Manga, Anime, Sexuality and Japanese Culture

I originally posted a shorter version of this on my writing blog, but I thought I'd cross post it here where there's more readers because I kind of want people's reaction to it. That is, I want people who may have more experience with this stuff to tell me where I'm wrong and where I'm right.

I've been thinking about manga and anime recently. Sex is usually handled so weirdly. It's like, people either seem to have no sexuality at all unless they're creepy perves (Bleach, Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service, Cowboy Bebop) despite everyone being highly sexualized in appearance, the sexuality is buried underneath constantly thwarted romantic lines to bubble up suppressed (Maison Ikkoku), the sexuality is amped up beyond reason but the "good" protagonists still feel kind of ashamed and embarrassed about it (Demon King Daimao, FLCL), or it's flat out porn (Hentai) where everyone just wants to have sex all the time (but often still feel ashamed and embarrassed about it, though the treatment of sexuality in Hentai porn could be a whole study in itself, which I'm sure someone must have done). Granted, these are all "light" anime (except for the porn) aimed at teenagers, but even more adult works like 20th Century Boys don't seem to portray healthy sexual relationships between consenting adults (or teens), at least between those who haven't been married for a while already. To be fair, I haven't made a study of it, and this is all anecdotal evidence based on the manga and anime I've been exposed to, but it says something weird to me about Japanese culture.

It also makes me think of the Murakami books I've read where people don't really date. It's like there's only three kinds of relationships in Japanese culture, you're either a one-night stand in a love hotel and it's pure sex, you're in some horribly complicated and constantly thwarted romantic relationship that's never actually acknowledged or consummated, or you're married and have been married for some time. Which is really strange.

Compare, for example, these various anime/manga and the American anime-influenced Avatar: The Last Airbender (the TV series, not the execrable movie which will never be spoken of again). In that show we have a number of stable relationships, chiefly between Sokka and Suki and between Zuko and Mai (broken up only because Zuko has to go off and help the Airbender, and then rekindled at the end), and there's also the ongoing flirtation/will-they-won't-they between Aang and Katara which is never portrayed as shameful, embarrassing and never has the kind of exploitative titillation you see in Anime-- Aang never catches Katara in the shower or leers over her body in a swimsuit, for example.

If there are anime or manga that portray ongoing relationships in this way, I haven't seen them. Though I admit it's entirely possible that I just haven't found the right ones.

Wold Newton This Weekend and More Wet Asphalt in December

So the Wold Newton Reading Extravaganza recently inaugurated its new website which has video from the last reading by Brian Francis Slattery and Charles Yu as well as various bonus materials and awesomeness. This weekend will be another great event featuring Cat Valente reading from her book about Prester John, The Habitation of the Blessed, along with belly dancing and burlesque! All for free, at WORD bookstore in Greenpoint. See the website linked to above for more info.

Meanwhile, Wet Asphalt will probably continue to be light until the end of the month when I might have time to breath again. Stay tuned every body!

The Thing About the Tea Party Movement, or False Consciousness for Fun and Profit!

It's not clear that Karl Marx ever used the term "false consciousness" to describe ideology and the way it is used to convince members of the proletariat to act against their own interests politically, but the notion is one that has shown remarkable prescience and staying power as a problem for leftist politics in the last couple centuries or so. It's a useful tool that at least helps to explain how it came to be that Irish immigrants who were apparently no friends of black folks at the time nevertheless joined the Union Army during the civil war to participate in a fight to end slavery in America. It seems to be lurking in the background of the poor kids who got duped into fighting in Korea and Vietnam where it has never been clear that brinksmanship with Mao's China had any real benefit for an American workforce in the middle of the greatest prosperity any labor force has ever had in the history of the world—thanks in no small part to the strength of labor unions in the forties, fifties and sixties; and to President Eisenhower's 70% top marginal tax rate. And frankly, arguments about getting money for school and gaining job skills aside, I can't help but think it's there in the fresh faced kids signing up to learn how to be IED fodder year in and year out in a Military that hasn't had to fight a defensive war in almost four generations now. It also explains to a great degree the question Thomas Frank asked and attempted to answer a few years book in his book "What's the Matter with Kansas?" Frank's answer is wrong because Frank is a milquetoast liberal, and like all milquetoast liberals, he has conceded too much to capitalist propaganda to continue to make a coherent argument for a robust leftwing agenda. But the problem he has identified is real, despite the many attempts to discredit his work by right wing "intellectuals" shilling for the GOP.

Whither Now My America?

It's been a couple of days since the election, and I've let the disappointments sink in. In a lot of ways, this feels like 2004 all over again and in that I have some hope because things in many ways look brighter than they did during that dark election year. But I have to look around and wonder at the problems that my nation faces and the bizarre and unproductive electoral decisions that my fellow citizens have made in the face of those problems. My fear, and it's a very real one, is that the we have stood on the precipice of empire for too long and now the westward it has plotted its course and in its wake we have been left to drown for a good long while. I think that perhaps the American century has come to a close and what will happen now is that we will begin to settle into a long decline that remakes the face of global politics where the faults of our nation give rise to a new balance in the distribution of resources and global power that will need to account for the resurgence of Europe and new strength in India and China. That is probably a good thing in many ways. It's been clear for a while that the unitary superpower status that the United States held after the collapse of the Soviet bloc was something that was both unsustainable and that was just as bad for us as it was for the world living in our shadow. Where it's troubling is in the diminishment of American surplus and an over all decrease in the abundance that had sustained us for so long. In the end, I worry about what will happen for the weakest among us in the wake of a new austerity that will be imposed from without as much as we seem hell bent on imposing it from within.

Weekend Reading - 10/24/2010

Last month I posted a link to an article by Elif Batuman lambasting writers workshops. Matt Cheney wrote an an excellent critique of that article which puts into perspective some of Elif's odd logic.

Hal Duncan has been writing some of the best literary criticism on the web, especially in terms of genre. Back in August he visited an alternate universe where combat fiction was shunted off into its own fiction of the bookstore, and titles in the genre like Catch-22 strove for respect while more mainstream fair like Samuel Delany's Dalgren became the international classics they deserved to be. Now he writes a corollary where he talks about the problems of talking about genre and mainstream awards and asks whether the people are really so hostile to genre, anyway?

Meanwhile, This Space examines the book whatever happened to Modernism and takes a close look at how the formerly radical principles of Modernism got honed into sheer convention.

On a related note, Jonathan Lethem talks about the history of the novel, and how the once undignified form rose to dominance as a symbol of class status.

Other Stuff

Alan Moore may get a film and spin-off TV series. No, really.

Argentine master Jorge Luis Borges' story "Death and the Compass" was adapted into a movie that's now available online.

Fiction magazine Black Gate has created a book trailer. It's nice to see guys like them, Electric Literature and Weird Tales branching into video to promote their stuff. (Especially considering how many fiction magazines don't do anything in the way of promotion at all.)

As reported, widely elsewhere, for a Ruby on Rails competition, a site was set up that compares ebook prices and availability between Amazon, B&N and iBooks. They tell me that they're also working on incorporating smaller stores, like Fictionwise and Weightless Books.

In ME News

The WOLD NEWTON READING EXTRAVAGANZA in Greenpoint, Brooklyn will return on November 21st with Cat Velente, the return of Brian Francis Slattery and his band, with burlesque and belly-dancing and other madness. New website coming soon, I swear.

Also, I've redesigned my personal website and I think it looks purty.

And finally, FICTION TIME!

The big news in fiction time this month is a new story by Ted Chiang available online, "The Lifecycle of Software Objects". Chiang really is one of the best short fiction writers working today, and he is not prolific, so go, read, enjoy.

Speaking of Alan Moore and Hal Duncan,

Moore has a previously unpublished story available now called "Fossil Angel", and it's Alan Moore and you should go read it.

And Hal Duncan has a new story up on Strange Horizons called "Styx Water and a Sippy Cup" that's getting good marks.

Larry Marder Interviewed at NYCC

An interview with Larry Marder, creator of Beanworld and former CEO of Image Comics, talks about a most peculiar comic book experience, 25 years of anthropomorphic beans and making comics vs. running a comics company.

Larry Marder's Website:

I've been a fan of Beanworld since I first discovered it as a kid, and you will not find a stranger, more giddily wonderful comic.

Weekday Reading - 9/28/2010

It's been a while and there's been a lot of interesting stuff out there, so let's get started:

If you haven't heard, Jeff VanderMeer is now writing the Science Fiction Chronicle column over at the New York Times. Far superior to the previous tenant.

A fascinating article on genre and Jonathan Lethem about high and low art, genre and genre exploitation.

Charles Bock ably takes about Tao Lin, a writer who's goal in life, it seems, is to figure out how to make fiction MORE boring.

Here's a comic telling of the stormy history of mega-agent Andrew Wylie, who is as hated by the publishing establishment as he is loved by the authors he secures multi-million-dollar advances for. (Apparently, when he poached Philip Roth from his agent at a party, Roth said to him, "Back up the money truck!")

Elif Batuman on why writer's workshops churn out terrible writers. (via Bookavore who sums things up nicely.)

How a Newsday columnist manufactured a bestseller by with two sex scenes per chapter to prove a point.

JA Konrath has stirred up a lot of controversy by dropping regular publishers in favor of self-publishing ebooks and making a boat load of money doing it (just passed the $100,000 mark so far, apparently). He explains his thinking in the form of a parable, which thinking reminds me a lot of Dave Sim's old arguments for self-publishing comics back in the eighties and nineties. Sources tell me that Konrath is really self-publishing because he's so difficult to work with no publisher will have him anymore. I have mixed feelings about the whole thing, but am interested in any illustration of self-publishing success.


It's the HULK vs. the BUDDHA no holds barred!

The Genre Fiction Generator!

And finally...

I have been consistently impressed by the story quality over at Beneath Ceaseless Skies. Here's a story called "Throwing Stones" by Mishell Baker that takes place in an odd fantasy world and grapples with gender questions in a way that reminds me of the best of Le Guin. Good stuff.

Subterranean gives us "Return" by Peter Beagle which, typically for Beagle, is a reliably fun and well-written tale that gives you basically everything you might want in a fantasy adventure story.

Until next time!

Zeitgeist Contretemps: The Weltanschauungen of the Now

Consider: Around five thousand babies will be born before you finish reading this.
At current rates:
Of those babies, something like 750 will die before the age of five.
Children in poor countries are more than 20 times more likely to die before the age of five than children in wealthy countries, which means the vast majority of those 750 children will be born in poverty.
Of the 4250 or so that make it to their fifth birthday, another tenth will die before they are adults, again disproportionately in the poorest countries.
Of the 3800 or so that remain, 80% will live in poverty where poverty is defined as living on less than ten dollars a day.
Most will die before the age of sixty and a significant percentage will die before the age of forty.
Of the 750 who remain, they are the heirs to something on the order of 3/4s of the worlds wealth.
Of those 750, 75 will grow up to control half of the wealth of that group.
Of those 75, 7 will grow up to control a third of the wealth of the richest 75.
These disparities have been steadily increasing over the past 100 years.
Numbers of children who die before the age of 5 have decreased significantly.
Mortality rates for teenagers and young adults have not seen a similar decline.
The World Health Organization tracks infant mortality as the chance of death before the age five.
These two facts make me think of Heisenberg's uncertainty principle.
There are nearly seven billion people living on the planet as of 2010.
This is almost double the population of the earth in 1970.
By the end of the next decade, the population of the earth will be more than triple the population in 1960.
It is 4 AM in the morning, somewhere in North America.
I have steady electricity, central air conditioning, and clean running water.
As a firmly middle class earner, my lifestyle is fairly modest for most Americans, probably about as close to the median for single college educated men as you can get.