Generally speaking I’m a proponent of approaching anime as a self-contained product. In practice that means I try to disregard the source material, reputation and pedigree of a show and simply enjoy it on its own merits. Occasionally this can get tricky but it’s my preferred method.
I expounded a bit on it in this post, where I argued that the intended impact of a work is irrelevant in the light of audience perception. The two concepts are closely related. In fact, they come together under the doctrine of “La mort de l’auteur” (Death of the Author or Artist) Basically, this is a literary criticism notion that says that an author’s background (religion, politics, race and so on) as well as their intentions should be disregarded when critiquing their work.
The full expression being Death of the author is the birth of the reader, because art is meant to induce interpretation in the audience.
Why bring all this up now? Well, because of The Rising of the Shield Hero and the hoopla around it. I haven’t seen the show, and quite frankly I don’t care that much. It must be doing something right if it’s generating so much conversation and likely this has been reflected in the ratings. But I have heard comments here and there.
Most notably, I have read a bunch of posts and tweets forcefully explaining that the anime was NOT sexist. I probably don’t follow the right publications since without these defense posts, I would never have known that the series had ever even been accused of being sexist. It makes me question my choice in information really.
More specifically though, was the argument that The Rising of the Shield Hero is not sexist because it was written by a woman. I’ve read this a few times now and it’s a very common argument regularly used in media whenever the “sexist” question comes up, and it makes no sense.
Aside from the simple fact that a work exists separate from its creator and can be discriminatory even with the best of intentions. There’s also the much more direct issue that women can and occasionally are sexist. The whole point is that they’re people, with all the inherent faults that implies.
Before this becomes a specific argument on Shield Hero (I have since learned the gender of the author may not be known at this time), I’m really not an expert on the subject. I don’t mind at all if you guys have a conversation on it in the comments, in fact I would love that, I just won’t have much of interest to contribute.
I just want to bring a few points across that are important to me personally. First, people’s DNA doesn’t guide their morality. Just because you are part of a minority, or a traditionally oppressed group, doesn’t mean you naturally champion or even represent that group. As such, the author being of any gender or race is irrelevant to their intent or beliefs. I understand that their experiences in life will be shaped by their biological reality and this in turn may inform their morality but that’s speculating way too far and…
It also doesn’t matter. If a work created with the best of intentions has harmful outcomes, you can’t simply ignore everything and treat it as a non-issue. Well you can, but it’s a bit short sighted. Moreover, the intentions of the author don’t invalidate the interpretation of the reader. I always find that a person that debates the content or art by saying well maybe you saw that, but the author actually said this, is relying on a cheap argument with limited merit. If YOU agree with the author, then talk about your interpretation and how you reached it. Otherwise you might as well go my mommy said so…
All of this sounds all well and good, until you consider the flipside of Death of the Author. This is a two-sided coin. Unlike all those tricky one-sided coins. Meaning that if a wonderful piece of art is created by an author you find reprehensible, that also shouldn’t matter if we want to be consistent. Bringing us back to the Rurouni Kenshin debacle. At this point do you support a work you consider worthy regardless of where it comes from. And what if that support enriches the creator? Does praising the art imply a taciturn approval of the artist?
I’m not saying this is a clear-cut question. It’s not at all, which is why it merits discussion in my opinion. I’m not even saying that my interpretation is valid. I’m open to changing my mind on the subject. What I am saying is that claiming something isn’t sexist because the author is a woman is pushing the real issue aside.
By the way, when I made this exact point on twitter, I was almost immediately replied to by some super enthusiastic individuals that immediately pointed out how feminist writings are the most sexist out there or that feminist outcries are never about actually sexist issues. Anyways, it got real intense, real quick. I’m afraid I got a bit scared and backed off right away, so I can’t tell you how it ended.
Let me know, do you believe in death of the author or do you think the creator is always an integral part of the creation? Should we pay for the sins of the father?