The Origins of Culture and Subculture

One thing that has frequently been complained about in modern anime fandom is the abundance and degeneracy of the 90% which is crap. (90% of everything is crap, as the old saying goes.) And it is unfortunate to think that this reflects not just on Japans society and entertainment market, but our own fan culture and the rest of American society as well. There are many good examples of Japanese animation which are produced, examples of which can be seen on both Television and in movies. But here in the US many of these examples remain unlicensed. We have Strike Witches season one and two licensed, but neither a dub nor an American release of a great film such as Only Yesterday. The reason for this is the problems of modern society. It has a preference for spectacle over depth and a tendency to reject and abuse the past and its traditions. There is a widespread unwillingness to examine the factors which created our society and its entertainment tastes, and that must be corrected. Japan has gone through many waves of modernization and transformation, and these changes have led to many of these different strands of thought and taste in entertainment.  The views of the more socially concerned and conservative voices in Japanese animation to have their origins in the immediate postwar era and the persisting pre war society of Japan, while we can find the origins of modern fan culture and its tastes in the postwar Japan of the 60’s and 70’s.

Hayao Miyazaki has openly disagreed with the consumerism and commercialism of postwar Japan, and has criticized lolicon in the anime fandom. His views clearly originate as a product of his upbringing. The same can be seen with Isao Takahata. He was born in 1935, and in the film Only Yesterday shows the beauty of rural Japan and agricultural life, a life that was the norm when he was a child. Both are clearly not followers of mainstream taste, and do not try to pander to it. We can see how these viewpoints originated in postwar Japan.

We find prewar Japan to be an agricultural society, one where traditional ways of life had remained dominant despite the increased power of the middle class. Traditional views held fast to Buddhism and Shinto, and refrained from innovations in morality. It did not have a sexually restrictive morality, but did prescribe clear functional gender roles, and marriage typically occurred before age 25 with an emphasis on having children. Schooling rarely extended past age 12 for most children.

In the post war era things changed, with a great deal of urbanization and an increased number of workers in industry, with farmers becoming a minority. But a concern for traditional morals and standards of gender remained strong amongst many Japanese with many still marrying and having children young. One of the biggest social reforms was the extension of compulsory education through middle school, up to age 14 or 15. The middle classes had a strong desire for change and social reform, and were pursuing it, but the working classes were still mainly concerned about success in daily life. It was in fact quite common for the agents of Japan’s major corporations to recruit new workers directly out of middle school graduation, allowing one to move directly into a job after completing school.

The transformation of Japan into a middle class country and it’s affect upon anime and manga can be illustrated by lolicon. The first lolicon comic, according to the common story, came out in 1974 and was called Stumbling upon a Cabbage Field. I am not certain of its content because I have never read it, and I suppose few others have. But it indicates a great transformation in Japan and in many respects the history of the world: The transformation of pedophilia from simply one type of rape or an obscure perversion, to a full-fledged subculture in its own right. This had never before occurred in Japan or any other country, and this is only just beginning to emerge on our shores. But this was a natural fruit of Japans postwar success.

Japans postwar era had been built on a foundation of capitalism, liberalism, and a powerful and large urban middle class. The phrase 100 million middle class had already begun to be used to by some Japanese to describe Japan. The middle class had developed very distinct characteristics from the proceeding traditional society, as almost all middle class societies have. It had begun to devalue fertility, support long term schooling and promote the concept of teenagers as sexual innocent children. It also had the sufficient amount of surplus wealth to allow these things to occur, and great enough numbers to police society and ensure the creation of institutions such as reform schools and PTA’s which would help promote this world view.

There were strange effects coming about as an effect of this view on the world. It led to young men becoming children for years, and extended childhood until at least 18 or 20. It also lead to a great deal of extended free time and the much higher amount of income lead to a proliferation of new hobbies. The rise of amateur comics was one result of this, and eventually that lead to the anime fandom we see around us at conventions and in this magazine.

It is important to keep in mind the way in which our circumstances can condition and narrow our views, and the way in which they are the foundations for our views. In many ways our current society intrinsically produces the antithesis of what many consider good entertain or good morals. It is interesting to consider what that has to say about not just anime fandom but the country we live in. There are certain tastes which necessarily flow from certain social arrangements and material factors. It is informative to look at our entertainment as a product of the world view which produced it, and it is useful to remember what kind of society it takes to produce certain world views.

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One thought on “The Origins of Culture and Subculture

  1. Pingback: A short post, that should have a more creative title « Anime Reviews and Analysis

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