without taking a second attempt at explaining myself. I took a bit more time to iron things out this time. You don’t need to feel compelled to reply. I feel obligated to respond as long as we keep a conversation going. lol I’m already pretty tired of this topic myself. Being misunderstood is… Draining. I am totally open for dialog via instant message if you are ever interested. We can stop writing books at each other that way ;P If you do want to continue here I’m cool with that also.
So, basically, the problem with humorous fandom expression (including within media) is Poe’s Law.
Can’t tell if serious or joking
More seriously, (and after thinking about it a little more) the use of self-deprecating humor generally only “works” within a comfort zone. Outside of that zone where everyone “gets” the joke, that humor will fall very awkwardly flat. (A common mistake geeks can make, when trying to be funny outside of a geeky context)
For example, writers joking about how they have no life and/or researching sketchy stuff for their work, is only funny within contexts where everyone understands what they’re being sarcastic about. If they tried the same statement in a different environment, Poe’s Law means that the listeners might have that “ummmm good for you?” disturbed look on their face. So self-deprecating humor in that vein generally only works in places where other participants have a sympathetic/empathetic ear.
At that point, whether or not the self-deprecating humor is appropriate or not depends on the nature of the comfort zone.
Sometimes the zone is an oasis of a safe space, where you crack jokes after a long day of self-examination and/or activity. Like quipping about being a nasty SJW or man-hating feminist in left-leaning spaces, or even making jokes about still liking harlequin romance trash in the same left-leaning space.
However, when that comfort zone isn’t used as just a temporary respite, but as the primary living space where “they can finally be themselves,” then that indicates that the beliefs espoused within are more likely to be their true convictions, regardless of the forms of humor layered over it. Those cases are the reasons why comfort zones are usually talked about with regards to pushing people out of them.
I mean, you already kind of got my thoughts on self-deprecating humor, but I think something you wrote here popped a few more ideas into my head.
This sort of “ironic” enjoyment is the same sort of thing disingenuous method of engagement that the guys writing in this Cards Against Humanity op/ed are talking about—by introducing self-deprecation into the equation one can vindicate oneself from the implications of “being a horrible person” while still getting enjoyment out of it. Similarly, you can watching horribly sexist stuff and hand wave it with a “Wow, I watch such shit Chinese Cartoons.”
As we talked about before, it can be used as a distancing technique but I think it lends itself dangerously close to an abdication of responsibility. I know I’ve made my feelings on self-deprecating humor clear (I don’t like it), so there’s my bias: but I honestly feel like it is a disingenuous, bad way to engage with your media choices. Even the fact that it is “humor” to me implies a sort of levity that indicates a reluctance to take seriously one’s choices.
This is why I spend time pulling out the things I specifically like in shows like *Danmachi* and *Nyarko-san*. Putting down my taste is a sort of false humility that exempts me from actually dealing with the consequences of shows that have problematic elements to them.
Maybe I’m not doing a very good job of seeing other people’s perspectives, but I really do struggle to see self-deprecating humor as anything besides a sort of false mask with varying degrees of dishonestly behind it. I guess I’d really need to her someone’s personal narrative about why they use self-deprecating humor to really understand. Theoretically, I just can’t parse it.
You know, I feel the impulse is kinda similar to making racist jokes. A racist joke is still racist no matter how much a person may ridicule themselves for making the joke.
So, I guess… people should think more about the effects of their humour? Or perhaps it’s a matter of people needing to have more confidence expressing heir opinions. I feel like self-deprecation is a way of softening one’s stance so that it doesn’t come across as too confronting. At least, that’s something I struggle with a lot personally. I don’t really have the courage to stand up for my convictions – sometimes, being liked and fitting in means more to me.
It’s a good thing to have serious discussions like these every once in a while, because I think people in all walks of life crack jokes and dance around serious issues. If people were serious and grim all the time, it wouldn’t be good, but we need honesty, if only to remind ourselves why we hide our true selves behind jokes so often.
I suppose I think it’s less about the *effects* and more about the intent. For example, why are you making a racist joke you know is racist, even as you ridicule yourself for making it? Are you actually just wanting to make the racist joke but are trying to make yourself more socially acceptable? Do you feel it’s socially expected to make the joke, but you’re having cognitive dissonance about saying it? Is it something else?
Likewise for anime, why is it that you’re using self-deprecating humor?
But thanks for talking about your own struggle. That really does nuance things for me and make them more real. That’s something I totally understand, because I’ve been there, go there, probably will be there again (as will most people, I expect). At least in the anime fandom, though, I’ve been really blessed to have been accepted pretty much with open arms by people no matter what my tastes have been at the time, for whatever reasons.
And for sure! Grim and serious isn’t how I do things at all—but honesty isn’t something that I think needs to be conducted in a grim and serious fashion. But, maybe, it’s very hard to do honesty in the middle ground between extremely serious and extremely silly. Maybe that’s where we’re the most vulnerable when sharing ourselves…(and then we’re right back to the whole identity and media thing, aren’t we?).
[…] of Fantastic Memes takes a look at “Anime Fandom and Self-Deprecating Humor.” He has some great commentary, especially on self-deprecating humor actually maintaining the […]
[…] a much larger scale, deprecating humor can be a mechanism to separate yourself from the more difficult aspects of fandom xi; such as the sexism and racism prevalent in media and […]