Fangirl Saves the World

just who the hell do you think you are, anyway?

Posts Tagged ‘academia

fiction as religious text, part I

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This is a little different than what I usually post about, but fandom is also important to me and is something I kept meaning to write about and never getting around to. Well, here you are.

standard disclaimer: whether this or that holy text is true is not relevant to the topic of this post; frankly, I don’t know and that doesn’t really bother me. I know this can be a sensitive topic but please just try to roll with the idea.

For a long time, I’ve had this theory that modern day fiction and fandom communities serve basically the same emotional need as traditional organized religion.* I’ve never, as far as I remember, committed this idea to paper (or w/e), but I have given it considerable thought.
There are two essential components to this theory, which I’m going to divide into “narrative” and “community.”
First, narrative. This is the texts themselves. The stories that usually serve this purpose are most likely epic tales of world saving adventure and true deep love and completely fucking awesome badassery: think Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings or Final Fantasy – think big. (I’m not sure if smaller, more personal slice-of-life style stories could fill the same role. I’m inclined to think not, but I’d consider the possibility.)
The stories themselves are exciting and fun, and offer an escape from daily life. Even those of you who think I am full of shit can probably agree with me on this point. They allow us access to better worlds, whether it’s because people can use magic or alchemy or the landscape is just prettier or there’s no *isms, we can go to Hogwarts or Middle-earth and it’s way better than our boring, normal and also sometimes difficult lives. Which is – again, harping on the psychological not spiritual thing – kinda like the idea of heaven.
The characters are also a crucial part of this theory. No, I will never be Olivier Armstrong, nor will I ever reach her levels of epic badasery in my real life. In fact, my real life is pretty boring sometimes (and certainly never as interesting as hers) and I’m actually a very shy, anxious person – but when I’m nervous, I can think of her and get some second hand badassery even if all I’m doing is giving a speech in class or calling someone out for being a douchebag.
I think the reason the story needs to be so larger than life in this scenario is so that the characters have room to be completely fucking ridiculously amazing without breaking our suspension of disbelief. It’s reassuring and validating to see stories about people like ourselves doing things like we do in a life we can recognized and identify with as similar to our own, but I don’t think those stories can inspire the same kind of devotion that epics get. (This is skipping ahead a little, but most of the stories I can think of with fucking ginormous fandoms are save the world stories.)
I think these characters fill basically the same emotional need as the saints or god/ess/es. Most of us will never be saints because most of us probably work pretty hard to avoid being thrown to the lions or whatever, but we can still admire their bravery and conviction and try to emulate them in our own mundane lives. Obviously, taking a big test is not the same as being fed to giant carnivores for other people’s entertainment, but these stories are larger than (real) life, and in our small lives, our trials are difficult and frightening for us as we live through them – and when we’re upset or afraid, we can recall those larger than life heros and say “you know what, self? Eowyn killed the goddamn Witch King you can take a stupid test” or “c’mon, Hermione would stand up for what’s right and tell that person they’re being a complete asshole about this” or whatever.
The second component is the fandom, which I think is roughly equivalent to the church community.
Think about it. Fandom is a place where people get together to express their mutual adoration of a given text. The characters and stories have special meaning in the lives of fans. (I’m not saying all fans or even most fans ascribe this level of meaning to their fandoms, but if you like a text enough to be a member of it’s fandom, you clearly enjoy it more than the average reader/viewer/consumer.) Like a religious community, there will probably be intense scrutiny of the text and it’s possible meanings and, in more-or-less the same way religious groups splinter and fight over dogma, fandom breaks off into little groups and argues about whose ‘ship is more canon, whether or not balrogs have wings and how far it is possible to apparate; goddamnit, there’s even the “my version is better” no “my version is better”-type wank in Fullmetal Alchemist fandom as there is in the various editions of the Bible and which texts are/are not apocryphal. (Yes, I just said that; same kind, vastly different degree.)
The most important thing about the community is the community. Here is a place where people speak a common language, if you will; they are moved by the same text you are moved by, they care about the same thing you care about – and they care more than most people. There are plenty of Christian-identifying people who don’t attend church, and then there are those who are there every Sunday, rain or shine. Likewise, lots of people read Harry Potter but only a fraction of those people showed up for the midnight release parties. Among those devoted enough to put on a wizard robe and hat (/shot) there is a sense of belonging that, I imagine, is roughly similar to being a member of a devout religious group.
(This is all guesswork, however, because I have never been a member of an organized religion that I did not invent for the hell of it.) Fans go on pilgrimages to places associated with their texts, whether with the story itself (e.g., the bench Will & Lyra meet on every summer) or it’s creators (e.g., the grave where Tolkien and his wife are buried); basically, they go to places made special (read: holy, in a religious context) by the connection.
If you think I’m full of shit, I don’t blame you, but I would like to point out that this person did actual research and reached roughly the same conclusions about the Twilight fandom as I have drawn here to fandoms in general in her article, The Religion of Twilight. In fact, there is an entire book about it.
I actually have moar thoughts on this topic, but they will have to wait for a separate post.

Written by Fangirl

August 15, 2010 at 8:35 pm

Posted in fandom is funny

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rejecting gender roles

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I’ll admit; this wasn’t a connection I made, but one of the girls in my class mentioned it and I liked her theory so much that I wanted to write about it.

Our reading for this week’s class was about the culture of kawaii, and L was talking about how the goals of kawaii were, in a way, the same basic goals of Western feminism/girl power: to escape defined gender roles of subservience and submissiveness.

L’s point was that in the West, feminism went in the direction of wanting what men have: equal access to traditionally male areas of employment, for example. Women were “masculinized,” if you will: pants, high powered careers, etc. (None of this is a bad thing.) The idea was to escape the defined role of “woman” if “woman” means “wife” or “helpmeet.*”

In Japan, the general cultural trend was not to demand access to the same spaces and opportunities as men, but to abandon “adulthood” all together. According to my professor, there is a certain amount of freedom of identity of children in Japan. The outlandish fashions of young women and men alike are excused on the basis that, when the time comes, people will grow out of that phase and move on to being responsible adults. L’s point was that women attempt to escape their defined role as “women” in a society where “woman” means “mother” by simply not growing up. (Women who are not married mothers are not regarded as fully grown-up, regardless of age or experience.) Instead, she argued, women make themselves (appear) cute and helpless so that they will not be expected to participate in the grown-up world of Japanese society. (In Japanese, most adjectives can be modified with sou to mean “it seems…” For example, oishiisou means “it seems delicious.” Kawaii, or cute, does not work the same way; kawaiisou means sad or pathetic. A story where young lovers sicken and die? Kawaiisou.)

These seem like very different aims, inclusion in society or exclusion from it, but L’s point was that at the bottom of it, the goal is the same: to escape rigidly defined  “womanhood.”

Kawaii as a topic fascinates me. As a lover of cute stuff and a young woman and a wannabe sociologist, I find that kawaii pulls in a lot of ideology about urban life, alienation, consumerism, gender, sexuality, psychological safety and so on. Expect more posts on this vein in the near(ish) future.

*Someday I’ll do a post about how much I hate this word/concept.

Written by Fangirl

November 10, 2009 at 11:07 am

domestication and appropriation

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So we had to read this article,* and the author talked about “domestication” of foreign products: of taking a thing, stripping it of it’s original meaning, and repackaging it in a way that fits the local (in this case, Japanese) culture. (Unlike “appropriation,” which I will get to in a minute, “domestication” was given a positive spin.) Take engagement rings, for example: they’re a Western idea that’s been adopted into Japanese culture, but with some of the original† meaning (e.g., romanticism) lost and the engagement rings placed in the specifically Japanese context of yuinouhin, which is basically a dowry given to the bride’s family. The diamond ring was added to the list of “things that a dowry is supposed to include.”

But, uh, isn’t that appropriation? If I were to, say, start selling kimono as this “neat thing foreigners do (and I can make money off of) so you should do if you want to seem really classy,” people would be pretty pissed off. I’d be appropriating someone else’s culture; taking the material object, stripping it of meaning and context, and replacing my own cultural values onto that thing.

So when is it “domestication” and when is it “appropriation”? Is it “domestication” because Japan has historically been subject to the West’s power, so adopting Western things for their own use, without the original Western meanings, is somehow a radical subversion of cultural appropriation of their own culture by the West? (Can there be anything radical or subversive about buying into Western culture? Can it be said that Japan actively imports the West, rather than the West actively exporting to Japan?) Is it still “domestication” (and not “appropriation”) if one Western country takes an object from another Western country? from Japan? from China? from India? from Brazil? from Rwanda? When does it become one and not the other? How do we tell the difference between domestication/appropriation and cultural imperialism? (That is, when is one culture actively importing another, and when is one culture actively (or even forcibly) exporting its own?)

I’d like to hear all of your thoughts, because I’m really not sure about any of this.

*”Introduction: Domesticating the West,” by Joseph J. Tobin (book unknown, we weren’t given that information, but I can find it out if anyone wants to know)
†okay, without getting into the history of engagement rings, let’s go with “the meaning engagement rings had around the time that the idea was introduced to Japan”

Written by Fangirl

November 4, 2009 at 11:27 am


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Once upon a time, I had an epiphany. It started during ENGL221: Introduction to Film & Media Studies, around the end of the period, and continued until shortly before I got back to my dorm. I most vividly remember standing on the academic campus quad, and let me tell you something, I saw new colors. I could see the way things worked together; systems overlapping systems, like graph tracing paper laid over a photograph. (Sorry to be using a metaphor that relies on sightedness, but at the time, it really was like a veil had been pulled back and I honestly saw the world differently. I do also visualize the wa information is connected; in my mind, ideas are connected by glowing, colored threads.)

It was not as though the world had been crooked and it suddenly clicked into place. It was more as though the world was off-kilter, always had been and always would be, but for about twenty minutes, I was standing at the same angle – tipping my head to view a picture that was hanging off-center.

It was about Marxism. I understood, I think, the way Marx understood. Or at least, I understood Marx’s understanding. The actual content of the epiphany is irrelevant, however: what matters is the feeling during that twenty or so minutes of complete understanding.

Of course, I’m being a little uppity: I’m just a lowly undergrad. My exposure to Marxism was limited to a couple of photocopied articles, a Charlie Chaplain film, a paper on those two things, and an hour-and-a-half discussion on them. I probably didn’t actually know anything more than any other undergrad studying  Marxism for a couple weeks in a theory class; I probably understood less. What matters, as I said, was the feeling of understanding.

It occurred to me, not long ago, that I will probably never experience anything like that ever again. That’s okay. Sometimes I come close.

It happened last night, while I was reading Broken Silence, a book of translated articles, interviews and art by Japanese feminists, which I checked out on the fabulously simple advice of Anemone: to see what Japanese feminists said about, well, Japanese feminism. (Face, meet palm. Why did I not think of that?)

The article I was reading focused on masculine and feminine forms of speech in the Japanese language, and it got me thinking about some things. First, I made connections to the way a number of characters from various anime speak and what that’s supposed to say about them. (The title of this blog isn’t Fangirl Saves the World for no reason, you know.) Second, and more importantly,  I was thinking about Japanese as I have bee taught to speak it, and I realized all of the causal forms we’ve been taught are the “masculine” casual forms.

Now, since “feminine” casual forms tend to be softer and less direct, maybe learning the “masculine” forms is easier for an English speaker, who exists in a more high content/low context environment anyway; feminine speech patterns in Japanese are even less direct than masculine ones. Or, you know, “masculine” is “default,” and therefore the one that we’re taught as people learning Japanese as a second language.

More important than that is the difference in the use of kango, words of Chinese origin typically associated with academia and intelligence. “The more important the topic … the higher the frequency of kango.” Relating back up to the relative lack of directness in feminine speech and the “heavy” or “still” feeling kango conveys, women tend not to use it nearly so often as men, even in academic papers, because they are not as familiar with its use. Women, therefore, are seen as less inclined to academia than men.

Considering the relatively low rates of women at prestigious universities like Todai and the fact that education at a prestigious university or beyond undergraduate studies is often seen as harming women’s prospects more than helping, this information about kango is just another log in the fire.

So what does it all mean and what do I intend to do with that knowledge? Honestly, I don’t know. For now, gather more knowledge; seek to understand more ways in which oppression works. From there, I have no idea.

Written by Fangirl

October 26, 2009 at 11:18 am