I have a feeling this post isn’t going to do very well. The few times I’ve approached slightly meatier subjects, my readers were generally not that interested. But that’s o.k. This one will be a more for me post.
Right off the bat, I might as well warn you, this won’t be a debate. I’m not here to either condemn nor defend any particular aspect. So if you were looking for some confirmation bias, this will probably be a disappointing read.
I’ve spoken once or twice about my slightly confused views on the prevalence of fanservice in anime. Long story short, I generally like it. In fact I went into some detail trying to analyze where my particular comfort zone ended. In hindsight, I realized that I had left out a central element. One that I think is very important to take into consideration, especially when dealing with an impressionable audience.
I actually do not mind sexualization of characters. In some extreme circumstances it can make me uncomfortable but it doesn’t make me…angry. It most likely will not ruin the experience. What I have considerably more trouble with is objectification. And when those two elements are brought together, at the same time, I tend to have a more emotional reaction.
Just to be clear, there are plot lines that call for it, and mistreatment of characters is sometimes referred. However, when used gratuitously, it bothers me. In fact, objectification without sexualization also bothers me and can make a show difficult to enjoy.
This post here isn’t just to talk about myself as always. Don’t get me wrong I do love doing that. However, I felt a touch compelled to write this. I have had a conversation or two as of late that have led me to realize that some people use the terms interchangeably. They may actually be synonyms. I should never be trusted on questions of vocabulary.
As I understand it, Sexualizing a character is actively attributing physical and/or intellectual characteristics and behavior to elicit arousal or sexual attraction from the audience. This can be as blatant as putting imaginary people in skimpy outfits or as subtle and complex as trying to balance out just enough helpless behavior and inept thinking to make a character appear in need of protection with enough wit and grit to not make them overly childlike.
Anime fans, or indeed general media fans, are usually intimately (see what I did there?) familiar with a wide spectrum of sexualization. It’s closely associated with fanservice but in my opinion the two aren’t exactly the same thing. As I mentioned above, the idea of purposefully trying to make a character attractive to your audience doesn’t bother me at all. It seems rather reasonable in fact.
Objectification is a different beast. It’s reducing your character to being a passive agent of the narrative rather than an active, uhm, actor. That was a really bad sentence. Let me try again, objectifying a person is treating them like they are a thing….you know…an object. Ok, I think it’s time I start paraphrasing someone who’s better at this than I am.
If you’ve ever taken a psych or social studies or women’s studies class (I have not, closest was a philosophy class on mathematical logic…) You have probably heard the name Martha Nussbaum. She classified objectification into a few main categories as such… No no, don’t close the tab. I promise it won’t be that bad… It’s info that will help you hit on the hot feminist chick..or dude…
Instrumentality: Treating a person like a tool. We all feel this way at work from time to time. In anime, this can amount to introducing a character just so they can accomplish a specific task without actually giving them a personality. It can make people that have a lot of plot importance, stay completely undeveloped.
Denial of autonomy and Inertness. I ve grouped these together because they tend to be quite similar for our purposes. This is when characters are completely robbed of agency. Things happen to them and they passively subir events. They never instigate or decide anything.
Fungibility, Violability and Ownership: these are all the most literal forms of objectification. They mean treating a character as interchangeable with an object (I don’t know if regalia and Soul Eaters weapons fall into this category). Treating them as something that is acceptable to “break” either physically, emotionally or intellectually. And treating them like property. Now it’s one thing when a character objectified another, because the story involves some form of abuse. What I’m talking about, is when the plot does it. It happens occasionally with characters that are clones.
Finally denial of subjectivity. This is when a character’s feelings are treated as unimportant or nonexistent despite evidence to the contrary. It can happen sometimes after too much editing and your plot doesn’t have any time to let a character grieve or go through normal emotional process.
In the years we’ve also added notions of objectifying people by reducing them to their appearance or to one particular element of their personality.
Again I want to clarify. Characters objectifying each other is perfectly fine as far as I’m concerned. When the narrative does it however, it makes me feel creepy. And more importantly it makes for bad, underdeveloped characters. So fine, have random gusts of wind constantly blow up a character’s skirt, just give them some juicy dialogue along the way. Maybe have them try to come up with all sorts of tips and tricks to avoid the situation, that always fail. I dunno, maybe thing weights to the hem but that ultimately just pulls the whole skirt down…
Guys, did I just accidentally write a masterpiece? I m pretty sure I did….