Manga and Queer Culture- A Perfect Match? Part 2.

Over the past decade, manga, along with other quintessential elements of Japanese pop culture, have had a souring increase in popularity within the western world. Reflecting back on my own upbringing, what once was considered a niche source of entertainment for very few children, is now being used for discussion on pervasive social issues, as well as within academic research. This overwhelming increase in recognition and application has led to a wider interest in Japanese culture through the apt appropriation of these cultural materials as a source of poignant socio-cultural information. Manga has always presented itself as something that I am curious about, but I lacked both the urgency and connection to the medium to pursue this curiosity further.

As discussed within my initial auto-ethnographical account, Manga and Queer Culture- A Perfect Match? Part 1, my interactions with manga were both encountered by initial chance, and self-directed curiosity on the issue.

What’s interesting to me is the way in which constructing my narrative, for the purpose of discussing my initial interaction with manga, prompted epiphanies regarding the topic. Through following Ellis et al’s suggested narrative methodology in order to ‘bring readers into the scene – particularly into thoughts, emotions, and actions’ provoked an awareness of occurrences and intricacies which heavily influenced my motivation on the topic.

My first epiphany was with regard to my own privilege. Although the concept of privilege, and its function within society, is highly systemic, it is also exceedingly relative to the country in question. Japanese culture operates not only culturally different to Australia, but also socially on a lot of issues. Due to these socio-cultural biases and my lack of interaction with manga, I came to view manga as a revolutionary tool before seeing it as an entertainment medium.

The history of Japan is completely separate from what we know as the West. Its evolution regarding distinctive philosophies, socio-cultural structures and religious authority, understandably built Japan into the country it is today. Although there is no law against homosexuality within Japan, there is little discussion of LGBT issues at all. Topics and representations of homosexuality are frequently kept silent, and gay rights, including marriage, receives very little political discussion. This poses itself as a stark contrast to my own experiences within Australia, and this knowledge has prompted me to view Japanese LGBTQ+ culture as repressed and systemically discriminated against.

As evidenced within my initial account, I opened the post with an account of a marriage equality rally in which I attended. This comparison was done with clear intention and motivation, so as to reveal the glaring differences in culture, and the experiences of the respective LGBTQ+ communities to the audience. Focusing on the phenomena of ‘patterns of cultural experiences’ discussed by Ellis et al, we can witness repeated stories and happenings of similar minority groups (i.e. acts of discrimination and erasure), albeit at different points in time. This awareness promotes curiosity into the different cultural structures that facilitated the difference in evolution of this social groups acceptance. But also, because of the dual presence of queer communities in both cultures, it raises the question of how LGBTQ+ communities navigate their domineering culture through the appropriation of untraditional modes of communication.

japan_transgenderism_def

Source.

This epiphany highlighted, as well as indirectly structuring the way I would address the function of manga as not only a source of entertainment, but as a source of queer liberation in a culture that traditionally objects to the ‘unordinary’. This dual function is pertinent to its success as an escapist and revolutionary medium.

Manga provides audiences with a merging of visual and literary examples of Japanese culture, thus allowing manga the potential to be a rich and enduring source of cultural information (Dudley, 2012, p. 2). Emblematic of most cross-cultural texts however, manga’s ability to serve as not only a vehicle for Japanese culture, but also an important tool for social activism, depends on the way in which it is translated. Branching off Ellis’ comments regarding the ‘comparing of personal experiences with existing research’, it was evident that Japanese texts had the capability to operate in much the same way that Western socio-political inspired texts operate, an example of which being film. Traditionally, most manga sources are translated for the purposes of entertainment. Within the pages of manga, you are able to be anything  that you like- a supernatural being, super hero or a person of another gender identity. The narrative structure of manga assisted in easing my struggle with reading this text, especially regarding the lack of prior engagement I had with it.

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Source.

Within the imaginary world constructed by manga, concepts of gender and sexuality are often quite fluid, so it is no shock that many LGBTQ+ people are turning to manga for sympathetic representations of their lived experiences. Within my initial account, I referred to two manga- Wandering Son (2002) and Bokura No Hentai (2012). Although both address similar topics regarding trans* identity, their execution varying drastically. Wandering Son, due to my own perceptions regarding trans* identity, was read with intense contempt. I unfortunately could not finish the text, revealing the way in which my own cultural framework influenced the way in which I viewed the text. As opposed to viewing the story as the starting point for queer representation on an evolutionary timeline regarding the acceptance of these identities, I viewed it as highly repressive contrast to what I am accustomed to in my own cultural space. However, reading Bokura No Hentai directly after Wandering Son however heightened my affinity for the latter text, due to the fact that it aligned more consistently to the social codes that I am used to, as well as my own moral compass.

References:

Bokura no Hentai, Mangafox, viewed 3 September 2017, http://m.mangafox.me/manga/bokura_no_hentai/

Dudley, J 2012, Manga as Cross-Cultural Literature: The effects of Translation on Cultural Perceptions, viewed 9 September 2017, https://scholarship.tricolib.brynmawr.edu/bitstream/handle/10066/14759/2012DudleyJ_thesis.pdf?sequence=1

Ellis, C 2011, Autoethnography: A Review, Forum: Qualitative Social Research, viewed 10 September 2017, http://www.qualitative-research.net/index.php/fqs/article/view/1589/3095

Nicolov, A, 2016, How Manga is Guiding Japan’s Youth on LGBT Issues, DAZED, viewed 11 September 2017, http://www.dazeddigital.com/artsandculture/article/32647/1/how-manga-is-guiding-japan-s-youth-on-lgbt-issues

Wandering Son, Fantagraphic, viewed 4 September 2017, http://www.fantagraphics.com/wanderingson1/

2 comments

  1. I’ve really enjoyed following your research into manga so far! Its so interesting that at first sight, manga could just be viewed as another comic, but the content expresses so many social issues. If you’re interested, here is an article that discusses how graphic novels can raise questions on social problems (https://scholar.lib.vt.edu/ejournals/ALAN/v37n3/schwarz.html). I think it will be useful in your future research for creating a basic understanding of how graphic novels can achieve social change in your digital platform. Looking forward to seeing the finished product!

    Like

  2. This was really interesting. I particularly found that last part to be interesting, in the way your own cultural framework made engaging with the content difficult. I think we often have a tendency to think of equality as a kind of linear narrative, where representation slowly improves and thus so do laws (in Australia at the moment, marriage equality is being seen as a kind of end goal). You even refer to an “evolutionary timeline”. I think you must be careful not to judge Japan as being ‘behind’ Australia, but rather view them as just different. However, the epiphany you wrote about in this post indicates that you’re on the right track, and you have done well to use Ellis et al’s method to investigate your own biases. Overall this seems like a great topic and I’m excited to see the final result.

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