Reflection is a crucial part of the autoethnographic experience. Ellis et al (2011) write that one of the key components that autoethnographers achieve in their writing is a thick description of a culture through their own introspective experiences. They argue that by not only allowing, but utilising the self in writing ethnography (thereby autoethnography), a more compelling, and more importantly accessible, mode of writing may be able to reach a significantly wider audience. With understanding the importance of reflection and introspection within autoethnography, I wanted to tie that in with another framework I’ve been learning in one of my other classes; Michael White’s narrative therapy.
In another class of mine, we’ve been learning how to utilise Michael White’s narrative therapy framework to tackle and come to understand one’s values. I believe this to be of significant importance; if we can understand our values, we can begin to understand why we think certain ways. In a lot of ways, I think this is a useful framework that compliments autoethnography to fight against what Ellis et al describe as a “white, masculine, heterosexual, middle/upper-classed, Christian, able-bodied perspective” (2011) in regards to traditional forms of research, or what we’ve come to accept as scientific objectivity. By bringing in an understanding of our values and acknowledging what those values are, we as autoethnogaphers can provide a more nuanced and accurate thick description.
In one of the previous weeks, I wrote about my experience with watching Otomo’s Akira. One of the things that I noted that stood out to me was the traits of toxic masculinity that I found within the two main male protagonists, Tetsuo and Kaneda. A scene I found particularly affective was when Tetsuo steals Kaneda’s bike, which results in both Tetsuo and Kaori (Tetsuo’s “love interest”; I think it’s a one-sided love) being brutally beaten by a rival bike gang. Although the onscreen violence was distressing, it was Tetsuo’s callous and seemingly unsympathetic nature towards Kaori’s bloody and beaten face that stood out for me. This callous nature of being unable to admit fault/help, underpinned by nuances of arrogance, a crumbling sense of self-worth and aggressive competition, are traits that I’ve learned to be associated with toxic masculinity.
To me, the defining moment of change within Akira is when Tetsuo finally calls out to Kaneda, pleading for help. Despite Tetsuo being at his most powerful state, an all consuming mass, he’s inversely at his weakest; being unable to control himself and witnessing the destruction of those he admits to having had loved by his own hands. It’s a moment where hubris is set aside, a momentary discarding of toxic masculinity, and it’s a moment where I felt sympathy for Tetsuo for the first time.
I believe these traits to be represented as toxic due to their intimate nature with the background of the story. In a lot of ways Akira seems to discuss the foalies of human hubris. Neo-Tokyo is a cesspool of destruction, rebellion, struggling independence and violence. The story, although revolving primarily around Tetsuo and Kaneda, sees government self-interest coming at odds with the oncoming destruction of Neo-Tokyo and its inhabitants. Inversely, it is only when Tetsuo discards his own hubris when the trajectory of the story changes from scenes of violence and a pervasive sense of destruction, to that of rehabilitation and healing.
By utilising the framework of narrative therapy, I’ve reinforced my own understanding of my opposition towards toxic masculinity through watching Akira, reflecting and writing about it. These scenes stood out to me particularly because I felt my values were affected, with said values being learned from my environment and upbringing. Are these attributes viewed as toxic masculinity in Japan, in the same way that I view them? As of writing this right now, I don’t know, and I think that’s important to note.