I mentioned perversity and Akihabara in the same sentence in the previous post. My inner, or possibly outer, logophile wants to clarify this. The dictionary definition for perverse is “turned away from what is right or good; corrupt” and “improper, incorrect” (M-W) and really, I didn’t mean it like that. Also, I was referring to perverse in sexual preference. And, before any possible reader climbs up on the barricades, I do not endorse or approve rape, pedophilia or anything else that does not involve consenting adults. However, I can differentiate between a fantasy and doin-it-fer-real. Just so we’re clear!
So, Japan is well-known throughout Asia for its pornographic publications, and globally, people are aware of the variety of sexually explicit (not to mention violent) content published from Japan. In US and Europe, fans of manga and anime are probably familiar with doujinshi, or publications of popular series made and sold by fans. In the Occident doujinshi are usually understood to be mostly sexually themed — usually yaoi or yuri (or homosexual pairings) — but in Japan it is a sub-category (albeit probably the largest one) known as ero manga. Many Western travelers to Japan relate shocked experiences of witnessing Japanese salarymen openly perusing sexually explicit manga on the subway.*
I used to think be that Japanese were so used to living in close quarters with millions of other Japanese (it’s an island nation, remember, and a mountainous one at that) that, in order to keep the peace, they evolved into a nation of mild, polite and pleasant manners where everyone is extremely careful not to insult or disturb anyone else. I theorised that the bent-up energy — the sexual fantasies, the aggressions, all extreme emotions, et cetera — had to come out in some form or another, and the Japanese found an outlet for it in art. I may or may not be onto something, but lately, I got to thinking…
(Dangerous activity, I know.)
Unlike almost any other major nation on the planet, Japan is pretty much untouched by Christian/Muslim influence (it’s all the same religion from my point of view, and for the benefit of readability and simplification (unlike my sentences), in this post when I speak of Christianity, you may presume that I also mean the Muslim counterpart), and their version of Confucian values seem to have been largely limited to working ethics and relations. A Western mind, as a part of a Western society, (no matter how liberal some of us may think we are) is really terribly contorted by the Christian teachings. For generation after generation, the churches have been preaching about the evilness of sex, to a point where nudity — mankind’s most natural state — is perceived as sexual, and therefore A Very Bad Thing.
Historically, sexual relations or homosexuality have never been a “sin” in Japan, as can be seen from popular art already from the 1700’s. Perhaps, without Christian teachings, the topic of sex has therefore remained a natural phenomena in Japan. Certainly, they have codes of modesty and people have never been encouraged to copulate in public or run about without a proper attire — but it seems that there have not been a feeling of shame or guilt attached to physical intimacy. Wikipedia tells us that only since the 19th century, the Japanese have demonised homosexuality in order to appear more ‘civilised’; ie. the world during the height of imperialism was largely controlled by those of Christian values, which in turn determined what was civilised and what was not. One could make a point about Christian values being largely renegotiable — for instance, “Thou Shalt Not Kill” is really just a suggestion which doesn’t really apply if the person doing the killing is Christened and the person or persons being killed happen to be indigenous people sitting on a perfectly good and unused land. I’m just saying.
I’ve mentioned the Japanese have a playful side to them, even if it isn’t immediately obvious from their good manners and strict work ethics. Previously, I iterated architecture and visual imagery. The Japanese have a knack for the art of exaggeration and polarization, all in good humour, and this shows also in the arts.
So, finally back on the topic of porn!
Let’s say you come across a manga in which an innocent female character gets penetrated through all possible openings by a multiple-tentacled monster, while being overlooked by a large-breasted school mistress and a class of high school boys in service maid outfits. Unless you are a regular of the 4-chan or just otherwise as jaded as I am, whatever else you might think, you would probably also perceive these visuals and the story as perverted (in the dictionary sense), as demeaning, objectifying, as simply somehow just wrong.
Oh, where to begin!
In the West, comics as a serious art form, as something for the adult audience, has never really sunk in. In your heart of hearts, you know that comics are for children. The word itself denotes comedy! (“Graphic novel” as a concept hits closer to the mark, but it is a fairly modern idea still and both in written and spoken English ‘comics’ is still used interchangeably.) So, that’s strike one. Strike two I already elaborated on — Western civilisation is based on religious values which condemn all sexuality as immoral, and the more inventive the act, the greater a sin it must be. Strike three; depiction of non-consentual sex. Everyone but the most depraved individuals know that rape is wrong. You get the drift — adults and adult connotations all mixed with children and child connotations.
Well. Although my gut reaction is pretty much the same, or at least “WTF” (no pun intented, haha), I have to disagree. Thinking about a crime is not the same as committing it, and I think, when all’s said and done, if one is inclined to fantasise about things such as described above, then rather than try to suffocate the thoughts, it’s probably healthier to draw them or read the manga. The key point here is what I already said in the beginning — a normal**, grown up person is surely able to differentiate between fantasy and reality.
Depicting or fantasising about rape is not the same as endorsing it in real life. There are two things to note. The first is that this hypothetical manga is aimed at an adult audience and it is, in fact, illegal to sell it to minors. The second point is this: constitute the word ‘rape’ with the word ‘crime’ and the sentence suddenly stops creating such an emotional response. Rape and pedophilia are the horrible and condemnable crimes, but so are torture and murder. Comics with the latter kind of content are abundant (also) in the West. Why should one play of imagination and artistic application be worse than the other? The likely argument that this kind of material should not be sold because it will cause people to re-enact the scenes in real life is just as absurd as blaming a music-performing group for an individual person’s violent actions. Both cases fail to address the fact that a person who acts on the impulse or fantasy of hurting other people is already an unhealthy individual. And well, seriously: isn’t it better to give a perverted individual something to jack off to, so s/he doesn’t have to go out and look for it? After all, if it’s not your cup of tea, you don’t have to read it.
And finally, to return to the art of exaggeration. The playful side. The humour?
The aforementioned hypothetical manga (which probably does exist, at least in somebody’s fantasy) is exaggerated to the point that it cannot be mistaken for reality. Many-tentacled human-raping monsters reportedly do not exist. The large-breasted school matron, boys in maid outfits and the innocent victim are all polarised stereotypes and are not meant to be taken seriously.
I admit it’s easy to misunderstand my choice to liken playfulness of the Japanese to morally dubious publications by the same: I do not mean that ‘rape’ equals ‘funny’. What I’m trying to say is that, like the stereotypes and exaggeration, I think the Japanese mentality does not treat sex as something that should be approached with grave respect or a deeply serious undertaking. No pun intented.
\^___^ Kudos for the nation of Japan for understanding that sex is OK! ^___^/
Personally, I think shokushu goukan, tentacle porn, is hilarious. It’s such an absurd idea that I went to Toranoana, a large manga store in Akihabara, to specifically look for it. I found a couple doujinshis, but in the end I didn’t want to put my meagre yens into something I couldn’t browse in the store. Maybe next time?
*From what I witnessed, though, these days people mostly peruse content on their mobile phones rather than on paperbacks.