Monday, October 31, 2005

The appeal of Yaoi/Slash
Part 1: Gay or straight?

This is a topic both near-and-dear to my heart, and one that I think deserves a close inspection, so I shall be treating it in great detail. Yaoi, an acronym of the Japanese phrase ヤマなし、オチなし、意味なし, or yama nashi, ochi nashi, imi nashi, meaning "no climax, no punchline, no meaning", is a genre of manga/anime involving male/male relationships. They can range from the sweet and romantic (boy's love [BL] or shounen-ai) to the downright pornographic. The fact that makes yaoi so interesting to anthropologists and sociologists is that this genre is largely made by, marketed for, and enjoyed by heterosexual women (though, of course, exceptions do apply). The North American anime/manga industry is just beginning to realize the potential in this market, with companies like Be Beautiful Manga, Kitty Media, and Digital Manga Publishing arising with specific yaoi product lines.

So just what is it about male/male relationships that females find so appealing?

This is the question I would like to address over the next few posts, and I know that there are many fans out there with much to say regarding it.

To begin with, an interesting question: Are slash characters homosexual, or heterosexual?

The answer seems obvious at first, but upon deeper thought, it can be argued either way. In the first chapter of Theorizing Fandom (Hampton Press, 1998), many interviewees were disgusted by the suggestion that their favourite characters were gay, and insisted that, "They're not gay, they just happen to have sex with men" (a cliche well known to any yaoi/slash fan). According to Mirna Cicioni from Monash University in Melbourne, slash is not about homosexuality, but "fantasies that articulate women's desires" (ibid, p. 154). As it is a fantasy, can it even by evaluated by pre-existing notions of political/social norms? The large majority of fanfiction that I myself have read over the course of nearly four years demonstrates a serious lack of attention to problems facing gays in contemporary society, such as AIDS, STDs, fear of being "outed", and societal/familial disapproval. Rarely are condoms used or even mentioned.

Other interviewees quite strongly disagreed, saying that a refusal to deal with these issues is unrealistic, naive, and the mark of an immature writer. One writer/reader was drawn to slash because she enjoyed the thought of characters being gay: "The vibrant fantasy here for me is that the flaming hets I see on TV come out of the closet and turn out actually to be GAY!!!!" (p. 24, emphasis in original).

Due to the small percentage of fanfiction/filks that deal with the latter, I am inclined to see the former argument as the prevailing one in fandom. However, most of these interviewees are fans of slash relating to British and American television of the nineteen-seventies and -eighties (ie: The Professionals, Star Trek, and Blake's 7), and not modern anime/manga. Is there a difference between the two on this matter? Should those fans have to worry more about this problem than anime fangirls?

Then again, even those shows in which the canon portrays the characters as gay (ie: Fake, Level C, Descendants of Darkness, and the epic X/1999) practical problems about sexuality never seem to arise. Characters never seem to fear coming out of the closet to the object of their affection (lust?), even if they do not know that their beloved is homosexual or not.

Can/should this entire argument be dismissed because "it's just a fantasy"?

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Just a quick note...

I'm eagerly following all of your comments and questions in the comment section. It's very gratifying to receive such excellent information!

I am posting replies and responses to many of the comments, and would love to hear more from those of you who have already left one. Also, very soon I shall be posting a new topic with some very interesting and very controversial points for fans.

I'll give you a clue: "Never underestimate the appeal of sex."

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Let's get this thing started...

The very first thing I'd like to open up for discussion is the meaning and myth surrounding the word "otaku" itself. Literally a formal and rather archaic pronoun for "you" (perhaps translated as "thou"), it implies distance from the subject, and is used in relationships that are not very close.

Whatever its original meaning, the word "otaku" has come to mean anyone who is a hardcore enthusiast or fan of any particular subject, including anime, comic books, video games, etc.

The article The Politics of Otaku, by Lawrence Eng makes reference to varying interpretations of the word, from "passionate obsessive" to information fetishists" to his own "self-defined cyborgs", all of which (to me, anyway) seem slightly offensive. I myself have heard the term translated as "maniac" (in the official English subtitles of the anime Full Metal Panic), which also suggests some sort of strange and disturbed person. This Wikipedia definition also includes a lovely image of the stereotype of the otaku.

In light of all this, why on earth would fans use such a term to describe themselves? The infamous pedophile and serial killer Tsutomu Miyazaki was closely associated with this title, and was perhaps the instigator of its negative connotations, and yet North Americans still refer to themselves as an otaku! Do you use the term yourself? What does it mean to you? Where you aware of these meanings? Do you have more information about the term to share? Knowing this, would you continue to call yourself an otaku?

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Con no Baka

I'm planning to host a panel at the upcoming Toronto anime convention Con no Baka regarding the anthropology of fandom, where I'll be asking other fan's opinions and thoughts. If anyone else is going to be in the Toronto area for this con, please let me know via a comment here on this blog, as I'd love to chat with you about it.

In the beginning there was television...

...and they brought about the creation of the "fan". This blog will be a feeble attempt to follow and document my research project into fandom, in all its various manifestations and types. I will be using the format of a blog in order to better allow interaction: I wanna know what you think on the various academic and not-so-academic theories regarding why we do what we do.

More on this later.