I know, I know, you HATE the word problematic. Everyone does. I get it. It’s a word that’s been way overused and misused and is almost always followed by a rant. There’s not much to love there!
And I think that because of that, we have a tendency to disregarding any point that uses the word “problematic”. We roll our eyes and think, yeah, yeah, everything is problematic. Well, I kind of do. Maybe you’re better than me.
But the thing is, just because it’s framed or presented in a way we don,t like, doesn’t mean it’s not a valid argument. Heck, even if the person making it is not credible and the argument is in bad faith, doesn’t necessarily mean that there isn’t something to it. And because we hate the word problematic, I think we shut ourselves out of a lot of potentially interesting conversations.
I’m gonna wade into some really scary waters here. Wish me luck. The loli question. Not even loli necessarily but the general sexualization of underage characters. This is one of the big ones. Anime is a sexy medium with a lot of sexualization and it generally doesn’t have any qualms about including younger characters in the fold. As such actual lolis and just generally sexualized characters that are specifically stated to be underage, is an extremely common element.
And anime critics, as well as various viewers, have been calling that element “problematic” for years. While a portion of anime fans have lashed back very vocally about it being “not problematic”. But what do either of those things mean?
You see, I think people are sometimes arguing different points and the word problematic is just getting in the way. The most common defence of the point I have seen is that enjoying sexualized animations of underage characters is absolutely not pedophilia and it is ridiculous to think an anime that features lolis or illegal age gap sexual relationships, would encourage viewers to become pedophiles.
And you know, I tend to agree. I haven’t done the research but generally, that’s just not how media influence works. I really don’t think there’s any reason to be scared that anime will turn people into pedos.
But I can see why the constant presence of the element could be a problem, under certain circumstances. It’s not just that sexy little kids are present, it’s that sexualizing them is presented as not a bad thing, even occasionally as a good thing. The cinematic language is often extremely positive and quite a few of those age gap relationships are portrayed as loving and romantic.
And where I can see that it could be a problem is that it normalizes the behaviour not for the adult portion of the audience, but for the kids. If small children constantly see children being sexualized in the media as a good or at least normal thing, instead of something to be afraid of, then they won’t necessarily see it as a bad thing if it happens to them. They might even see it as kind of cool cause it’s just like in their favourite show.
Of course, it will definitely not be all kids, it probably won’t even be the majority of kids but it is still a potential danger that has precedent and has been studied on a few levels. So lolis aren’t going to turn a grown watcher into a pedophile anymore than yaoi is going to turn them gay. In my opinion. But there is a danger that it could make children less able to recognize predatory behaviour and therefore more vulnerable to it.
And I could be wrong. Or I could be right but you could argue that the percentage is so small that it is not worth impeding on artistic freedom. Or maybe we can go into a conversation that art and entertainment have a lot of dangerous aspects to them and it is a guardian’s job to explain these properly to children so that they can interpret them in the right way. Because purging art and entertainment of all those elements would bring on a whole different range of problems that are worse. All these points are valid and in my opinion very worthy of debate.
In fact, not just worthy of debate, but I do think a serious and thought-out conversation on the subject could lead to better anime. And I like anime, so I want it to be better. But we don’t talk about it, because the word problematic is the worst.
This may be the longest tangent I’ve ever been on. I didn’t actually make my point about problematic anime at all. So here is my view on my title question. I don’t think problematic anime are “bad”, or at least not because they are problematic. They could still just be sucky anime.
Most elements in anime can be interpreted in many ways and hold some value for a part of the audience. It is more in presentation and context that problems can arise. And even then I don’t think eliminating them is the solution. For instance, I absolutely detest the abuse as a romantic trope. Seeing a character get basically raped but it’s ok cause the predator is sexy and really loves them, then they end up happily ever after. I despise that trope. Yet, even I have seen some anime that use it and are still good. That one part isn’t something I enjoyed but the rest can still be excellent.
It’s also a very sad fact that some people really do think that way. That abuse in the name of love is justified. Now we can go into the whole conversation of just how much their belief was bolstered by the prevalence of that trope across all media. But I’m not sure we gain anything by pretending it doesn’t exist. Once again, I generally think it’s the victims that convince themselves of such things at a much higher rate than the perpetrators.
So making the romantic rape trope disappear overnight wouldn’t necessarily make anime (or media in general) better. And it probably wouldn’t make abusive relationships better either. But talking about it might. Figuring out why the trope is so prevalent and why we continue to use it. What that says about the industries that promote it, the audiences that consume it and the societies that have created it. And I can fully understand if this is a conversation that you are not interested in. I get that. I wrote that society line and actually said ugh to myself. But I do think the conversations can really be productive and help us and our art grow.
And we are not going to have these conversations if we just blindly bulldoze any uncomfortable element out of the art we consume. In fact, that’s a lazy way to avoid having these conversations. Just like saying everything is problematic.
I feel like I’ve really confused my point here. I hope someone understands what I was trying to say. I guess it is that I both think that there are aspects in media and in anime specifically, that are genuinely “problematic” in that they could cause problems but I also don’t think that eliminating those elements is the way to go. Does that make sense?
64 thoughts on “Are Problematic Anime “Bad”?”
I don’t know why so many people find the word “problematic” so problematic. There – I said it!
Seriously, though, the sexualisation of children and adolescents in anime is a serious issue that needs to be faced up to and debated properly if we are to address the issue in a mature and constructive fashion. Like yourself, I don’t think the element of sexualisation in and of itself makes and anime “bad” – there are lots of elements that can make any story-telling process “bad” – but I do think that when an anime is relying on sexualisation to a large degree, that in an of itself raises certain “red flags” as to whether the overall package is a quality product or not.
But the impact of sexualisation is itself another matter. Like yourself, I don’t believe that watching sexualised anime will turn someone into a sex offender, any more than watching pornography will, or watching slasher films will turn someone into an axe murderer. I think what the research literature shows is that the reverse is true – that individuals who are already inclined toward certain behaviours will use certain media content to stimulate the interior thoughts and feelings that feed their behavioural inclinations. In other words, watching porn won’t turn you into a sex offender; but people who have an inclination toward offences of this ilk will often use porn to drive the fantasies which they then act out in their criminal behaviour.
But on the subject of sexualisation, I think pornography is a useful example. There has been a ton of research in recent years to show that the amount of freely available pornography on the internet is affecting the behaviour of more and more people at a younger and younger age. Children and adolescents are being both sexualised and sexually active at younger ages, and the sexual behaviours engaged in are strongly mirroring the behaviours typically seen in pornography. In other words, sexual behaviour is being “normalised” along the lines depicted in pornography; sexual partners are being required to, and themselves think they must submit to, the kinds of behaviour depicted in pornography in order to be thought of as sexually “normal”.
The issue here, of course, is that pornography is an unrealistic representation of sex at a whole lot of levels, and places the kinds of demands on people that are simply not achievable. This in turn leads to a whole slew of mental and emotional issues as people either think they’re not “good enough” to live up to the images depicted in porn, or suffer the trauma of abuse or objectified through the normalisation of things like “rough sex” and so on.
So, getting back to sexualised anime, I think your point that it may present some children and adolescents with unrealistic, abusive, and victimising images of themselves and others as sexual beings is very well made. It appears pornography is having a similar effect on increasing numbers of increasingly younger people.
But the problem with sexualisation – of both children/adolescents and adults – is that it reduces the human person to a one-dimensional being. That is to say, it reduces the whole complex of the individual to a single dimension: the dimension of sex. And not even sex that is either loving or just for pleasure. But sex that is instrumental, transactional, and self-focused. The thoughts, the feelings, the entire reality of the other person simply ceases to exist; they are simply reduced to nothing more than a means to an end. Their humanity is denied. They are not merely objectified but, in truth, become invisible. No account is made of the impact on them of the sexualisation to which we subject them. And, in the case of children, it takes no account of the impact of sexualisation on their development as human beings. Sexualisation and objectification are closely related because they both remove humanity from the subject of sex.
But the other thing that this sexualisation does is confound emotional intimacy with sexual intimacy. The Irish comedian Dave Allen once joked that humanity was doomed because men need to have sex to feel loved, while women need to feel loved to have sex. Like all jokes, it depends on exaggeration and distortion – but I think there’s also an element of truth, inasmuch as it points to the way in which sexualisation takes all the different components of sex and reduces them to an essentially physical transaction. This reduction in turn results in the mistaken belief that emotional intimacy can “only” be achieved through sex – and, indeed, only through particular expressions of sex. In other words, the only verifiable evidence of love and care and togetherness is the act of sex and the willingness of the other person to submit to our sexual demands; and, conversely, that the withholding of consent involves a withdrawal of affection. Again, the result is terribly debilitating socio-psycho-emotional outcomes.
The upshot of all this, in my view, is that the effect of sexualisation is to take all the joy and fun and pleasure – as well as the potential for emotional intimacy – out of sex.
The other problem is the cultural context of anime – especially the anime that comes out of Japan. Japan has one of the lowest ages of consent in the world; moreover, the law provides different outcomes for different offenders depending on their age. Thus, adolescents in Japan have, for a long time, been considered part of the “adult” world in a way that simply doesn’t exist in many western countries, despite the hyper-sexualised nature of our media. This is complicated by the overlay of conservative social and sexual mores which Japan acquired from Victorian Britain as it modernised during the late 19th century – mores that, for example, drove the LGBTIQ+ community underground, when, historically speaking, gender and sexual identity fluidity in Japan had been considered no big deal. These two currents also tend to drive underground the issue of sexual abuse – especially of minors – so that the only public expression of sex tends to be prurient, fetishist in nature, and articulated through double entendres. You need only look at the typical British sit-com of the 70s and early 80s – Benny Hill and Kenny Everett come to mind, as do the “Carry On” films of the 60s and 70s – to see how this plays out. In Japan, I suspect this also plays out in the numerous fashion and other subcultures that exist alongside “mainstream” society.
So, is sexualised anime a problem? Yes, I think it is – in precisely that same way that every sexualised medium, from reality TV to advertising – is a problem. Does this mean that anime is a “negative” influence and should be banned or forced to drastically modify itself? Absolutely not. Censorship is never the answer in my opinion. Rather, the response needs to be based on education and awareness. And if that means some anime series being aired at certain times that make them inaccessible to minors; and if that means requiring streaming services to designate certain content as “adult” and require proof of age before enabling access – so be it. As a society, I think we can – and should – responsibly manage the access to sexualised anime in an appropriate way rather than ban or censor it.
This is an important and necessary topic, and you are to be congratulated for raising it.
This has got to be one of my favourite comments. And a beautifully made point. Sexuality has been commodified and politicized for ages and it’s been a ton of trouble since then. On a basic level, the vast majority of society value promiscuity and aggressive sexual behaviour in men (by aggressive I mean men that pursue sex with a lot of gusto not violence per see) and value chaste behaviour in women to the point of punishing perceived promiscuity to varying degrees. That’s obviously going to make things tense. And that’s just the basic simple layer of it. Your exploration of sexuality in media is way more interesting. And because sexuality has been politicized and is woven into so may aspects of daily life, it’s even becoming hard to properly recognize. let alone evaluate and understand.
In a perfect world, that would work, managing the access to fanservice and ecchi anime. Except we don’t live in a perfect world, which is the problem. People will take this argument, reasonable in some cases, and twist in to fit this or that ideological position.
Before any of that can be done however, we need to lower temperature. Right now everyone is on a hair trigger with stuff like this (not limited to this topic, or just anime) because bad faith actors are poisoning the well.
Hell, I read this and my instinctive response was “No, it’s not, ecchi and fanservice is fine, you don’t understand. Shields UP! Red Alert!” But then I stepped back, took a moment and read it, and while I disagree with some, I agree with alot. That can only happen though, when people can go into a discussion without things instantly becoming hyperbolic and personal.
Nothing can be done without first doing that.
Absolutely. And one way to get to point A may be to either strip away the newly associated meaning to words like problematic or find a new vocabulary. A way to say let’s talk about something instead of let’s fight or attack something.
Finding a new world for problematic will only prolonged the (heh) problem. People will attach the same views and feelings to that word and the cycle will continue.
What I think needs to be done, is to deprive bad-faith actors and the lot of their oxygen and influence. Because they only make both sides, many of whom are more than willing to be empathic and understanding to another’s point of view. That can’t be done if start the conversation by calling people who enjoyed Jobless Reincarnation a pedophile/incel/gatekeeper, or someone who enjoyed Wonder Egg Priority a beta-cuck/libtard/femenazi.
I’m not sure censorship is the solution. It tends to create a lot of backlash in my experience. It also requires an immediate value judgment on who is or isn’t in bad faith not to mention that it ties the argument to the person making it. I have heard a lot of excellent points being given by people I would not call excellent at all. I’m going to assume it was by accident!
I’m not pretending to have a solution here mind you. It’s a very complex question which is why I decided to write a post in the first place. To me the solution is education and open mindedness. Listening and parsing entire arguments before reacting and learning enough about the issue to have a base to make our own judgments thereon. Letting bad faith actors die out through natural selection but letting the valid points rise to the top regardless of source.
Fully agreed, no one has the answer, and frankly no one person can give an answer.
Of course we don’t live in a perfect world, nor do I think that controlling access is the be-all-and-end-all resolution to this issue – as the abundant supply of pornography online illustrates. However, if broadcasters committed to restricting access to certain types of anime content – and to policing those restrictions – that in itself would send an important message in which it is recognised that certain categories of content are simply not appropriate for certain people at certain life-stages. There’s nothing ideological about that – indeed, as I noted in my post, there is a good deal of social research to support it.
Don’t get me wrong: I consume and enjoy as much erotic anime and manga as I do non-erotic anime and manga. But I’m also an adult with a life-time of experience behind me, and I know all-too-well (from painful experience) the difference between the way sex is depicted in erotic anime/manga and how it really operates between human beings. I am not some naïve 16 year old or socially isolated 20-something with no previous experience who not only doesn’t know how sex works, but is also blind to the psychological and emotional damage that can result. That’s why an anime series like “Scum’s Wish” was so good and so important – it illustrated not only the dangers of naivety, it also showed the harm that comes from too much of the wrong kind of experience at an age when we are not mature and life-experienced enough to process it constructively.
And that is essentially my point – there’s nothing “wrong” per se with anime with a highly sexualised content. The issue is the audiences to whom such anime are shown, and the impact upon those audiences. I am on principle opposed to censorship, so it seems to me that controlling access (as much as that is possible in an imperfect world) is the necessary response. Again, I don’t believe there is anything ideological about that – it is simply the recognition that audiences at different life stages are able to receive and process different kinds of content, and that the bottom line reality is that the younger the audience, the more potentially damaging the impact of highly sexualised content will be on their formation as human beings.
I agree with you that the temperature on this and a whole range of other subjects needs to be lowered. Unfortunately, identifying and dealing with “bad faith actors” might be problematic (there – I said it again!). Afterall, your “bad faith actor” might be my “legitimate participant”. Nonetheless, I think the key to lowering the temperature is to first identify our common ground – the points on which we agree or have a similar perspective. Once we establish that common ground, I think it is easier to have respectful conversations about our points of difference without matters becoming personal or abusive.
And I suspect that, on this issue, you and I (and Irina and others) share a good deal in common.
Things like age rating and warnings beforehand are completely reasonable. Hell we do that now, Redo of a Healer had it. I’m on board with that.
I also understand that everyone, like it or not, brings in their own ‘baggage’ with the things they consume. And as much as I breach about leaving that shit ‘at the door’, that may not be possible for everyone. Something that may be absurdist comedy for one, may be deeply disturbing for another. We should have sympathy and understanding, and most all empathy.
BUT, that shit cuts both ways. People should also be aware that a lot of this stuff is fiction, and that enjoyment of something doesn’t mean endorsement. That not everyone is going to have your same experience, and that we shouldn’t bend over backwards to make someone comfortable. If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.
Too much of anything is bad for you. If you focus on one thing, it can have negative effects on your personality, but I think that is rarer than people think. I mean, everyone is an asshole on the internet, but that isn’t real life, and a distinction should be made.
Wow! I have nothing to really add here, just saying I appreciated reading this.
Right!?! it’s an awesome comment
You know, Irina, you are the only blogger I know who can start such a long and varied conversation about a topic like this.
Cancel culture exists and has evolved from the simple boycott to the “politics of personal destruction.” It is the pinnacle of the heckler’s veto and US anime is quite vulnerable to it. I don’t see any practical limits to it. It hasn’t been used on anime a whole lot yet because it has gone mainstream only recently. Still, if you can turn Sailors Uranus and Neptune into cousins, other forces can have an impact far beyond their size in censoring other things.
“Well there was some very bad consequences for a lot of us but others just had fun with it.”
And that is a thing. Because humans are lazy thinkers, we LOVE our totally black or white concepts. OTOH, for most points of contention, you cannot accurately say “X will always harm you” or that “doing X will absolutely harm the other person.” There will always be debate. (And it is often argued that it is society’s reaction to X that causes the “harm” and not X itself.) But if you introduce the idea that X is a mixed bag, you threaten the sources of power for both black and white. You can see this in many, many other issues that plague us today.
If you use “problematic” to mean a problem for your ideology that you simply cannot allow to persist, you’ve just ended the discussion and it turns into an arm-wrestling match. (Good definition for political correctness, on the left or the right or anywhere else.)
If you use problematic to mean something generates “problems” – as in difficulties and issues needing further resolution – you’re encouraging further discussion and analysis.
Making the Earth not the center of the universe created “problems” for the Catholic Church that could only be resolved by crushing the idea because the ideology of “we are right” had to be defended at all costs. That’s a product of fear. They feared a small crack would “domino” until the whole thing came tumbling down. And the powerful might become less powerful.
OTOH, it created “problems” for scientists who then had to throw away their epicycles and solve a whole new set of equations to understand what was going on. And that is what science thrives on.
I have very smart readers! I’ve been very lucky that way
This was an insightful post. I guess compared to other bloggers I’ve been known to call out problematic material and that’s not even counting the real life current events that I’ve been known to talk about. Sometimes the word problematic gets thrown around so much that I get annoyed with it. What does annoy me is when people handwave an issue if it doesn’t fit their narrative. I guess that’s a big issue with a lot of mainstream media, but anime is guilty of this, too. When I do describe unfortunate implications in something, I do my best to explain why it’s a bad thing and how the creators should know better. At the same time, I don’t want to come off as a moral guardian because I have made mistakes and said stupid things before.
A fair point about underage kids becoming inured to the sexualisation of underage characters in anime, but I’d say the shows most guilty of this aren’t intended for audiences young enough to be impressioned by it anyways. Of course, there are certainly exceptions (looking at you, Yoko from Gurren Lagann). But I was a high school boy once, and I remember very well that girls in their early teens dress and act provocatively regardless. If we want talk about sexualisation of underage characters in anime, we would have to address that elephant in the room, i.e, the fact that western society also sexualises minors with its own forms of media. At least the anime version takes place in a completely different dimension, where no direct harm can come of it.
Have to say I’m completely on board with you on the whole “rape fantasy” trope. I’ve never understood it. I find it off-putting. But the books sell. The shows sell. Across a wide range of ages and genders. I’ve seen (alleged) statistics from anonymous surveys that state a large minority of people have had rape fantasies at some point in their lives. I haven’t been able to fact check those stats, but from what I’ve seen, it seems to add up. (Important to note that rape *fantasy* is very different from actually wanting it to occur IRL, and I imagine most sane people who have such fantasies can make that distinction)
I’m not trying to excuse the behaviour in either case. Both are very interesting, very *human* issues. I personally believe that everyone has a dark side, and that the reason why we will never be able to fully address these issues is because they require us to confront those demons a liiittle bit more closely than we’re all comfortable with.
Anyway, that’s my hot take on the whole “problematic anime” issue. I guess the TL;DR is that I believe “problematic” content are 3D issues that creep into the 2D world, not vice-versa. Artistic mediums have always been an ideal outlet for creative people to address their inner demons.
I remember wanting to be sexy when I was like 13 or so and I won’t lie a lot of it was because characters I admired and wanted to be like were always sex. Man I’m a sheeple! But I didn’t want to date a 30 year old. Then again some of my friends did. And I grew up in Europe and Africa so it’s not a region specific thing.
As for whether it’s a problem or not. Well there was some very bad consequences for a lot of us but others just had fun with it. I have noticed that the young girls I have spoken to lately are a heck of a lot better about not tying their identity quite so much to their sexuality. My sample size is quite small and skewed though.
This issue with the word ‘problematic’ is that the internet has twisted it into meaning “I have a very hyper-focused and specific issue with a show that I’m going to use to paint over the remaining 95% of the series with, regardless of whatever else is happening and without any sense of nuance, context or suspension of disbelief.”
I don’t hate things, but boy oh boy do I fucking HATE that fucking word. Like I am talking a true, real black fucking hatred. Oil black, night black.
Either way, this is a topic that people can go on and on about. All I can say is that I love watching shows that discuss interesting ideas and show the courage to do so. Redo of a Healer, Yosuga no Sora, School Days, even Wonder Egg Priority. All of them talk about difficult ideas, some do it well, some don’t. That’s up the to beholder, but I have enjoyed or got enjoyment from watching all of those shows, and I respect them for having the courage to do these things. And that’s what the anime genre has that I think people don’t give it enough credit. It doesn’t pull its punches, it will talk about things that other people probably won’t.
Challenging your preconceptions is important, stepping outside your comfort zone is important. I would like half the shows I do now, if I didn’t let myself get uncomfortable, or at least take a risk. I’m mature and smart enough to know that enjoyment doesn’t equal endorsement, and that a healthy suspension of disbelief is needed to enjoy things. Especially in this age of knee-jerk, clout-chasing, holier than though moralizing that makes up the modern internet.
I can’t speak for my fellow bloggers, but I built my blog around cutting through the bullshit. Talkin about what I see what I gleam from it, and i’ve found some amazing little gems I may not have noticed before. I mean fuck, I can sit down with Infinite Zenith and have a honest and interesting conversation about the fucking twincest show.
As for your observations on the Loli/Lolicon issue Irina, I view it like this: The anime fandom has no idea how to talk about lolis, and most just squint and look past it to enjoy the shows they love.
And quite frankly, in this environment, I’ll take a hard pass on any attempt to open dialogue about that.
“Like I am talking a true, real black fucking hatred. Oil black, night black.”
Sorry, Dewbond. I’m not quite clear how you feel about this!
I lie like a rug…
And yes, your approach is why I like your blog.
I think ‘problematic’ is also a difficult topic because what I would consider a problematic, borrowing from Fred’s comment, as in automatically a problem, and what you would consider problematic are most likely two different things. Like personally, something automatically problematic for me is student-teacher relationships. Yet I know for a fact, that’s it’s a beloved troupe among audiences, and people get defensive of it really quick as a ‘problematic fave’ argument.
For me trying to discuss anything problematic, usually ends with someone making a valid point about it and the discussion ending with the trite expression of ‘don’t like, don’t watch’. Which, grinds my gears almost as much as the word problematic.
‘Don’t like, don’t watch’ should be used for stuff like Dragonball being too long so someone’s complaining that is sucks, or Shojo series being called out for being bland. I don’t find it a valid discussion killer when a series has something harmful portrayed that deserves to be talked about, such as the conversation about Goblin Slayer’s opening episode.
Might have wandered off a bit myself with this comment, but I hope it still somewhat connects back to the initial points you made.
This is the first time I have seen this definition of the word problematic. And I guess that’s also an issue. I had no clue that it was automatically a problem and was still thinking of it as the actual definition of the word which makes conversation difficult as well.
I do agree that the if you don’t like it don’t watch it is sort of lame. because for one not liking one aspect doesn’t mean you don’t like the show and second it’s not really a conversation but I do understand that it can be annoying to hear someone tell you a show you like is awful every single week for months and you got to wonder, why are they still watching it?
Like everything is problematic, bulldozing the problematic part away will make it problematic for someone else. Say for example people saying that we do not have enough trans characters is problematic, fixing that problem will make the anime problematic for a conservative anime watcher hating how everything has to be woke.
I think the problem lies in the fact that anime, like any other product, is made to cater to the largest audience possible, we are convinced the stories we write and enjoy have to be for everyone. We always need the largest possible demographic.. which leads to problems because suddenly people feel like they are NOT part of the large group and feel excluded. I think we are nearing the age of content produced for the masses. It will always polarise people because they do not feel part of that mass.
However if we would cater towards more specific audiences, rather than try to reach everyone, a system where we let go of the concept that all anime has to be made for “us” but accept there are people of other ideas as well. We have become entitled and feel that all anime has to speak to us and about whatever group we belong.. on both sides of the spectrum… we need to give others space to enjoy their anime and their tropes.
I very much dislike people who lewd on Loli girls and think the world would be better off without it. BUT I also realise that when I am talking about a better world I am talking about MY interpretation of it. We are with to many opinions to talk about facts. Right and Wrong are not black and white, there are many shades of grey and while it is very much okay to try to not have any “black” in your life, I think we are in trouble if everything has to be near white. I think that is just impossible and we are asking people to conform to our new standards.. but forcing people ot follow the standard of the currently established order or common idea is what made all these anime “problematic” in the first place.
“Because purging art and entertainment of all those elements would bring on a whole different range of problems that are worse.”
But we won’t know unless we talk about it. Which is your point, I think.
I would like to see more honest inquiry and discussion, regardless of the topic. I’d go so far as to say I can’t think of any topic that should be off-limits. There might be some folks who can’t participate, but that’s cool. The discussion of no topic should be considered problematic.
We can’t fix something or in some cases even understand it if we don’t talk about it.
I also think it was cool how you were able to make such a point in such a civil and inviting manner. That itself is a contribution to this discussion!
That’s exactly what I was trying to say! Yes, one person got it! But of course you would, you have the best insight
Problematic is a portmanteau of “problem” and “automatic.” Automatically a problem. Putting that assumption front and central CAN be a way of trying to control the discussion. If you don’t think it is a problem then you ARE the problem, very circular logic. It doesn’t have to be that way but the word has come to be a signal of virtue more than what it actually means.
I have given up trying to have a discussion about “problematic” issues unless I’m in a group that is both intelligent and open-minded. There’s always a small number of people who are “triggered” because of traumatic life experiences. There are more people who are “triggered” because they think they are supposed to be, either as a moral rule or to keep their credentials up in their chosen social bubble.
And finally, those who use being “triggered” as a way to control and dominate. Obviously, if you liked the Monogatari franchise you must be a raging pedophile and ought not to even be allowed to exist, let alone join the debate. There is no discussion of the subject matter, there is only attacking it. From there it shifts from attacking the subject matter to attacking the person.
It’s not worth the powder. At least not for an old man.
“It’s not worth the powder.”
That statement for some reason reminded me that it takes 80-85 grains of 3F gun powder to fire a 50 caliber lead ball. That’s for a muzzle-loading rifle.
I need to get my wiring checked…
I got the saying from Horatio Hornblower. He said it to a person he was dueling with. The other man shot early, which was an unforgivably dishonorable thing to do. Hornblower had the opportunity to return fire but decided not to. It was the ultimate insult, given the circumstances.
I loved that episode!
As much as I admire Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch, the original film was just awful (and for me, so was the book). But the series was incredible!
I started reading the Aubrey/Maturin series (helloooo quarantine!), and so far they are the best seafaring adventures I have encountered in any format (even better than Captain Blood)
Ah… ok, back to the topic at hand.
I used to shoot antique replica muzzle loaders. I have no interest in the modern ones.
Wow the definition of problematic has changed so much. The word use to mean complex, difficult and intricate, as in an issue with many facets that can’t be easily understood. Somewhat opposite to automatic.
Ah, that’s so difficult. I’ve studied sociology at university, but never became a sociologist. I’d imagine the way the word “problematic” is used today a lot comes from academia, but it’s a tad different now, as commonly happens when specialised terms filter in the mainstream.
First, I can see “automaticall problematic” as a valid way to describe one aspect of the term “problematic” in it’s specialised meaning. It’s sort of true. People have problems individually: I have a problem with this or that. But when people who share certain traits keep having the same type of problems, then what we have is a problematic social structure. That implies that some things are, indeed, “automatically problematic”: as in you count on people having problems with this.
But this view itself is sort of problematic, too, because people also learn to behave in context, and once a large number of people identify the same kind of problem as structural, it’s tempting to complain about them rather than dealing with them.
As an individual viewing your problem the social way you learn to see your problem two-fold – as a problem that affects you personally, and as a problem that pre-exists structurally. Let’s say you have a problem with lolicon in anime but many of your favourite shows have lolicon elements to them. You can learn to ignore that (it’s what I call my anime auto filter) and just enjoy the show for what it is. But there’s a problem in society that maybe could be solved, and your the coping mechanism that helps you enjoy the show may also normalise other behaviour and thus ensure the problem persists. That is by solving your personal problem, you’re also a little responsible for the problem continuing to exist.
And that’s where conflict (as a sociological term) enters the picture. It’s pretty much common lore in socilogy that conflicts come in two types: disruptive conflict that leads to social change, and socialising conflict that leads to social stability. Imagine someone sees himself as a revolutionary: if he’s actually caught up in a restructurisation process (often identified as “social movements”) he is one, but chances are he acts how thinks a revolutionary should act, which is something he’s socially learned, and which is something the particular society he’s operating in is pretty well-equipped to dealing with. You act out the same old conflict. It’s the society’s equivalent of venting. As for the revolutionary? A disillusioned dropout? It was just a youthful pahse? In any case, society has problably set a category aside for you.
Now bearing that in mind, let’s return to the dilemma above: ignore lolicon elements and enjoy the show, or try to change things? So, let’s say you want to try and change things. What do you do? If you learn from others, there’s no guarantuee that you’re actually working change. You might just repeat the same old methods that have never worked, or you might repeat a process that once worked has since been “absorbed” by culture (meaning that your “opponents” have learned to deal with what once was a new and unexpected method). Maybe you’re just going through the motions and the result that nothing changes, except that you enjoy the show just a little less because you neglected or countered your coping mechanisms.
However, you can still position yourself as sympathetic towards a certain set of problems and talk to other people on the internet. A community of people all agreeing that certain structures are problematic is – to a degree – comfortable. But by that time, you’re only talking to like-minded people.
And the term “problematic” has shifted from an analytic tool to a community-creating tool. And that’s where the dangers start creeping in: if you join such communities just because you want like-minded recommendations, that’s fine. But if you depend on such communities for comfort, you start to see coping with unwanted elements as prolonging the status quo. You need to lash out against these elements to belong, and as a result you become more visible than you were before, but your words are geared towards the community you feel comfortable in. And this escalates the conflicts. You’re now more of a target and need the community even more.
On the other side of the conflict, you have people starting to see that the way they have been living has systematically hurt people. That’s not something people can easily understand. A personal world-view is all you have to understand others, so you really also need to question yourself. It’s not surprising that many people don’t like seeing themselves in a bad light. It’s easier to see the others as overly sensitive, especially when your buddies agree. They’re just SJWs, and everything’s problematic anyway, so there’s really nothing I can do. Want me to just go away?
This is an escalation that profits no-one, but it does allow reactionaries to come out of the woodwork once again (men’s movements, for example). You see, if society’s restructuring life’s not getting any easier for anybody. People need to work together to create a new system that they all can be more or less comfortable with, but it’s hard going and many people (the “establishment”) start out from a place of comfort. It’s no surprise that people who say “the old ways before all this nonsense were fine,” to get more ears. Yeah, we had no problems.
An easy example is gender. Trans people are much more visible these days then they ever were. You’ll hear things like “gender is just a social construct”. And then you hear from the other side, yeah, but what about sex. That’s biological, right? And many people don’t know how to respond to that. Because what really matters in social situations is gender, not sex.
Why do we, when we research gender, focus on “male” vs. “female”? Why do we think such a binary is sufficient? That is however we think about gender is socially constructed. If we think of sex as a two category schema, if we think that sex is boys,girls/men,women, that’s because for the vast amount of people this is sufficient. What this cis,trans division? What’s gender fluid? Oh, they’re recombinations, aberrations, etc. Right? But the structures that get broken up here haven’t been comfortable for everyone. So the new discomfort and disorientation that makes you want to reject the more complicated system is something that some people have grown up with all their lives. So when you’re confused you have a very sturdy safety net in the form of tradition, but when they were confused? They likely had nothing and tradition is geared up to tell them that they’re aberrations. It’s a personal problem it’s yours. Except when you fall in with a community that says it isn’t so. People who have same problems you do, and who can lay out the exact problems you’ve always had. Liberating, no?
Well, along comes the internet and messes things up. We find a new community we’re comfortable with, but we find it because it’s public. What happens is that we have our in-group backstage rants on stage. That simultaneously provides a safe space we otherwise wouldn’t have, but also makes us vulnerable to the boos and jeers of the audience. And conflict escalates.
I really do think we’re still learning how to deal with the internet. For example, I hang out a lot on animefeminist. There’s some vocabulary I’m not exactly fond of, and so on. But since this is a site that focusses on recommendations for people who don’t want to see certain stuff, so they can make an informed decision, I treat it like a safe-space. I wouldn’t have made a post like this over there. But I sometimes wonder whether I should? Do I have it in me to be respectful enough? Is it the time and place? I just have no clear intuition, so I just avoid those topics.
People elsewhere are afraid that sites like animefeminist want censorship. For animefeminist at least, though, I’m not seeing it. I mean a staff member even meantioned How not To Summon a Demon Lord as a yearly favourite (with the expected caveats, of course).
As an eternal drifter, I’ve never really found a community where I felt entirely at ease. I’m always somewhat guarded, anyway. But in a “problematic”-users vs. “SJW”-users sort, I find I’m much less guarded in the “problematic”-users spaces. This means that I’m more likely to hang out in those places. So I’m getting uncomfortable with “problematic”, and “trigger-warning” and stuff like that, and I start wondering if it’s fine for me to be here, and then I go to the places where they laugh about SJWs (gamefaqs, sometimes, but not reliably) and I remember why those terms are there.
So why am I more comfortable in those places than in others? Well, I was a weirdo kid, so I had to work out ways to make myself understood. So I ended up a very intuitive person who talks like a very analytic person, but finds the two strains never quite align. What was the one place where I found people of a similar mind-set in aggegate? University. That’s where. That’s also where terms like “problematic” usually originate. So that’s my bias right here.
So if I were ever caught in an all out war between the two sides, my bias would be clear. My reaction? I’d most likely disappoint everyone by retreating back into my shell and saying to nobody in particular “Do as you please. It has nothing to do with me.” That’s because I’m not a community person and I have nothing to defend. Alternatively, I might try to facilitate communication. I’ve actually had some success with that when I was in my twenties, but the years have worn me down, and I’m not really confident enough anymore.
In anime terms, I’m the person who cries when people fight and always takes himself back and then creates a really powerful destructive witch-space when he finally breaks.
So yeah, I really do think that the term “problematic” has shifted from an analytic term to a community-building one, and since i’m not a community person, I’m not comfortable with it entirely, but in terms of cummonutiy I’m still biased in that direction. I find it out all very confusing, and that’s why I have this long post starting out one thing and ending up being another, but that’s just how it is. There’s no TLDR for this post, since I’m not sure it’s coherent. But here I am anyway. See ya around.
“But by that time, you’re only talking to like-minded people.”
That is the great sickness of the age. The internet makes this astonishingly easy.
“Because what really matters in social situations is gender, not sex.”
That is only true if you are not interested in sex. The species has a billion years of “must be interested in sex or you go extinct” behind it. It is all mediated by pheromones that register unconsciously and visual cues that are instinctive in nature. It should not be a surprise that the more sex unfriendly a culture is, the more it attempts to suppress those cues.
Like all inherited traits, sex drive, sexual inclination, and gender identity exist within a Bell curve distribution. All positions on the Bell curve are natural and normal. The tails are just lower probabilities than the middle. So why the hate being dumped upon sexual/gender minorities? They harm no one.
The easy answer – at least in the west – is thousands of years of religious indoctrination that sex is sinful and sex without the intent of reproduction is abominable. Of course why religion evolved that way is a complex question itself.
Now, there’s the question of loli and shouta and whether it encourages that kind of behavior. I’ve never seen anyone try to touch that issue in a scientific peer-reviewed way. There has been plenty of peer-reviewed works – as well as a couple of presidential commissions – that have shown that pornography, in general, does not lead to an increase in sexual crime. Instead, it acts as an emergency relief valve where the person gets to experience their fantasy without risk or harm. I’m inclined to think loli and shouta may serve the same purpose.
There’s the “she looks like she’s 10 but she’s really an ancient and powerful witch” version (Monogatari) and there’s the “she has the body of a fully developed and well-endowed woman but she’s really only 14” version. (Too numerous to even mention an example) and there’s the “supposedly this isn’t sexual but it sure looks sexual” variant. (More Monogatari) Finally, there’s the “he’s going to be her guardian until she gets older and then they’ll fall in love” version. (Bunny Drop) When shows like this get “naughty” I start feeling squick. “How Not to Summon” is especially bad about it.
I don’t consider age-gap to be inherently… uh… “problematic.” Personally, if you deal with it in a realistic and sensitive manner (The Garden of Words) I feel no squick factor at all.
I was watching Domestic Girlfriend” and thinking to myself, the boy is almost 18, the teacher is what, 24? I had such a relationship at 18, and the woman was 27. It saved my life. The thesis was obnoxious, the plot was HORRID and the characters behaved stupidly but I cannot honestly object simply on the basis of the age differential.
OTOH the dominant culture in Japan seems to be much more tolerant towards the sexual objectification and abuse of children. (I did a blog on that.) It is why there is so much loli and shouta coming from there. On a hopeful note, it appears to me that western values on this are slowly seeping into Japanese culture rather than the other way around.
*****That is only true if you are not interested in sex. The species has a billion years of “must be interested in sex or you go extinct” behind it. It is all mediated by pheromones that register unconsciously and visual cues that are instinctive in nature.*****
Yeah, that’s part of the functional language: the sex drive’s function is to keep the species going. That seeps into evelutionary psychology, a discipline I’m highly skeptical of, to be honest. The thing is people engage in “sexual activity” that cannot lead to reproduction, or take measures to prevent reproduction. And what sort of behaviour is sexualised or romanticised in any given context isn’t quite a constant, either.
There *are* sexual facts, but if we were to run a full body sexual-biology scan before wondering what to do we’d never do. Any thought about sex, whatever you or I are saying about this, has to rely on short hands for something nobody really fully understands, not even the experts and they’re a minority. What this means is that all talk about sex is gendered. Or to say it differently, the very act of thinking about sex is a gendered activity, and there’s no alternative.
There *are* facts, but they don’t tell what to do what we’re supposed to be. And we only have access to “facts” through “data”, and the data we have depends on the questions we ask. For example, recently I tried to find out how much research there is on trans biology. I didn’t try very hard, but all I could find was “interested” results. That’s not a surprise: we *all* structure our world views according to what’s relevant to our daily life. So it’s no surprise that organisations who promote trans rights would also sponsor the relevant research.
Concepts link into each other in complex ways. Facts link into each other in complex ways. And the way we link concepts to facts is also complex, and often ill understood. That’s my philosophy, and because that’s my philosophy and I really have this as a core assumption deep down, I worry that what I’m saying makes no, or little sense to the people I’m talking to. I’m, at core, a relativist and social constructivist.
To summarise this in a different way: “sexual activity”, “species reproduction” and “the biological reality of the body as concerns reproduction” are different topics, but you can’t approach them from a gender-neutral perspective. (Well, you can, somewhat, if you’re talking about species reproduction by mitosis.)
*****It should not be a surprise that the more sex unfriendly a culture is, the more it attempts to suppress those cues.*****
That’s part of the problem. Ask yourself a question: what sort of touch is exclusive to reproductive activity, what sort of touch is sexualised. To suppress sexual cues you must know what they are. It’s a chicken-egg type of question.
I’m a pretty touch-unfriendly person. This has nothing to do with sex. I don’t like shaking hands, I don’t like friendly hugs, or casual kisses on the cheek. I don’t like going to the barber’s. What if a touch-unfriendly person like me were given the supernatural power to define what counts as sex given that someone else had already stigmatised sex as a very private and very restrictive area? If I could define hand-shaking as a sexual activity, and sexual activities are private, I wouldn’t have to engage in it as much if at all, right? Selfish me is a genius.
What I’m saying is that there’s no pure angle on that. Everything’s biased, socially, personally. To communicate, we need a certain baseline; that’s why we have society. But no baseline is ever going to fit all members equally well.
So if somebody says boy/girl/man/woman is sufficient to describe human bodies, and a human being says well, it doesn’t quite describe me, or well, that road leads to disagreement about what I am, or so, then that means it’s sufficient for you but not for someone else. And if it’s sufficient for most people, it’s easy not to take the rest seriously. But if we think of trans people as being deluded or suffering from some cognitive disorder, there are going to be a lot of questions we could be asking but don’t. Like what if your brain’s expecting one sort of signal but getting another: A baseline discomfort based on a mismatch between the hormones your brain expects and the glands produce. That’s really just an example, and I’m not enough of a biologist to know if it’s even a good one.
Basically, I’ve read about trans people (and talked to a lot fewer) enough that I think there’s a lot about sexual facts we don’t know because we’ve never really asked the questions, or alternatively that we didn’t take those who asked them seriously enough (meaning I don’t know what questions have actually been asked but dismissed by experts). I believe “male”/”female” is sufficient for exploring sexual reproduction of species who exhibit sex. I believe it’s too crude and/or unhelpful when describing human bodies, but it’s not quite clear to me how much of it is actually a question about biological facts. I’d pretty much bet on cis/trans being a useful biological category. But it’s less clear cut than me thinking that it’s a useful social category.
A trans woman claims to be woman, but doesn’t claim to be cis woman. For someone who dismisses the distinction, hearing “I’m a woman,” is the equivalent to “I’m a cis woman,” though. And that’s where things break down. Sometimes there might be understanding: I understand what you’re saying, but I think it’s nonsense. But sometimes it might just be a majority-supported refusal to engage with concept, and treat the situation as if a trans woman had claimed to be cis woman without awareness that the distinction is real in someone elses mind.
As for whether trans-women are *really* women… ah, see, that’s where things break down for *me* – a social constructivist. There really is no really here. We construct our worldviews for our own convenience, each and everyone. The question is meaningless.
*****I was watching Domestic Girlfriend” and thinking to myself, the boy is almost 18, the teacher is what, 24? I had such a relationship at 18, and the woman was 27. It saved my life. The thesis was obnoxious, the plot was HORRID and the characters behaved stupidly but I cannot honestly object simply on the basis of the age differential.*****
It was a fascinating show. Just when I thought the show couldn’t get any more awkward the show introduced a new character… I loved Rui, though. I think she’s a great part of what pulled me through the show. I had no great reaction to anything in the show, actually. I feel it was designed to be a train wreck to begin with, and as such it was actually successful. I still don’t know how much I actually liked the show; I might have just watched for Rui.
*****OTOH the dominant culture in Japan seems to be much more tolerant towards the sexual objectification and abuse of children. (I did a blog on that.) It is why there is so much loli and shouta coming from there. On a hopeful note, it appears to me that western values on this are slowly seeping into Japanese culture rather than the other way around.*****
I’m not quite sure of that. I’m far from an expert on Japan, but even the portrayal of lolicon in anime target at lolicon isn’t all that positive, and it gets a tad more scathing when you get to shows like Welcome to the NHK. I think comparisons are hard, partly because of different attitudes towards harmony and conflict. It appears to me the West’s more likely to punish while Japan’s more likely to exclude. But I’m not confident enough to have anything more to say on that. I’ll try to see if I can find your blog post.
“what sort of touch is exclusive to reproductive activity, what sort of touch is sexualised.”
I wasn’t even thinking of touch. There are deeper factors that we aren’t even aware of. Pheromones is the easiest to prove. There are probably visual cues deep in our genes as well. Appearances matter.
There are gay chimps and bonobos. I suspect those genes are useful in survival as a case of balanced polymorphism. It may be impossible for male bonding without some of them. As far as trans people go, we’re venturing into terra incognita here. There is no evolutionary pattern to fall back on.
It a trans woman really a woman? Psychologically yes. Physiologically it wasn’t even an issue until very recently. Nowadays we can play with the phenotype until the two things match. Gentically, she is still a he. If you clone a trans woman you’ll get a male. But anyone who worries about such things is an idiot. I’m a great believer in letting a person be whatever they want and not concerning myself with why.
I’m also rather skeptical of evolutionary psychology. Most long standing assumptions have been proven to be dubious at best. Including exactly how innate and strong human reproduction instincts are, especially in a time of reduced resources.
I often hear people say that other cultures, including Japan are very tolerant of sexuality when the culture is generally considerably less open to people expressing and exploring their sexuality and the art created to explore and vent those urges is usually understood to be something that someone isn’t proud of consuming.
Like you I’m not an expert but everything I know of Japanese culture and the times I have visited did not strike me as very sex positive. Particularly towards women’s sexuality.
So if I were ever caught in an all out war between the two sides, my bias would be clear. My reaction? I’d most likely disappoint everyone by retreating back into my shell and saying to nobody in particular “Do as you please. It has nothing to do with me.”
I’d like to think I’d travel hundreds of miles away, and open a 180g bag of Doritos Sweet Chili Pepper™. Only to have a stray bullet hit me in the head.
Hear Hear! Like you said, unfortunately, a lot of people hear the word “Problematic” and assume it’s a nonsensical tirade and then flock to defend what ever is being criticized, or completely ignore the criticism.
I wrote a bunch about this in my “Monogatari and Problematic Media” post, and Under The Scope did a great video on the same topic (I sure do love and hate that series).
I think another issue is that in today’s society, especially online, everyone feels they need to “take a hard stance” on nearly every topic.
That’s a great point. We can’t just be sort of neutral and also be part of the conversation it seems
Your points definitely make sense! My only issue would be… is it the West’s job to try to meddle in other countries’ pop culture? Or do we simply not buy what we find problematic?
And when does “problematic” end? I’ve seen people claim that the lack of overweight characters is problematic. But is it though? In Japan? Wouldn’t that be just a Western standard? (Because when I purchase straight from Asian countries, I have to buy much smaller sizes… and not just weight-wise, but overall!)
So… Everyone is free to express themselves on what they like/don’t like. I tend to ignore a lot of it simply because it’s become trendy to have a grievance about EVERYTHING.
I think this is a great example of what I was trying to say. We hear the word problematic and we think it’s meddling or imposing instead of sharing ideas. And it probably is sometimes but we don’t really have a vocabulary anymore to just express thoughts. How do we word it if we say, have something we feel some sort of way about and want to talk about it with other fans to work out those feelings and thoughts and just to expand our minds?
Yep, unfortunately the biproduct of complaining about everything is that it’s harder to be taken seriously. Every day Twitter is flipping out about something mundane.
When it comes to foreign media, I think it’s great to speak up about what you feel and think of the material.
But ultimately, Japan (for instance) is capable of having their own people speak up in the context of their own culture, and then make changes (or not make changes) accordingly.
I don’t think it’s appropriate to try to bend other nations to look like modern U.S. culture. That’s ethnocentrism, and it’s done so much, like other nations are infantilized and deemed incapable of change.
But I do like that you speak up! I am absolutely enjoying your blog and I get where you’re coming from 🙂
Do you think a lot of people outside of the US are trying to bend nations to be like the US? I have never lived in the states and my readers are from all over the world so it’s not something I see that much of.
Well, to give you an idea, there’s a warning in Japanese going around to Japanese artists on Twitter, warning them of cancel culture and how Twitter users are trying to bully them into changing their art. I don’t see that type of harassment coming out of any other places but the U.S.
Another example is “Latinx,” a word made in the U.S. to be inclusive. However, Latin America has no idea why because that word makes zero sense in the Latin languages. I am Latin American. We don’t use/like that term, not because of the inclusiveness, but because it doesn’t make sense! Yet, we are called that often. My local government uses that term.
So, the U.S. decided a word for the entirety of Latin America, even though we’ve refused it ourselves 🤦♀️
Nah, I think people on Twitter are jerks no matter the place. I wouldn’t worry about the artists, mangaka and animator work culture is way more brutal than any bullying across Twitter and besdes editor and publishers have final say on the art anyways so even if they did understand English and cared about the bullying for some reason, they still couldn’t do anything about it.
I have heard Latinx once or twice but I think only from people in the states. I didn’t know it was a point of contention and to be honest I’m not entirely sure what it means. It sounds sexy and dangerous though!
Oh, and I just realized, I meant to say I have to buy much LARGER sizes! I feel like a giant shopping directly from Asian shops 😆
You can tell if the word problematic is being used problematically (ha ha) by how they respond to an alternate point of view. When I use it I mean something is problematic *for me*, implying that it may not problematic for you. I’m hoping the context will make this clear.
For some people, accepting that there could even be a discussion is problematic. We’ve all heard supposedly “progressive” people raging on a topic who will brook no disagreement. They sound just like religious fundamentalists or QAnon adherents in their dogmatism. I think it is a product of the social dynamics of the internet bubbles many of us live in.
The issue here is, I think, complexity. If something has a problem you can solve it, but you might not notice that the solution comes with a slew of other problems. That’s generally true of everything. Our attention is always selective; in fact selecting from an overwhelming amount of stimulus is what attention is about. And that bleeds over into language and how we talk. All words are community words, and they into what a community teaches its members to pay attention to. It’s difficult.
The lolicon example is actually a good example. The words people use are usually “pedophile”, and when you point out that it’s more complex, you sometimes get “all right, ephebophile, then,” to differentiate according to which side of puberty the object of attraction falls, but that’s really not the only point. The core problem isn’t sexual orientation; it’s abuse, which derives not only from attraction. And even if it does derive from attraction, that attraction itself doesn’t necessarily derive from sexual orientation. For example, I think the following is true, even though I have no data at hand at all:
1. Most sexual abuse of children is not perpetrated by pedophiles.
2. Most pedophiles don’t sexually abuse children.
3. The rate of how many people sexually abuse children is higher among pedophiles than among heterosexual people.
Any of those points could be wrong. And some of those points might need investigation into the concepts involves. For example, we’d need to figure out at what point behaviour becomes “sexual abuse”.
So when we then see depictions of sexualised teens in seinen anime, what is the problem here? A prime offender are a certain type of CGDCT shows. These shows usually are fantasies, not meant to be realistic. And fantasies work in weird ways. What we fantasise about isn’t the same as what we want we want to do. Sometimes there’s overlap, and sometimes it’s some psycho-metaphor or something, and the brain can do really weird things and make really obscure connections here. On the other hand, though, there’s real life behaviour. For example, I remember reading an article somewhere (I think it was about women cars on Japanese trains? I don’t really remember) that said many Japanese women reported being repeatedly groped on trains as school girls, but that the experience stopped once they got older.
Now there’s going to be overlap between school girl gropers and CGDCT watches, no doubt. But what does that tell us, if anything at all. It’s a social problem that expresses itself in different ways. Groping is inherently problematic. CGDCT creepy cam/creepy teacher trope/ect. is not inherently problematic, but gets problematic by association. The idea isn’t necessarily that anime causes the behaviour; just that there’s a problematic attitude making the rounds and it’s systematically reinforced in various ways, among others by CGDCT shows.
And here’s the tough problem: the same scene might turn off some people but turn on others, though they both like the show. The people turned on might be caught in a psycho-metaphorical fantasy, or they might be re-inforcing behavioural habits (like groping on a train). And among those who are indulging in a psycho-metaphorical fantasy there might be those who behave in ways that help make groping seem no big deal, and they may not be aware of this. There are no one-size-fits-all solutions here. And you can always turn your attention elsewhere.
As it happens, I’ve actually read a post on the internet recently that supports the idea that lolicon can normalise sexualising teens for the kids themselves (and in turn make them vulnerable to predators). The text also contained a line about the teen in question being grounded for possessing lolicon material and thus not wanting to talk to their father. You could direct your attention there: as a parent, don’t avoid difficult topics, don’t just punish, listen and talk, etc.
People actually do this. And what you usually hear in such circumstances is “the *real* problem is…” And that’s the seed of conflict. You pick your sides according to convenience and off you go. But they’re all real problems; if your lucky they’re not yours, but it’d be a bit mean to dismiss them on those grounds.
I fully agree: we need to talk. Often simple awareness can help. Certain words, though, are community markers: “problematic” vs. “SJW”. You hear either of terminology and it’s fight or flight, not talk. And that’s why the word “problematic” is problematic, though it’s perfectly servicable in specialised areas (such as, say, academia).
This season’s Higehiro, for example, is a really smart story *about* sexualising teens. I’d actually like to say that it not shying away from near nude teen bodies is a *good* thing, but rather than “not shying away from” it sometimes seems to “indulge in ogling” more with camera angles, shot framings, and – worst offenders of all – end cards. It’s not often, so I’m mostly fine with the show, but I’d be lying if I’d say I’m not frustrated when it does happen. Last season had *Mushuko Tensei*. There are pretty much always shows I really like with stuff I don’t like. So here’s a question I could put to myself: what would a version of me be like who could enjoy these shows unconditionally? What would change about myself? What experiences would I not have had? Would my current self get along with my alternate self? (Actually, probably not, but that’s more likely a case of the “uncanny valley effect” – alternate me is almost but not quite me, and that’s creepy – than anything morally interesting.)
So yeah, to sum up this post: Life is complex, one-size-fits-all solutions don’t exist, and thus any solution to a problem comes with other problems. We tend to focus on out pet topics, and if we’re not careful we’re likely to miss how others see the world. (There are people who don’t care how others see the world, too, but I expect them to be rarer than a morally frustrated person might think.)
So when you’re feeling defensive, take a step back and look at what you’re trying to defend, and then look at what problem the other person has. It takes a while, though, and the internet moves fast. (I wonder how many replies will appear when I hit post. There weren’t any when I started typing.)
I know I could count on you to make my post better and clearer! And you’re right, certain words have become triggers or dog whistles or call to arms (I have a feeling all the expressions I just used may fall into that cathegory) which makes the already difficult task of understanding one another even trickier and our current communal need for more or less instant resolve is pushing it towards borderline impossible. I have a sinking suspicion that we are missing out.
When I think of CGDCT, I’m thinking “Yuru Camp” or “Encouragement of Climb” or “A Place Further than the Universe.” No groping or sexuality there. I am a daddy and those shows kick all my daddy instincts into overdrive. Maybe we need to divide the genre into subtypes.
Well sexuality isn’t limited to groping or even overt gestures. A lot of shows in all forms of media carefully curate characters to be sexually attractive to a certain part of the audience. That’s the name of the game. I think for female characters one of the classic staples is to make them vulnerable in some way. And to make the male characters emotionally active either through a tortured past or a passionate dream.
This said, there are quite a few CGDCT shows that also just have good old fanservice. Girls in swimsuits and cameras focusing closely on short skirts. Those classic types of sexualization. Yuru camp didn’t have much from what I remeber.
None of the shows you mentioned are examples of what I’d have thought of. I’m not sure sub-types is very helpful either. It’s more that CGDCT shows either go primarily the moe route (Daddy instincts kicking into overdrive is part of the game here; I have a hunch that there’s this instinct to see grils as more protect-worthy and thus a more fitting moe object, but I’m not sure. It’s a fact that there are very few cute-boys-do-cute-things shows directed at a seinen audience… I think?) Other shows go primarily the ecchi route; as evidenced in onsens boob-grabbing scenes, creepy teacher tropes, etc. Most shows have both, and the genre generally is more moe-oriented.
Favourites of mine I’d have thought of A-Channel, or Yuyushiki. It’s not the focus, but it’s there. A show I quit on account of that content inspite of otherwise enjoying it is a motorbike club show called Bakuon. There was a scene where the girls were randomly washing their bikes by rubbing their bodies all over them. That was such pin-up calender material that my auto-anime-filter just failed. I don’t begrudge people liking the show, or enjoying even that scene. But I’ve had enough for me. It wasn’t funny, it was stupid, and it just too much. It wasn’t just the scene; there were skin tight suits and boob zipper jokes, and such, all of which are fine with me on their own, but in aggregate…
I remember once saying in a forum post something to the effect of “But Ben-to! isn’t an ecchi show!” I got laughed at, by ecchi fans. I watched the next episode with different eyes, and I laughed at myself. How could I have missed all that? Anime auto-filter worked really well. That event taught me a lot about the eye of the beholder in action. What you don’t see can still be there.
As someone who often makes use of the word, I think “problematic content” is an issue with a lot of faces, beyond just word usage. I think people would be surprised in that I (and probably others) aren’t using the word as an all-purpose, cop-out criticism, but a more palatable replacement for the more specific or personal things I’d love to say instead. I know I’ve gotten abuse in the past from phrasing a negative opinion more personally or more passionately. “Problematic” is kind of a way to keep things distant but still make note of content considerations for those who want that kind of analysis.
That said, I also think it’s a pretty good term to use in that it’s even-handed, and makes note of the fact that almost every piece of media in existence will have aspects that are imperfect or which are likely to be hurtful to specific people or groups. For me, it’s the “nice” way of saying “here’s something to look out for” ideally before elaborating on why that is. I think, like many things in fandom, there are folks who think that calling aspects of media “problematic” is an attack on them and their tastes personally – oh anime fandom, ye of the overblown YouTube reaction videos to manufactured controversies! But really, I find it to be a useful word for this of us who are sensitive to certain content, or who come from groups toward which media is not often the most graceful at representing.
So yeah, as a proud user of “problematic,” I hope I’ve made a case for myself 🙂 as always, thanks for the great post!
Nice – I did not think we would get a defence of the word problematic but this is a great one! Thank you for that. I don’t hate the term I just find that it seems to have been denatured through usage and through attack as well. Like I said, I have heard the expression, well everything is problematic used so much as a response to someone calling a single specific element problematic and usually that shuts the conversation down. To me it’s just shorthand for, I don’t want to talk about this and I don’t want other people to talk about it either.
You are 100% correct, the term “problematic” sucks and is inevitably used as a way to immediately shut down any sort of meaningful discussion on a topic. It’s also broadly applied by people who don’t seem to understand that the depiction of something is not the same as an endorsement of something — you can depict something terrible happening without that meaning the show is saying “hey, this is a great thing”.
For example, the abuse trope you mention isn’t necessarily portraying that abuse in a positive light — though I’m sure there are also plenty of examples that do it badly. Knowing that a character is trapped in an abusive relationship and perhaps doesn’t see that makes for interesting drama — if they never get out of that relationship, then we have a tragedy on our hands. Both of those things have been established parts of fiction for centuries without an issue; sometimes there just isn’t a happy ending.
I think it’s important for media to tackle difficult, challenging themes. It’s important for it to acknowledge that there are people who feel differently to “the norm” about things. And it’s important for people commenting on that media to look at something in more depth than its most surface level. If there’s a shocking or strange element, consider why it’s there and what its effect is. Is it actually saying the shocking or strange element is “good”, or is it making a different point altogether?
I’m not saying bad examples of things don’t happen, of course. But I am saying that I’ve seen probably *hundreds* of examples of people using the term “problematic” over the course of the last decade to simply refuse engagement with something that is actually rather interesting to analyse in detail.
I agree although I think lately I’ve seen the opposite more. As in people who refuse to even consider the possibility of harm. The pendulum swing I guess.
From what I can see of the general discourse in the anime fan and blogging circles, most people are very averse to anything that could bring about change in any way. I have actually seen people get a lot of abuse for saying that they personally don’t like the word trap. Not that people should stop using it or that it’s bad just that they didn’t like it.
Yeah. I think part of the problem is that people end up so frustrated with feeling like they’re being told what they’re “allowed” to think that they just clam up any time the potential for a discussion arises. There’s definitely fault on both sides, and it’s hard to know how to fix it at this point.
Social media plays a big part of the blame in all this; arguments of Twitter tend to boil down to the most simplistic points possible by the very nature of the medium, and that style of hyper-aggressive arguing spills over into other forms of media at times.
I tend to think the best thing to do is just try and lead by example. Don’t engage with people who are obviously trying to start a fight because it’s generally not worth the effort; they’re not going to change their mind.
Do post things in such a way that invites discussion or contemplation, rather than heaping scorn on people who feel differently to you.
In the case of something like the “trap” discussion, you can acknowledge that on the one hand “trap” has been part of online parlance surrounding anime and related media for many years and has an established meaning (that is, in most cases, not the abusive one its critics like to make it out to be!), while on the other there are some people who simply don’t like the word or the connotations that can be inferred from it, even if they weren’t intended.
In other words, know when the appropriate contexts to use a word are — you wouldn’t talk to your grandmother the same way you talk to your teammates in an online game, would you? Basic communication. Even a social anxiety-ridden autistic idiot like me can understand that, so it baffles me when others can’t, haha.
Dawnstorm put it beautifully. We have started to interpret words as calls to arms instead of their actual meanings and default to a fight or flight instead of conversation. It’s a shame.
I think the world might be fun if we could talk to our grandmothers the way we talk to our party members. I mean I like my teammates and I never met my grandmother but I bet she was bomb!
Yeah… I did a post once about “traps” in anime. It had never occurred to me that it might offend anyone. I still believe that if you are offended by something you need to figure out why you’re being offended and explore the possibility that it wasn’t meant to be offensive. That’s assuming malice where none may exist.
I think the word trap is offensive to some people mostly because of the incredibly high homicide rate of transwomen and how having been tricked or trapped by them had often been used as a justification for the violence.
Now I often offend people without meaning to. My comments are full of outrage and I use to have a guy who would just stop by to chew me out so I know it’s possible to offend without meaning to do so.
Are you serious?!
Hehehe- point me at him.
You are one of the least offensive people I have ever met!
Actually… I can’t think of a more open and welcoming blog site that I have been on than this one…
I watched a Youtube interview on Rachel and Jun’s channel once, and I remember that one of the things Rachel picked up while in Japan was being okay about not having a strong opinion about something.
It is important to stand up and speak out against injustice, but not everyone needs to hear my opinion about everything. Hehehe… as much as I may feel otherwise.
Another insightful post!
OK, I have procrastinated enough. I just needed a lonnnnnng break before I got back into finals. 😛 Tough week.
Thanks for the respite!
You just reminded me – I need to go watch some Rachel and Jun again or just some Jun’s kitchen
My experience with the word trap is more trans people carefully explaining why the term is hurtful only to be countered with “Yeah, but that’s not how it’s used.” In that case it’s not assuming malice so much, as it’s being made to feel that your feelings don’t count.
It’s like a light bump hurts more if its hits a sore wound, but people not really believing that the sore wound is there or flat out saying that the sore wound is your problem, and anyway it was just a light bump. And people defending themselves from allegations that the bump was really deliberate and/or the spot chosen because there was a wound, when no such allegations have been made.
Now on the other side of the coin, a single word’s not a big deal, but being made to feel like a villain is. Thus people get defensive. I’ve never been tempted to use the word trap, didn’t like it from the get go, but I’ve made my own mistakes in that vein. And yeah, I did lash out. Definitely prematurely on my part.
It’s not that you’re a villain; it’s that you ignore a wound and make it about an imaginary insult to your honour. The word hurts no matter your intention. Just apologising and trying not to use the word would mean a lot. And also excusing a little irritability, because everytime they speak up (which depending on the context can take a lot of courage and is often about testing the waters if they want to further talk to you) they get countered with “But that’s not how it’s used.”
Imagine someone accidently stepping on your foot, and you tell them, and they snap at you “Well, I didn’t mean to.” All the worse if they don’t even lift their foot. How long before even speaking up becomes a big deal?
Probably, some people really do falsly assume malice, though. It’s not that being made to feel like a villain isn’t a big deal; it’s just the knife cuts both ways. And when there are too many wounds on both sides, trust doesn’t come easily. None of us are instinctively aware of distribution data, but all of us know how we feel.
Maybe you’re just assuming that they’re accusing you of something when they’re just trying to tell you that the term is hurtful, and please don’t use it. Or maybe they assume… not malice really but callousness, more likely, because explanations what the word *really* means and not stopping to use the word is the common response.
Talking it out is important, but opening up isn’t worth it until you can trust. And trust isn’t easy. It’s a dilemma. That’s why conflict can escalate even among well meaning people.
I’m sorry if I’ve been rambling (in more than just this reply), but for me the topic cuts deep. I’ve been both on the giving and receiving end, and I need quite a bit more harmony than (it seems) most to function. And I’m really not sure how right I am about anything I say, but if I don’t say it as I see it I can’t talk at all.
If someone says something hurts, the proper thing is to say you’re sorry if you did not mean to hurt. The proper response is to accept the apology and not be hurt. If you hold that minimizing the pain we inflict on each other is important, it is only rational. Or if you have any shred of empathy you’ll do it without thought.
OTOH, taking offense when none is intended can be weaponized.
Taking offense at much of anything is a useless undertaking. Always hurts the victim and rarely hurts the offender.