Advertisements

On “Forcing One’s Own Cultural Assumptions Onto Anime”

e1a19de3b59bd0c78750a1a2d9c684c1To my surprise, my last post about how black women speak in anime was a hit on social media. It even reached the top page on the anime subreddit for a short time. I would never have imagined that an academic-style post about the more esoteric aspects of translation would interest anime fans, but it turns out that plenty of fans are interested in issues around what gets lost in translation. I’ve only ever discussed the politics of translation in a classroom setting, so it makes me really happy to think that there’s an audience for this sort of analysis outside the ivory towers of academia.

For the most part, the feedback I received for that post was positive. I also received some sound criticism, such as the lack of anime examples besides Little Women, reiterating too many basic points about sociolinguistics and not explaining fully why I thought the use of keigo “erased” the black identity in this context. These are criticisms I take seriously, and I would certainly like to do a more comprehensive overview of the subject in the future.

There was also some not-so-sound criticism, most of it revolving around what an evil “SJW” I am, forcing my diabolical Liberal-Progressive-Marxist-Feminist-Postmodernist-Communist-Maoist-Stalinist ideology onto anime. Those particular critics made no attempt to seriously engage with my argument, but I also think that their complaints can be distilled into this reasonable-sounding statement:

“Don’t force your own cultural assumptions onto anime.”

It’s certainly good advice in the abstract, but it’s worth pointing out that it almost never comes up in actual discussions, except in response to a person saying something critical/negative about an anime’s subtext. Don’t even mention feminism (フェミニズム) or Marxism (マルクス主義); the Japanese have never heard of those words ever. You should only discuss anime in relation to its own cultural context, a context which is defined purely by me, says the erudite internet commenter, a person who is not Japanese and does not speak for Japanese anime fans in any way.

At best, it comes across as lazy argumentation in context. At worst, the writer is guilty of exactly the same cultural elitism they’re supposed to be decrying. In their effort to delegitimatise viewpoints they disagree with on a personal level, they project their own cultural assumptions onto anime. The “Japanese culture”, as they choose to portray it, becomes a shield to deflect criticism of their favoured works. And sometimes, it works very well as a rhetorical strategy, because how can you argue that the “Japanese culture” has it backwards without sounding like a racist? [1]

(As a side note, most of the Japanese anime fans I have personally communicated with are very interested in how English-speaking fans perceive anime and are not at all offended by differing interpretations.)

At times like these, it’s worth remembering who the target audience is for English-language anime criticism. It’s typically not written with Japanese readers in mind. The primary intent of such criticism is not to lobby Japanese creators for change but rather to develop a general understanding of media and storytelling among English-speaking anime viewers. If I wanted to start a dialogue with Japanese anime fans about the social issues in anime, I would write my articles in Japanese.

All of this is not to say that “Don’t force your own cultural assumptions onto anime” is a worthless criticism. While it’s impossible for anyone to rid themselves of cultural bias, the ability to recognise that one’s own viewpoint is not the only way to see the world is an absolutely vital one. I also think that good writers are honest about their own biases and limitations. No single piece of writing will ever tell the complete story.

I feel that I should take a leaf out of my own book here. So to those of you remarked that I was “forcing my own cultural assumptions onto anime” in my last post, I’m sorry. That was not my intent. I was sincerely trying to do the opposite. I’ll quote myself here: “I think that a focus on translation and on the processes through which language ideology is reinforced will give us a better understanding of the contexts in which anime is created.” By using the example of an English speaking style getting lost in translation, I was hoping to make it clear to English speakers that our own understanding of other cultures can be skewed through translation.

I also want to make absolutely clear that in no way do I claim to speak on behalf of the Japanese. I may be able to translate individual Japanese voices as best I can into English, but it will always be an imperfect representation. In fact, I get uncomfortable when people ask me to “explain” things about Japan to them.

In saying that, I don’t wish to imply that the Japanese culture is utterly foreign or beyond understanding. Rather, I think that culture is an accumulation of lived experiences, that it’s something we all have to negotiate with on an individual level. I do have my own understanding of Japanese and Australian cultures, but it won’t be the same as anyone else’s understanding. Instead of trying to explain culture in a reductive manner, I’d rather encourage an acceptance of different viewpoints, as well as some awareness of how these differences come about.

I hope this post clarifies my thinking.

translator

Footnotes

[1] I think my favourite example of this line of argumentation comes from the comments on Guy’s blog, especially his post about light novels. Here’s one gem of a sentence:

In Japanese literature the light Novel style is correct, many things people complain here are discussed in universities as the best way to tell a history.

Citation needed, needless to say.

Advertisements

Posted on February 9, 2016, in Editorials. Bookmark the permalink. 13 Comments.

  1. I am unsure about the relevancy of what I’m about to bring up, but I do feel the need to briefly discuss the supposed shields that deflects criticisms, as that aspect of fandoms can manifest themselves in many ways, and most of the times, I find myself getting meshed squarely in the middle.

    Recently, I remember watching and scrolling around the comment section of a youtube upload by Bobsamurai, and coming across some very…colourful discussions in regards to the legitimacy of the argument (commenter vs. Bob, obviously), that anime shouldn’t be judged in such critical terms, purely because of the subjectivity of art (the usual problems: true, but also a simplistic argument). This argument also ties into the fact, that the reviewer is criticizing the state of the industry, based on his own personal tastes in more gritty shows of the 1980s, over the atmospheric and grounded works of the slice of life and healing genres today (illustrated by his open and rather simplistic distaste for the moe…’genre’?), and the fact that he’s observing the medium from a western perspective. Bob’s counter-argument is based on a rather interesting allegory, that an artist’s work IS subjective, but he/she needs to learn how to properly use a paintbrush, in order to truly produce a ‘good’ work of art.

    There’s certainly SOME truth in that counter-argument, but out of respect I gained for artists, during my years in art education, talent galleries and performance attendances, culture exchanges between different artists of hundreds of mediums, and even as a musical and artistic performer myself, I find myself frankly taken back, by how wrong this statement actually IS, as I thought about it in hindsight: who ACTUALLY decides which way to use a paintbrush, is the ‘right way’? The artworks of 1600-1850s were stagnant in their creative development, purely because of the monopolistic control of expression from art schools, who taught students to copy off supposed masters: the paintings were detailed, realistic and skilful, but not…ambitious. It was until Manet, that art forms started to branch out. In these modern times, the most famous paintings were not even brush-based anymore…they were canvases splashed, dunked, stabbed and finger-printed with paint…who can determine if they are universally ‘skilled’, ‘creative’ and ‘great pieces’ or not?

    I guess my point lies within the impossibility of dividing the more objective outlook of an artist’s skill with the purely subjective outlook of his/her creativity, another expressionable staple in the gap between the performing art and the competitive nature of the music performing world, for example.

    You find music anime and shows in general, touching upon this quite often: musicians dazzling the audience with their raw and individualistic take on classical pieces, only to be shut out by critics who decry the disloyality to the composer. Who’s in the wrong? The musician who ‘disrespected’ the composer, or the critics, for expecting a perfect preservation of the sacred art?

    I’m gonna leave on that note, as this really IS a spur of the moment rant, and I don’t even know how relevant this is…but that’s my honest reaction to this short saga.

    • who ACTUALLY decides which way to use a paintbrush, is the ‘right way’?

      This is a really fascinating question, and I think the most approximate answer I can give to that is this: whichever group of elites has the most cultural influence. All taste is acquired, and so on. Bourdieu had a lot to say on this subject.

      The reality of what makes good art is more complicated and messy than what a simple analysis of social hierarchy would have you believe. But still, the point is that critics articulate their personal, subjective evaluation of a work of art in terms of widely agreed upon metrics. For musicians, this would be something like the ability to stay in-tune. Even if that metric is not “objective”, there’s enough general agreement among most listeners of music that anything that goes against this norm will be considered “bad” or “kitsch”.

      This is why I reject talking about art in “universal” terms. I prefer the concept of norms. Subjectivity is a given, not just on an individual but on a collective scale. Seeing art in terms of norms leaves open the possibility that standards can change, that they’re not set in stone. And under this framework you can still argue plausibly that certain works are “good” or “bad” without having to get into tedious debates about how everything’s subjective as soon as you voice an unpopular opinion.

      In the end, none of these debates about the nature of art have a good answer, but that’s the answer that sits most comfortably with me (for now).

  2. I found this really interesting, mainly because I often seem to be on the side pointing out where other viewers have “forced their own assumptions onto anime (/manga/games).” But in the second last series where I saw and got somewhat involved in fandom-wide arguments over this, someone accused me of trying to excuse a particular character’s actions ‘because of cultural differences (amongst other things)’. Whilst I understand why they hate the character in question as much as they do, I was trying to point out why I personally don’t see him as negatively as they do, which included examples of how their own assumptions seemed to have influenced their interpretations. It’s a fine balance…though I do find it easier when I emphasise that it’s my own opinion, based on my experience (and occasionally, my academic ‘expertise’), and include detailed examples, counterarguments and caveats, as a good little academic should (^^;; ) Way too much work, though…

    But as you suggest, what’s really important is that we all recognise that our own viewpoint isn’t the only way to see the world. Sadly, that kind or recognition has apparently decreased in this age of social media…

    I felt that your example from Little Women was very interesting, though yes, the main problem I found with that post was that you weren’t clear on how the use of keigo was problematic in this context. I think that people who understand the process of translation and the concerns that ‘serious’ translators worry about would probably have understood, but there are things that we have to make more explicit when writing for a wider audience (as is true for communicators from any field of experience). It’s something I’m still working on myself.

    =====

    Re: the ‘who decides’ question above

    I think your way of thinking about this, as norms that can and do change over the years, is very useful. I’d also argue that there are several commonly accepted norms about how one can evaluate art: for instance, there are people who focus on technique, there are others who focus on effect, or intent, and there are some who focus on combinations of all of these.

    One thing that I find a little frustrating, however, is when people conflate the effect that a text has on them with the intent of the author. I’m not sure if the words I’ve chosen reflect the concepts I’m trying to convey, so as an example of what I mean, I’ll use Shakespeare. Some people today apparently see a ‘more than friends’ kind of relationship between Antonio and Bassanio in The Merchant of Venice, and use that to talk about the text as having a GLBT relationship. That could certainly be true–we have no evidence to the contrary–but that doesn’t mean that Shakespeare was pro-GLBT rights or anything like that, because those are concerns for our particular era, not his.

    This brings me back to the issue you raise in the post, about how we should all be careful about our cultural assumptions. When I did English Literature as a subject in high school, two of the things we had to pay attention to were the author’s context (for understanding his/her intent, whether it be wrt the format/techniques of writing or the theme of the text), as opposed to our own (largely for understanding our reactions to what the author did). Both are important to our reading of any particular text, but I think we always need to be aware of the differences between these two concepts commonly used in media criticism.

    • Thanks for the comments and feedback! I pretty much nodded along to everything. Your comment also addressed some things that didn’t occur to me as I was writing the piece, which was neat.

      I often seem to be on the side pointing out where other viewers have “forced their own assumptions onto anime (/manga/games).”

      Although we’re all guilty of this to a degree, I sympathise with your particular frustrations. While I wouldn’t call myself an expert on Japanese culture or anything, sometimes I encounter people who don’t even know the basic stuff, so they make assumptions that stand out as particularly ignorant. In those cases, I try to be like you: explain that there’s another way of seeing the same work of media. If they don’t accept that the alternative interpretation is valid, then their ignorance is willful. Ultimately that’s their loss, not yours.

      One thing that I find a little frustrating, however, is when people conflate the effect that a text has on them with the intent of the author.

      This I agree with, although it should be mentioned that no one can really know what the author was thinking, not even the author him/herself. This is especially true for historical figures like Shakespeare, as no one knows even basic biographical details about him. Any attempt we make to discern Shakespeare’s “intent” says more about us than it would about Shakespeare.

      I’m gonna take a short detour here, but I find queer readings of Shakespeare interesting and also valuable. You’re right that in Shakespeare’s era the concept of “LGBT” as we understand it did not exist. That doesn’t mean that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people did not exist throughout history; their voices have been marginalised. What queer literary theory does is try to uncover those voices. Assuming that LGBT people were irrelevant until the modern era would be more historically blind.

      Of course, that’s quite a different thing from arguing that Shakespeare himself was pro-gay rights or that he was gay himself.

      Since I’m critical of the idea of putting “the author” on a pedestal, I like your high school English literature approach. One of the useful things about studying a work’s context is that it does moderate your impulse to conflate your personal reading of the text with what you think the author was trying to achieve. I’d prefer to study an author’s context so that I don’t end up putting words in the author’s mouth. I see that as a matter of respect.

      • Ultimately that’s their loss, not yours.

        Sadly, it’s also a loss for the creators and the industry, to a certain extent…but well, as they say, one man’s meat is another man’s poison!

        This I agree with, although it should be mentioned that no one can really know what the author was thinking, not even the author him/herself.

        Oh, I agree. Although I’d say that authors would know better than anyone else what they meant to convey in their texts, they may not be fully aware of the structures and ways of thought that have already constrained their thinking. In that sense, those of us who study them may have an advantage because we have been able to see where they fit within their field—what they were reacting to and where their work may have led. We can also use any other writings they have left behind, and what their contemporaries have said about them—along with the texts themselves, these are the three pillars that, IIRC, we had to use to try and figure out what the intent of a particular text was.

        Any attempt we make to discern Shakespeare’s “intent” says more about us than it would about Shakespeare.

        Admittedly, discerning Shakespeare’s context is difficult because his plays form the majority of what we can use to analyse him…and sometimes, we’re not even sure they’re his! So you’re probably right in that what we get out of analysing Shakespeare’s works probably says more about us than about him.

        That said, we can also turn this on its head: when we read a historian’s account of a particular event in the past, or a journalist or commentator’s reflections on more current events, we learn as much about how they see the world as we do about what they’re covering. For the frameworks that they use to record or analyse what they have seen are a product of when and where they live(d).

        Assuming that LGBT people were irrelevant until the modern era would be more historically blind.

        Agreed—at least, in general. I guess that what I’m cautious about is any attempt to understand those people through the concepts of ‘lesbian’, ‘gay’, ‘bisexual’ and ‘transgender’ as we understand them today. These are all what I’d call constructed identities, identities that people have defined. I don’t mean to insult anyone within the GLBT community—each and every one of us has a constructed identity, or several. For instance, I identify as a migrant, an Australian and an anime fan (amongst other things), but not everyone agrees as to what these groups comprise of. For example, my idea of a migrant is ‘someone who moves to a different country’…but in China, people who move to another province are considered migrants. ‘Anime fan’ is another one, what with someone like Miyazaki Hayao insisting that his films are not anime (at least, last I heard).

        To bring it back to the idea of GLBT people in Shakespeare’s time, I’m sure that people we’d group under these labels existed at that time—or any other time and place, for that matter—but I highly doubt they would have conceptualised it the way that we have. Such people may even have been happy with the places that they had (or still have) in their societies. For example, there are societies that recognise three or more genders. The history of homosexual relations in different countries—such as Japan and even the West itself—offers a wealth of case studies that shows just how wide the spectrum of (gender/sexual) identity and interpersonal relationships can be.

        I do agree that it is valuable to search for such voices in historical texts. I just wonder if the people doing the searching are fully aware of how the frameworks they are using may constrain what they find. Whilst I haven’t really looked into queer literary theory myself, the description on wikipedia and the names associated with the field make it sound rather modern and Western to me.

        And that finally jogged my memory on another important context I was told to look into as a Lit. student: the world in which the text is set. Admittedly, that little twitter discussion on the use of “atashi” in Rakugo Shinju also helped flick the switch for me. If an author’s done his/her research right, then there’s a lot that we can learn about the world being depicted, too.

        Since I’m critical of the idea of putting “the author” on a pedestal, I like your high school English literature approach. One of the useful things about studying a work’s context is that it does moderate your impulse to conflate your personal reading of the text with what you think the author was trying to achieve. I’d prefer to study an author’s context so that I don’t end up putting words in the author’s mouth. I see that as a matter of respect.

        That’s pretty much why I’ve collected so many guidebooks and ‘serious’ magazines over the years. Even though I’ve stuck to series and franchises that I really like, it’s still a mountain of reading material that I will probably never be able to get through…

  3. Though one may maliciously point out that there sure is A LOT of Katakana in those words :D…

    But yes, I suppose the problem is – what we perceive as anime fans isn’t Japanese culture, it’s the specific subset of that culture that ends up poured into anime. And some bits very rarely, if ever, make it into it. I remember being honestly surprised when I saw the Marxist student protests in Kids on the Slope. I am used to seeing scenes of such protests from the Italian 60s (Italy being historically an extremely cavalier country in its acceptance of the words Marxism and Communism in general, at a time when in the US they could land you in jail) but din’t really imagine they’d have taken hold that much in the rigid, right-wing conservative, work-oriented Japanese society. I guess because Japan (and Eastern cultures in general) also feel like they manage to be capitalistic while placing an heavy emphasis on the common good and the individual as a cog in the machine already, so in a sense they already ARE more socialist than Western societies – in the sense that they get the worst of both worlds from capitalism and socialism.

    I suppose because anime can be so weird and experimental and artsy at times – occasionally even when dealing with otherwise trivial and even low-brow subjects – that I myself tend to forget that TV tends to be often a conservative medium – one that focuses on the status quo and what is stereotypically perceived as the most palatable, common form of culture across the country. We have a word for that in Italian, we call it “national-popular”: a mix of populism, conservatism, and just that plain “good old times” feel. Minority thought and cultural phenomena seldom make the cut.

    Part of it is probably also that anime seems to have a taboo about talking *explicitly* about politics – be it because of its target audience, fear of attracting undesired attention, or simple artistic sensitivity. I have watched shows that would definitely qualify as feminist (like Utena) but never once do I remember having heard the word “feminism” uttered in them. Can’t say I dislike this style though – letting the story do its work without being too explicit about labels that always tend to polarize people is imho a better approach to a form of “political art” that still stays free from the constraints of specific political parties/communities. Bashing people in the head with your ideology from the get go only alienates those who would need convincing and reinforces the echo chamber for those who don’t.

    • I remember being honestly surprised when I saw the Marxist student protests in Kids on the Slope. I am used to seeing scenes of such protests from the Italian 60s (Italy being historically an extremely cavalier country in its acceptance of the words Marxism and Communism in general, at a time when in the US they could land you in jail) but din’t really imagine they’d have taken hold that much in the rigid, right-wing conservative, work-oriented Japanese society.

      Kinda irrelevant to the original post, but you should totally read Embracing Defeat by John Dower which is a detailed study of Japan after World War II. To cut a long story short, Marxism and other hardcore left wing ideas were really popular in Japan after World War II, which was around the time the Japanese Communist Party came to prominence. This unsettled the Americans, who decided to use Japan as a bulwark against China’s communist state. So they helped some hard right wing politicians come into power, including a noted war criminal, Nobusuke Kishi. The student protest movement in Japan was actually inspired in major part by their dislike of Kishi and his brand of conservative politics.

      By the way, the Japanese Communist Party still exists. Here’s the Wikipedia page. Amazingly, it’s one of the largest non-ruling communist parties in the world.

      As an Australian, I can’t say I’m surprised that this aspect of Japanese history is muted. Australia’s past flirtations with communism are quietly forgotten these days. I suppose we can thank the collapse of the Soviet Union for that.

      Also, I’m surprised you didn’t mention that a good reason not to explicitly mention political labels in popular art is not because it polarises (although that could be a part of it), but because young people are apathetic about politics. It’s easier to get the overall message of a story without being bogged down in confusing words and details. Also, it’s rather clumsy storytelling for a character to conveniently point out, “Hey this is a feminist story!” In such cases, the labels are unnecessary for the story. For instance, the plot of Gundam Orphans revolves around a “worker’s revolution”, which is basically socialist in everything but name.

      And finally, because I was curious, I googled “Revolutionary Girl Utena” and “feminism” in Japanese, and about 12,000 results came up. So, yeah. People were definitely seeing the feminist message, for what it’s worth.

      • Well, if you don’t see the feminist message in a show that is EXPLICITLY about challenging gender roles in stereotypical narratives :D…

        But very interesting story! It’s eerily similar to a lot of stuff that happened in Italy really. We had a strong Communist party, but our resident centre-right party (Christian Democracy) was also very supported because Catholicism is such a big deal, so the Americans only needed nudge us towards that direction. Around the 70s though the Communists started catching wind and a lot of murky stuff happened. The main Christian Democracy exponent, former PM, who wanted dialogue with the Communist Party was captured by Communist terrorists and brutally executed. A lot of other people was killed in those years by random terror acts (most of them of right-wing Fascist inspiration) and there also was a conspiracy that was uncovered later, called Gladius, that came this close to putting up a military coup similar to the ones seen in South America. I am definitely interested in the way Japan processed its own WWII defeat because that’s something that shares at the same time similarities and deep differences between the three former Axis powers. Italy’s specific history has led us to a lot of self-apology for it – due to how we were the first ones to get rid of our Fascist leaders and switch sides – but that also has led to a lot of never healed wounds.

        About someone yelling “hey this is a feminist story”… I swear I’ve seen some of those new Female Thor comics doing just that..

  4. Thing is, most of today’s social justice criticisms aren’t really about the quality of a story, or even about the facts of the text or the author. They’re about the consequentialist view of how a text interacts with the cultural environment of the consumer. What messages does a text reinforce or challenge in its audience, in aggregate. In that framework, it really, really doesn’t matter the intent of the text or the author, but simply how the consumer perceives it.
    So that sort of critique isn’t imposing any sort of cultural assumptions onto the anime, but onto who they think is consuming the anime and receiving the messages they critique.
    Yes, there could be assumptions as to which demographics were negatively/positively influenced by Hannah’s portrayal, but that’s not the same thing at all as imposing assumptions upon the anime itself. The criticism is that Hannah’s portrayal reinforces certain oppressive power structures, impacting viewers and non-viewers alike. That has little to do with the text’s artistic value, because it’s a conversation about the ethics of translation.

    Now, there are forms of the critique that could be more about traditional literary critique, by presenting realism as desired storytelling, and so an inaccurate portrayal of Hannah and her dynamic with the family would be bad storytelling. Then you could have forced cultural assumptions, in the sense of assumptions over what should be considered realistic.
    Except that the original critique was talking about how the anime’s portrayal, and some forms of translation, were themselves imposing cultural assumptions onto Little Women’s setting!

    Basically, I don’t think your detractors have much of a leg to stand on, here. They’re not just operating in a entirely different framework, but also missing what the original post was addressing.

    • That has little to do with the text’s artistic value, because it’s a conversation about the ethics of translation.

      It’s all about ethics in translation!

      Anyway, I’m going to play devil’s advocate against my own post for a bit here.

      It must be said that the social justice criticism can be misused. You say that this approach to criticism isn’t about evaluating the work’s artistic quality, but there are certainly some writers (particularly very young writers) who do seem to assume that “progressive” = “better writing”. Or, to be more accurate, they enjoy some work for whatever reason and then retroactively decide that it must be “progressive” or “feminist” or some such thing in order to justify their taste. This is how we end up with ridiculous assertions like “Fullmetal Alchemist is feminist” or “Kill la Kill is feminist”. You can certainly have discussions about the shows through a feminist lens, but when you reduce all the complexities of the show to a mere label, it says nothing about feminism and everything about the outlook of the person making the statement.

      If readers equate my writing with the overly simplistic social justice media criticism they may have seen elsewhere, it’s not my fault, but I wouldn’t blame the reader entirely for it. We’re all prone to kneejerk reactions. But if they read the entire article and still treated it as a strawman, then I can only assume that they’re not operating on good faith. If I were being uncharitable, I’d even argue that they don’t want to think about social issues at all.

      Also, it’s interesting that at one point in the Little Women article, I said, “The way that black people’s voices are translated and represented through Japanese media makes it difficult for even an educated Japanese-speaking person to distinguish clearly between historical fact and racist caricature.” Although my intent was to highlight how racism is perpetuated on a systemic level, it could well be interpreted as me making excuses for racism. Alternatively, I could have been making an unwarranted assumption about Japanese people and how educated they are about race. However, none of my detractors pointed this out.

  5. In the end Frogkun, the fact you do not live in Europe/America does not matter. You are a westerner, and westerners judging the rest of the world through their own cultural values is… very much a trend we are tired of. This is an opinion shared by many in the Far East and the Middle East by the way.

    I’m not going to defend Japan’s portrayal here. Growing up as an Asian, I fully realize the overwhelming Far Eastern bias (and prejudice) against Black people; doubly so against black women. But this is not a topic outsiders can push into without stepping on landmines; so the backlash reaction you’re getting? totally justified =P (just imagine how much argument it would provoke if the Far East starting voicing their opinion of western religion — the basis and foundation for western ethics and morals; because many of our views on Christianity is… pretty far in the gutter).

    The fact is one cannot criticize cultural portrayal of something without criticizing the culture itself (whether you meant it or not). And criticism another culture based on your own cultural values as an outsider… is basically claiming your own cultural superiority (whether you meant it or not). Fair? not really. But the world isn’t fair ^^’ So if you want to stick your hand into the lion’s den, don’t complain when it gets bitten =P

    • I should’ve mentioned that the backlash came from Westerners and not anyone who identified as Japanese or even Asian =P

      The fact is one cannot criticize cultural portrayal of something without criticizing the culture itself (whether you meant it or not). And criticism another culture based on your own cultural values as an outsider… is basically claiming your own cultural superiority (whether you meant it or not).

      This is sorta true, but also not. You seem to be pushing forward this idea of cultural essentialism and that no one should criticise something outside their lived experience. If you take this idea to its logical conclusion, it’s like telling women that they can’t criticise men, and vice versa. Or saying you can’t criticise the leader of your country because you’ve never been leader of your country and don’t know how it works.

      So where to draw the line in the sand, then? I say that when criticising something outside your personal range of experience, two things are necessary: doing the research about the thing you are criticising, and acknowledging that your perspective is only one possible perspective. A lot of ill-informed commentators do neither of these things when talking about the Middle East, so I can understand the frustrations of Middle Easterners who have to put up with that nonsense.

      I personally don’t know enough about the Middle East to comment on the affairs over there, but I do read/watch Al Jazeera regularly and I don’t mind it when the Middle Eastern commentators on there criticise the West. On the contrary, I think that outsider perspectives are valuable for informing my own opinions about Western culture. I only think that it becomes a problem when people use the West as a scapegoat to justify their own cruel acts. Surely I’m allowed to think negatively of ISIL based on the things they’ve said/done?

      But anyway, to bring this discussion back to Japan/anime. I avoided saying anything along the lines of “Japan should change its views towards blacks!” because that’s not what the article was about. Rather, the question I wanted to ask was why. Why is there racism against blacks? The conclusion I came to is that the racist portrayals of blacks in Western media was a factor, and that important aspects of the black identity are lost in translation. Because we live in a globalised society, one country’s racial stereotypes can be transferred to another.

      A significantly more nuanced argument than “Japan is racist! They should be more like us!”

      • Everyone sane thinks bad of ISIS/ISIL. You should see what my muslim friends have to say about them =P (almost spitting the blood coming out).

        “So where to draw the line in the sand, then? I say that when criticising something outside your personal range of experience, two things are necessary: doing the research about the thing you are criticising, and acknowledging that your perspective is only one possible perspective. A lot of ill-informed commentators do neither of these things when talking about the Middle East, so I can understand the frustrations of Middle Easterners who have to put up with that nonsense.”

        I do agree with this for the most part. Good research always go a long way to not sound like a quick-to-judge idiot. The problem is a lot of our research is limited so long as we’re doing book/net research and not… actually experiencing said culture firsthand, and so long as we’re researching rather than *experiencing* it, our absorbed information is tilted by our Confirmation Bias — we put greater weight of value on information that agrees with our existing beliefs. I know I personally respect a lot of western journalists who report on China/Korea/Japan after actually having lived there for say, 10 years, and they truly have a good grasp of the local culture and its nuances.

        Men and women interact with one another on a daily basis. If they keep their eyes open and active seek to delve in the other gender’s groups, they inevitable come to understand the others more. But cultural gap is harder to mend because of the geological factor.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: