Navigating ever-changing moral landscapes is tricky for most of us. Ironically going too far in either direction tends to lead to eerily similar places. My personal rule of thumb is: don’t be a d*uche. I like it cause it’s simple to remember and applies in most situations.
But do the same rules apply to the media we consume? Should you they? The wide ranging question of the moral responsibility of art has been pondered for ages with no real consensus. However, anime is not exclusively art. No I’m not saying some anime isn’t art (leave Diabolik Lovers alone!) I’m saying anime is as much art as it is business, advertising and propaganda machine.
I’m making it sound much more ominous than it is I think. Let me try to explain myself better. anime that’s going to be distributed will conceivably reach an audience. As such it is a viable platform some can use to convey a message to that audience beyond the actual story. For instance, It’s difficult to look at Myazaki’s body of work without picking up on the environmentalist values he espouses. There is nothing wrong with sharing your beliefs and opinions, we just have some bad associations with the word propaganda… Let me look up a synonym
Apparently, a synonym for propaganda is “information”. Good to know!
But seeing as anime is a platform that can potentially sway public opinion, does it have a responsibility to be careful and measured with the messages it puts out. Is it a reasonable expectation. Would it be artistically limiting to set strict guideline or will it set a potentially harmful precedent?
Some of you probably already know this, but during the communist era, entertainment meant for general consumption had to follow a whole bunch of rules. Aside from the obvious shows of respect for the governing party (which in fact were fairly lax compared to even some democratic countries…) on of the biggest and most insidious rules was that art had to be “happy”. Movies, books even songs would have to end on a positive/ optimistic tone. Even paintings had to convey a sense of hope and calm. The idea was to subconsciously instill in everyone that the world was prosperous and joyful and any discontent you may feel was clearly temporary and individual to you. The fault was somewhere with you – everyone else is perfectly satisfied.
I love happy stories, but I can’t deny that a lot of tremendously talented authors were reduced to rubbish during this period. Even some that were fervent supporters of the communist party and glad to adhere by the rules. There was just something too stifling about having a set formula.
Also, I know we have to be careful about imposing our own morality on the world at large. It was recently pointed out to me (by a dear reader) that shows portraying abusive relationships may in fact be catering to audiences with masochistic tendencies as harmless fantasy fulfillment rather than glorifying the abuse and justifying it in the eyes of potential abusers. This is an excellent point.
Oh oh – and this is another conversation, but there is tons of research that has been done proving that violent media isn’t causative, so why would anything else be? Anywho, back to what I was saying.
In this particular example, I personally agree with the point and really my base attitude is to leave anime completely unrestricted and have faith in the better nature of the audiences.
However I have a specific pet peeve that drives me nuts. This constant equating on what is clearly stupid (helpless) behavior with *innocence* and *cuteness* which is incredibly frequent in female characters. Although the adorable moron does exist as a male archetype as well, the trait is usually considered funny rather than sexy. It’s in girls that acting almost painfully clueless is shorthand for being the romantic lead, most of the time. This unspoken understanding that being dumb is somehow desirable can’t be a good thing, can it?
And again, I know that just because it’s on TV constantly doesn’t mean it will affect reality in any way but I have seen more than a few girls dumb themselves down around people they find attractive.
The problem with pretending to be stupid is that much like pretending to be lazy, if you do it long enough, you won’t be pretending anymore… Lest you think I’m getting on my feminist tall pony again, I will have you know that I respect the men around me and firmly believe they are capable of holding intelligent debates and not that interested in wasting their time trying to have conversations with morons. Point is I find idiots boring and I would like to not encourage the creation of more.
Man I slipped into a rant there didn’t I… I’m done. Kids smart is sexy, be that.
So here’s the question: does anime have to hold to a certain standard?
In my own very personal opinion, the answer is no. Anime should entertain, maybe ask a few questions but it is in no way obligated to provide any answers or guidance. I personally think that the entire responsibility of moral and social consciousness rests with the viewer.
However I can see the argument for the other side. The idea of demanding a minimum level of quality or scruples. Of coming together to all work at distributing a unified message in hope of enacting actual change. There’s definitely something of value to be said for that. I’m just not sure controlling media is the way to go.
Due to current events, we’ve seen a lot of blogs tackle the question of separating art from artist but what of the ethics of the work itself. Can you parcel it out? Can you sing along to a wonderfully catchy tune with a brilliant composition and unabashedly racist lyrics? Can you enjoy a hilarious and breathtakingly beautiful anime packed with grossly underaged fan service? Are there elements so unsavory they will invalidate the whole?
And should we demand that those elements be off limits. I’ve told you my views. Aside from risking diminishing the art, I think that setting those limits is risky and ultimately unnecessary if we simply refuse to watch works we consider repulsive. But I also think the conversation around the issue is valuable and should be discussed from all perspectives.
What about you?