Not so long ago, I was talking with a relative – though them being a relative didn’t matter so much, because the response would most likely be the same from most people.
I mentioned an anime I’d recently watched: Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid The response, whilst it wasn’t overtly negative or critical, it was predictable, if not annoying:
“You’re a Weeaboo, then?”
There are perfectly valid reasons as to why anime is often regarded as controversial, of course there are. And yet, the same could be said for any form of media, and the consumption of it, for that matter.
- Film > Pornography
- Film > Careless misrepresentation of content
- News > Fake news / Propaganda
- YouTube > Influencing of the young/impressionable
- Advertising > Pushing of products that are ‘bad’ / ‘unsuitable’ for certain targeted audiences
The list could be much longer, but I suspect the idea has conveyed itself well enough.
So, What is it About Anime?
Naturally, it isn’t a simple question. Nor does it have a simple, one-size-fits-all answer. Anime, like any other form of media is a complex thing; containing many genres, styles, narratives, and interpretations. And, in line with other media, anime spans a wide array of target audiences, from the very young, to the much more mature.
Stigma and negative social stereotypes form when a group – usually niche – is ostracised in a generalised manner. In some cases this is a perfectly balanced response to something that is objectively unacceptable. Yet, in many other areas, it is the product of an unwillingness to accept things beyond the realm of self-ascribed ‘normality.‘ An unwillingness to accept that the world – and the people in it – might just work in different ways to yourself.
One of the most recognised terms: ‘Otaku,’ is usually used in a depreciating, critical manner. Why is this?
The answer resides in social culture
In Japan there’s a rising ‘epidemic’ of so-called ‘Hikikomoris.’ People – usually young – who have come to rarely leave their residences… if at all. Regarding Japan alone, social pressures, and the notion that one must strive to achieve high in all aspects of life, is a far more pressing anxiety than in Western culture. Those that rebel against this (no matter the reason) are often labeled as failures of society, exiles that are not welcome because of their null contribution. It is widely viewed that these people consume anime, manga, and other ‘otaku’ products at an alarming rate, and in unhealthy, degrading manners. This may be true in certain circumstances – because stereotypes are usually grounded in some version of the truth, (or they were when such stereotype arised.) Though, it cannot be used as a generalisation.
Not only is this a problem in Japan, but in many other areas of the world too – though admittedly, on a somewhat reduced scale.
Why is this? I believe it is a result of the way Japan’s social structure operates. Failure in Japan is not an accepted outcome. That is not to say that it is anywhere else, only Japanese culture sets a precedent that realistically cannot be attained by each and every person in society.
Why is Anime Appealing when in Troubling circumstances
I can speak personally on this matter, after having struggled (still struggling) for many years with severe Social Anxiety. Though, it has never rendered me incapable of leaving the house – at least not for a prolonged period of time.
It is in this where a person must find… something. Time that would otherwise be taken up socialising, and/or having a job, must be used in some way.
When a person is sat alone, all day, inside their home, that person inevitably becomes lonely. It is a facet of human existence that we require social interaction. Sure, some people require less than others, yet some is a necessity for the wellbeing of our minds. When we don’t have that, we try to fill those gaps. It might be with objects, books, film, pornography… anime… or even more serious things like hallucinations as a result of mental health issues. Because, no matter how deep, that desire for interaction never goes away. If we are unable to find it in its natural form, it must be outsourced. We must feel like we have it, even if we do not.
Anime provides the perfect foundation for this; in the exotic, alluring characters, in the fantastical narratives, in the visually beautiful way the stories are told, and in the often (by no means frequent) gratuitously sexual manner they are depicted in. These all provide things. Things to fill the empty, painful time. A way to feel that does not feel worthless, a way to know that some part of you still can feel.
It is the simple act of grouping this behavior with the viewing of anime, that gives it the reputation and stigma it has come to bear. It is the presumptuous notion of judging before knowing that is the basis for this misconception. And I suppose, the basis for all misconception. Though, this is not to say this behavior is inherently negative – mental health is the most visible of stigmatized issues, and requires due care and attention, more so now than ever before.
But, does this say truly say anything about anime? Or does it speak truths about the society we live in?
Anime, is of course, growing, becoming more and more mainstream with every passing year – some of anime, that is: Naruto, Attack on Titan, Fairy Tale, Death Note, Sword Art Online, Full Metal Alchemist. And whilst some of these shows aren’t bad shows, I don’t think they’re truly the best anime has to offer. Then again, couldn’t you say this about all other forms of media… being that the most visible… popular examples aren’t exactly representative of their respective mediums. In most cases, to get to the gems, you have to go digging a little, here and there.
Obviously this isn’t the reason for the stigma.
What has to be done to reduce this stigma? Will it ever go away?
More importantly, is it even a problem? Stigma resides in all things, not simply anime and general media alone. Where there is a difference of opinion – a deviation from what is considered ‘normality,’ where one group/person looks down on another, stigma arises.
The thing is, stigma creates a set of expectations, both from the stigmatized and the stigmatizers. Those that are the victims, often expect this stereotyped behaviour from themselves. They come to believe that their differences set them apart, and that stigma is a natural response to this deviation in behavior/personality/thinking. This creates a whole new set of issues. And is why those who exist within stigmatized groups deal with unproportionally high amounts of mental health issues. It is only when the stigma is questioned, when the apparent ‘differences’ are taken apart and examined, can the walls begin to fall.
Here’s an example of generalisation that is the result of stigma: Person watches Hentai. Hentai is anime. Anime is perverted. All anime is bad.
You can replace ‘anime’ with any stigmatized belief and/or group, and the result will be the same, because it is the same process, regardless of the subject.
With anime, and the wildly different sets of cultures that stem from it – considering the inherent differences between Japan and the West, it is hard to see a situation that might lead to the deconstruction, and the failings of the stigma that permeates it. Of course, with the widening audience much mainstream anime has, this will lessen the widely held discriminatory beliefs that people unreasonably exhibit.
Success in the West is a large factor too, with the rise of Crunchyroll, Netflix’s growing collection of anime titles, and adaptations of classics such as Ghost in the Shell (regardless of the reception from those who are familiar with the source material.) All these contribute to the acceptance of anime, and the acceptance of those who have been ostracised by society – not because of anime, but because of underlying problems and the growing pressure put on all young people.
So, is it anime itself that is stigmatized, or is it the people who consume it, and the things (stereotypes) they stand for? Is there a distinction to be made between the two?
I believe the two are hand in hand. People see and judge the negative side of anime, (because, of course, it has one) and people see and judge the negative side of the people who watch it – more specifically their roles in society – or lack thereof. This is a two edged-sword, tainting both the medium and those who view it. In every respect, generalisation in its worst, most egregious form.
Ultimately it is the source of the problem that needs attention: The people who feel as though they are forced to live in such a manner, for whatever reason, avoidable or not. It is not anime itself that is stigmatized, it is the behaviour grouped with it.
Anti-social, reclusive people – they watch anime, therefore anime must be the cause of the behaviours they exhibit, rather than other, more obscure underlying problems.
This notion is an ignorant one, and is no way singularly applied to anime. Acceptance, or the lack of it, plays a large part. People who have become separated from society, they need to be reintegrated, not ostracised like they often are.
So, not only accept anime, but the people who watch it. Because, stigma is truly a degrading thing that has to reason to exist in a world that boasts so much communication and potential knowledge.
What do you peeps think?
As always, thanks for reading!
-Chris (Follow me on Twitter and consider supporting Peach’s Almanac on Patreon!)