Good Stories. Not-so-Good People Behind Them: Morality and the Viewer’s Dilemma

A few months ago police charged the creator of Rurouni Kenshin, Nobuhiro Watsuki, with possessing child pornography. This past week, various anime news outlets pegged the director of Recovery of an MMO Junkie, Kazuyoshi Yaginuma, as an antisemite and Holocaust denier. His antisemitic views appear on his Twitter account. This creates a dilemma for viewers: how can we support a story that comes from not-so-good people?

The question lacks a clear-cut answer. On the surface, the answer seems to be a no. After all, every time you purchase a Rurouni Kenshin manga or purchase a DVD copy of MMO Junkie, some of your money goes to support Nobuhiro Watsuki and Kazuyoshi Yaginuma in royalties or wages. Watsuki had bought some of his child pornography on your dime. Your support also gives Yaginuma a larger platform for his ideas. Whenever a director sees success, their studio is that much more likely to book them for another project.  Because of this, it appears the best, moral course of action is to shun these works.

But it gets a bit more complicated.

Watsuki’s work supports the families of those that produce it: animators, editors, layout artists, marketers, etc. Likewise, MMO Junkie supports the livelihoods of the staff that created the work under Yaginuma’s direction, including the original author of the story. By cutting your support, you cut off the finances of these people who are innocent of the problems associated with Watsuki and Yaginuma. Of course, Rurouni Kenshin is an older work, but the funds produced from its continued sales rolls into the projects of the companies that hold its rights. In turn, these funds go toward new manga stories and anime. So when you avoid supporting either of these works, you reduce your support for future projects these companies may pursue.  Avoiding MMO Junkie (which is a great modern romance) hurts its original writer Rin Kokuyo, who is innocent of Yaginuma’s antisemitic tweets.

How separate can a work and its author (or director) be? It’s more of a direct question with Rurouni Kenshin than MMO Junkie. Authors can (but not necessarily will) work their proclivities into their works. I haven’t read or seen Rurouni Kenshin; I can’t comment on its content. But authors can’t help but subconsciously add parts of their views and personality to a story. However, that doesn’t mean a work written by a pedophile is full of pedophilia. Directors influence the work (that is, after all, their job), but they still have writers and the source material that limits that influence. MMO Junkie doesn’t have anything antisemitic about it. It would be different if Yaginuma used it as a platform for his views, but he didn’t. I enjoyed its relatable view of modern romance. Couples have met on the Internet and on MMORPGs. And modern culture makes it difficult and awkward to connect to people. Yaginuma uses all kinds of visualizations and scenes to develop this idea and show how the characters struggle with being social. His work and his team did a great job with the small budget they had. Despite Yaginuma’s tweets, I recommend you watch the anime if you like romantic stories.

But I still haven’t answered the question of separation. Honestly, I don’t have an answer. The problem appears in American media with all the sexual abuse that has appeared in the last year. The actor may be excellent, but what of his poor, exploitative behavior? Film and animations requires vast teams of people to create. Someone on the credit list has done something exploitative or has a view they shouldn’t hold. But when it comes to ethics it comes down to knowledge. Can you knowingly support a work with controversy behind it?

As I’ve mentioned in many other posts, stories matter. They shape who we are. Rurouni Kenshin resonates with many people.  At some point, fans take over a creative work, not just through fan-fiction writing and fan-art, but also through the personal meaning fans attach to it. Watsuki’s charge doesn’t change the fact that his story shaped the lives of many of its fans. The work lives beyond the author’s conception of it. Likewise, MMO Junkie lives beyond the direction Yaginuma took it. Sometimes stories stand on their own merits, despite the behavior of its creators.

The dilemma extends to literature. Lewis Carroll, the author of Alice in Wonderland, photographed nude children. Yet, his story stands on its own long after his death. Patricia Highsmith, author of the novel Strangers on a Train among many others, was racist and leaned toward antisemitism. Yet Strangers on a Train became a heralded movie directed by Alfred Hitchcock.  William Golding, author of Lord of the Flies, attempted to rape a 15-year-old girl as a teen. As an adult, Golding used his students in psychological experiments that ultimately lead to Lord of the Flies ( Wainwright, 2009). J.D. Salinger, author of The Catcher in the Rye, dated a 14-year-old girl when he was 30 (Konigsberg, 2013). H.P. Lovecraft was a well-known racist. T.S. Eliot wrote antisemitic poetry (Julius, 2003).

Despite the issues with the authors, people read and study and enjoy these works. Lord of the Flies and The Catcher in the Rye appear in high-school English classes. Watsuki and Yaginuma follow in a rather common tradition in storytelling. Of course, this doesn’t absolve them, but it does mean viewers and readers often consume and love stories created by people with views and behaviors that aren’t savory. Authors, directors, actors, and animators are, after all, human. From a Christian perspective, their actions don’t surprise (They can still disgust but not surprise.) because we live in a world distorted by sinfulness. Sinful people can create good works of art. If The Catcher in the Rye and Alice in Wonderland can stand on their own merits, Rurouni Kenshin and MMO Junkie can as well if you decide to enjoy those stories.

The dilemma comes down to you and how you feel. Of course, if you don’t like Rurouni Kenshin or Yaginuma’s various works, then you don’t have a dilemma. However, if you do, you will have to make a decision, knowing no matter what you decide you will sit in the gray. If you turn away from works with questionable creators, you also won’t be supporting the families of those on the creator’s team who are innocent of the creator’s views or behavior. If you support the works, a part of your funds will support views and behavior you find distasteful. If enough people decide one way or the other, either animation studios and their employees will feel a pinch, or the creator will benefit. Piracy doesn’t provide a third option. It only hurts the ability of studios to produce and their willingness to do so. If you decide to support the work, your decision falls in line with what fans of literature do. It comes down to your conscience.

Reviewers have it a little more difficult than a viewer with this dilemma. Anime reviewers must watch everything so they can have a framework to make their comparisons and understand anime’s storytelling, character, and animation trends. That means shows like Rurouni Kenshin that has influenced other creators need to be watched and understood (I plan to watch it eventually). Yet, here again, writing about such can go against the reviewers sensibilities. However, reviewers can hedge the issue by explaining the circumstances of the author, director, or other people involved in questionable behavior. While writing, reviewers can separate the work from the creator and explain how the work influenced other creators (as opposed to the original creator’s questionable behavior). While a reviewer may not want to advertise or recommend a work, they cannot deny the place the work has in the greater body of anime or literature. It takes some writing tact, but you can discuss a work without endorsing something you dislike. For example, a review of Mein Kampf may be able to explain how the writing style and content fits in its time period without endorsing its message.

These types of problems will continue to happen. In fact, they will appear more often with the popularity of YouTube. YouTube viewers well know the problems with enjoying content created by people of questionable behavior. It’s up to you to decide if your conscience can bear supporting creators in such situations or not. You decide what messages you want to support and consume.

References

Julius, Anthony (2003) The poetry of prejudice. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/books/2003/jun/07/poetry.thomasstearnseliot

Konigsberg, Ruth (2013) A Portrait of the Artist as Predator. Time. http://ideas.time.com/2013/09/16/portrait-of-the-artist-as-a-predator/

Wainwright, Martin (2009) Author William Golding tried to rape teenager, private papers show. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/books/2009/aug/16/william-golding-attempted-rape

What Does Moe Mean?

Moe has a complex history and meaning. Most people believe it’s a certain type of anime character. Namely, cute, innocent girls with big eyes that do cute things. While moe does deal with this, it’s true definition goes beyond kawaii.

Now, some may wonder why it matters to define anime slang (moe isn’t really slang) precisely. However, anime and its associated terms have a large impact on story telling. In 2012, 60% of the world’s animated cartoons were Japanese anime (Cooper-Chen, 2012). Such a large market means anime terminology will have a widespread influence. Wherever people consume anime, moe and other terms enter people’s awareness.

Moe has roots in the 1970s and 1980s. During these decades, artists began creating characters specifically to inspire moe within people (Saito, 2017). It’s a common misconception that moe is just a name for images of cute girls. Moe is an affectionate response to fictional characters. The word comes from the verb moeru which means “to bud or sprout” (Galbraith, 2009). The verb describes how people’s feelings toward characters sprout over time. During the 1980s, marketers began to study which character designs, relationship patterns, and styles of drawing were most likely to create a this feeling of affection (Galbraith, 2009). This is why people confuse moe with a specific style of art or type of character. They are engineered to make you feel moe. Sagisawa Moe, a character from Kyouryuu Wakusei, Takatsu Moe from Taiyou ni Sumasshu, and Hotaru Tomoe from Sailor Moon S make good examples. In fact, the verb moeru combined with an abbreviation of Hatoru Tomoe to give us the word moe. Young girls with large, pupil-less eyes, glossy skin, small (or no) breasts and an innocent personality make the archetype for moe-seeking character design.

Feeling Moe

Sagisawa Moe from Kyouryuu Wakusei,

Feelings of moe vary. For some, it’s a mild sexual arousal and love for a character. For others, it is “the ultimate expression of male platonic love,” and for still others its pure love without sexual components. For many men, moe is an innocent girl that doesn’t “demand masculine excellence” and provides an outlet for nurturing that isn’t available to traditional masculinity. For women, moe is a romance without the “confines of womanhood”–childbirth and responsibility (Galbraith, 2009).

Because moe is an emotional reaction to a fictional character, it varies from person to person. However, it involves a desire for fantasy; it isn’t a desire to realize that fantasy.  Fujoshi, or “rotten girls,” provide a good example of these. Fujoshi are women who consume, produce, and reproduce romances inspired by manga and anime. They particularly focus on yaoi.

Women account for the majority of online fan-fiction like yaoi. Yaoi are stories that focus on relationships between androgynous men. People call fujoshi “rotten” because they are attracted to sex fantasies that can’t produce children. However, they embrace that categorization as positive, and most live heteronormative lives. Yaoi “erases the female in fantasy because female-male, or even female-female couples are too close to reality. (Galbraith, 2011).  Yaoi focuses on moe. In his interviews, Galbraith (2011) found moe drives yaoi, including its production and shared discussions between fujoshi. These discussions are even called moebanshi or moe talk. These discussions about favorite pairings (such as Link and Sidon, from The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, or Naruto and Sasuke) inspire more writing and conversations.  As Galbraith (2011) phrases it:

“Moe communication is about feeling out overlapping desires, or exploring one’s own desires through delving into the desires of others for the same or similar objects.”

People learn about each other through their taste in characters, settings, and situations. It’s a form of self-expression that allows people to connect through their shared moe. Moe  allows people to share deeply personal emotions through the shared feeling of fictional affection. The details behind the affection may vary, but moe still allows enough overlap to communicate.

Fujoshi see moe in everything, changing the way they perceive the world and imagine relationships between things. In Galbraith’s study (2011), the fujoshi he interviews saw how a road and a car can be a metaphor for an intimate, moe-inducing dojinshi they had read:

Hachi impulsively decided to use her surroundings as an illustration of the coupling: “Is this road moe? See, it’s virgin, freshly paved, but is doing its best with the cars on top. What if he was trying so hard to please his lover?” Megumi chimed in, “The road is a loser submissive in love with one particular car, the top, who is an insensitive pleasure seeker. In order to win his love, the road agreed to be his sex slave and is now being broken in by the top’s clients.” Tomo seemed convinced—by the creativity if not the concept—and joined Megumi and Hachi in laughter and a chorus of “moe, moe, moe.” The fantasy effectively reenchanted their world, adding a layer of potential to the mundane (the very ground under their feet!) and making the familiar other and exciting.

Fujoshi stand out against otaku in a key way. Otaku are typically people who use fantasy as an alternative for things they want but cannot realize for various reasons. Fujoshi are people who use fantasy for the sole purpose of play. They don’t seek to live through fantasy. Rather, its a place to let imagination, creativity, and emotions frolic without needing to ground them in some sort of reality. The difference is subtle. Both groups focus on fantasy and seek the confluence of affection called moe. They approach the quest from different angles. Waifuism is the otaku quest for moe. Yaoi is the fujoshi quest for moe. Of course, as we’ve seen there are still other paths for finding this comforting set of emotions.

Moe and the Male Gaze

Scenes can also inspire moe, such as this from Tsuki ga Kirei

Many people accuse moe as being a part of female objectification: cute girls doing cute things for guys to watch. However, as you can see with the fujoshi, moe extends beyond the sphere of objectification. You could argue fujoshi objectify men through yaoi. But the feelings objectification creates–possession and lust–differ from moe’s feelings. Of course, objectification can overlap with moe just as kawaii culture does. Objectification’s emotions can be confused with affection. People often confuse possession and the resulting jealousy with love. As publishers seek to leverage moe–after all, it sells–we see it mix with objectification more often because the combination pulls a wider, admittedly, male audience. This makes many believe moe centers on the male gaze on women and the gaze of fujoshi on men. But this isn’t the only part of moe. Moe allows men to explore emotional aspects society doesn’t consider a part of masculinity. One Western example, My Little Pony, creates moe, and it attracts men of all ages. However, society is more comfortable with the usual objectifying male gaze than with men exploring their nurturing, protective, and affectionate sides. This familiarity causes the confusion we often see, and the focus on the small overlap of moe-seeking and objectification.

Moe’s Contradiction

On the surface, moe appears a contradiction. It has an element of innocence to it, but it also has adult desires built into it. In our above fujoshi conversation, the innocence of the road changes to a sex slave. Moe often moves along this spectrum because it is pure fantasy. As fantasy, it allows people to project what they want or explore otherwise taboo subjects. For example, Rei Ayanami from Neon Genesis Evangelion is considered a moe-inspiring character. She has an innocence to her that tugs at nurturing and protective feelings. At the same time, these feelings can shift toward sexual desire. English-language media over-emphasizes the sexual components of moe (Saito, 2017). It doesn’t always have to be sexual. Someone who grew up watching Pokemon, for example, may find themselves comforted by their favorite characters. This is moe.

Kawaii is often confused with moe because of their overlap. Kawaii, or cute, focuses on the design of characters and objects. Kawaii often creates moe, but it doesn’t always. A cute skirt, for example, may be kawaii, but it doesn’t create moe because the skirt is a physical object. However, if it would become a metaphor or a reminder for a fictional character, it could generate moe. It works in the same way as the road in Galbraith’s example. The road and its cars may create feelings of moe in the girls, but they aren’t kawaii.

Defining Moe

So we’ve come down to creating a single definition for a complex, variable set of emotions. First, moe isn’t a type of image or character design. It’s the emotion inspired by those designs. Second, moe provides an indirect way to express your feelings to others by sharing why you like a character or relationship. It’s a taste in characters, settings, and situations that comes from your experiences and preferences. With this in mind, I’ll offer my definitions:

moe (mo-eh) noun. The feeling of fondness and affection a person feels toward fictional characters or toward any setting or object that reminds the person of those characters.

moe-talk (mo-eh-tôk) noun. The mutual sharing of fondness and affection people feel toward a fictional character that creates a feeling of connection between the people involved in the conversation.

References

Cooper-Chen, Anne (2012), ‘Cartoon Planet: The Cross-Cultural Acceptance of Japanese Animation’, Asian Journal of Communication,  22 (1), 44.

Galbraith, Patrick W. (2009). “Moe: Exploring Virtual Potential in Post-Millennial Japan”. Electronic journal of contemporary Japanese studies.

Galbraith, Patrick W (2011). Fujoshi: Fantasy Play and Transgressive Intimacy among “Rotten Girls” in Contemporary Japan. Signs. 37 (1) 219-240.

Orbaugh, Sharalyn. 2010. “Girls Reading Harry Potter, Girls Writing Desire: Amateur Manga and Shojo Reading Practices.” In Girl Reading Girl in Japan, ed. Tomoko Aoyama and Barbara Hartley, 174–86. London: Routledge.

Saito, A.P. ( 2017). Moe and Internet Memes: The Resistance and Accommodation of Japanese Popular Culture in China.Cultural Studies Review, 23:1, 136-150. http://dx.doi.org/10.5130/csr.v23i1.5499

Anime as a Teaching Method

I didn’t grow up with anime. In fact, I didn’t grow up with television shows at all. Sure, I had shows I watched as a child–Voltron, Super Maro Bros Super Show, He-man. But I didn’t grow up with them as many have with anime. Anime like Naruto and Bleach grow with you. The protagonist starts as a whiny, annoying kid at the same time you are a whiny, annoying kid. As you grow into a teen and start facing the social pressures of dating, relationships, and approaching adulthood, so too does your anime hero. Finally, many anime heroes follow you into marriage and full-on adulthood.

I didn’t have that.

Now, I don’t write this to make you feel pity or to whine about this. Rather, I want those of you who grew up watching shows like Naruto to appreciate the experience.

Growing up with anime shares similarities with growing up with folklore. Many folktales contain stories that hearers appreciate only as they grow older. Growing up with such stories helps you navigate events as you come to them. For example, Naruto experiences awkwardness toward Hinata and Sakura just as many of its viewers begin to experience that awkwardness. Experiencing this with a protagonist helps you feel less self-conscious. Knowing others go through the same isn’t the same as watching it unfold in a story where it provides possible solutions.

Stories Teach Best

Believe it or not, fiction provides the best means of learning. Characters can make mistakes and face the consequences of decisions we too may have to make.  Fiction that grows up with you helps even more. Characters will face the same challenges as you encounter them, providing timely guidance. It seems silly to say an anime like Naruto can provide guidance, but for most of human history that was what stories did. It wasn’t until fairly recently our education system developed this silly idea that learning has to be dry and mind-numbingly boring. We remember the shocking and the funny easier than facts and figures. We remember stories! The Greeks studied the Illiad and the Odyssey. The Japanese studied the Tale of Genji.

Today we segregate entertainment from learning. Today’s fiction offers entertainment and not much in the way of guidance or lessons. Although there is some great fiction that still do. Television shows, our modern version of folktales, offer tripe for the most part. Stories don’t have to moralize to teach lessons. Naruto, for example, rarely sermonizes outside of Kakashi’s lectures. Instead, the anime uses events and the actions of the characters to provide examples of moral behavior: loyalty, stick-to-itness, and the like. If you read Odyssey, you will see a similar method. Likewise, folktales teach in indirect ways, such as this short folktale:

In Wasedochi, there is a small persimmon tree that never bears any fruit. Sometime in the 1150s, there was a battle between the Minamoto and Taira families, and many warriors died. It is said that his persimmon tree was planted on top of the mound where the corpses of the soldiers were buried. Legend has it that this is why, even though the souls of these soldiers make the tree’s flowers bloom, there is never any fruit.

The tale speaks about a conflict that lasted several decades between the Minamoto and Taira families. The conflict eventually erupted into the Genpei War. The skirmishes before the war ended with dead on both sides and neither side gained anything. While samurai considered the battles and heroics beautiful, they ultimately didn’t matter. In other words, they didn’t bear fruit.

Mistakes of Modern Teaching

American teaching methods suck. They focus too much on tests and textbooks. While there is a place for textbook learning, it’s tough to retain that information. However, if a story features the information, we are more likely to remember it. This is especially true if the information helps the hero. I’m sure many of you remember Naruto’s jujitsu hand gestures. Why? Not only did you think they were cool, but you remembered them because they helped the hero. You probably remember the elemental attributes (which are based on Chinese and Japanese lore) too. And the memory comes effortlessly. For those of us who grew up watching MacGyver–yeah, I’m really dating myself here–we remember many of the physics lessons that helped him get through his jams.

We remember information based on context. Without context that matters, we can’t remember, and tests really don’t matter. Tests measure the ability to take a test. How did the world of Naruto measure performance? Through real-life application of their ninja skills. Barring ninja fights, stories provide a framework to help us learn information.

Modern teaching, at least in the United States, focuses on getting the right answer. Well, reality doesn’t typically have right answers. It has actions and consequences. Multiple jujitsu can potentially win a fight. Teaching should impart how to think instead of how to arrive at a correct answer. Again, stories provide a way of teaching this. In many stories, the thought processes of the hero is available to the reader. Even more important, these thought processes don’t always result in a victory. Sometimes there is no correct answer. But the thought processes behind a hero’s failure helps us avoid the same faulty thinking. Naruto’s thinking matures as the anime progresses. We can see his mistakes in logic and learn from them.

Fiction provides an important method for learning, one often ignored. Sure, schools analyze Shakespeare and Homer, but analyzing isn’t the same as growing up with them. Perhaps schools should consider analyzing Naruto or Bleach or Sailor Moon for lessons. Many of you grew up with these stories and already have the lessons deep within you. Examining these anime would drive home the importance of fiction as a way of educating people. History and other dry facts can be woven into the discussion. You are more likely to remember the Japanese Iga clan that way. Such a lesson would help students learn how to think rather than merely seek a right answer. Speculative writing that merges the world of Naruto with the Sengoku period of Japanese history doesn’t have a right answer, but it does teach students how to think.

The Advantage of Growing up with Anime

Growing up with anime gives you unique guidance that I didn’t get to experience. Characters grew with you close to the same pace. After all, the Naruto manga ran from 1999 to 2014. That’s 15 years. The anime ran from 2002 to the present, or 16 years as of this writing  (including Boruto). Growing up with a story like this gives you a specific framework that teachers can leverage, or you can leverage for yourself. Often, what the characters struggle with align what you struggle with. In that way, you don’t feel as isolated.

A long-running story like Naruto or Dragonball Z shapes some of your most formative years. From 10-21 or so, you are shaping your identity. Stories shape identity far better than any textbook. Heroes matter. They instill values within us, values that ingrain into our bones. I know, I am in danger of being hyperbolic, but stories really do matter that much. They shape how we think about the world. Stories teach as no other method can. It isn’t an accident that Jesus, Buddha, and other spiritual teachers used short stories to share their messages. They understood how stories worm  into our minds and souls.

As I watch Naruto and Dragonball Z now, I envy those who grew up with them. They provide great entertainment, great lessons, and great role models. They are not without their problems, nor could either be considered high literature. But they are stories that shape character, and teachers would do well to leverage stories like them.

American Behaviors Explained

I spend a fair amount of digital ink speaking about Japan’s culture and how it affects anime. As an international medium, anime also sees American influences on it. As an American, I struggle to see how odd some American behavior may be to Japanese people and other people around the world.  In this post, I try to step outside what I take for granted and attempt to explain our strange Americanisms. Of course, many of these behaviors aren’t unique to the United States. Some of the behaviors have leeched into anime as well. American culture is an export culture. We import cultural elements from immigrants and media like anime, but most Americans I know avoid foreign films and want immigrants to “act American.” But I live in a rural area and that doesn’t reflect the attitude of the rest of the nation. Internalizing culture creates a framework that feels natural. However, it is a just a human construct, a construct that isn’t always healthy.

The Nod

You’ll see American men do this unconsciously. I’ve seen women do it too. The nod comes in two flavors, the upward jerk and the downward bob. The upward jerk is used for men (and sometimes women) the guy knows. It’s informal and similar to saying “What’s up?”. The downward bob acts as a more formal acknowledgement, an “I see you, but don’t want to bother you” greeting. It can be a signal of respect.

Distance Measured in Time

Americans aren’t unique in this one, but I’ve encountered many people who are confused as to why distance is measured in terms of time. Instead of saying a destination is X miles away (darn English units!), we say it is an hour or 2 hours away. Part of this comes from sometimes large distances we have to travel. By stating the average travel time, we assume a route and rate of speed. Depending on the route and speed limit, a longer route may take less time. The time-measure also reflects the cultural value placed on time. American culture focuses on the use of time, trying to squeeze productivity out of every second. This isn’t to say other cultures don’t do the same. But the time focus means more than saying something is 30 miles away (which is about a 30 minute drive). Time-distance generally defaults to a mile-a-minute in my area. The time-measure varies on the region of the US you are talking about.

Sugar, Sweet Everything

Corn syrup appears in nearly everything in the United States. This cheap filler provides a boost of sweet and makes items that shouldn’t taste sweet, like bread, taste like desserts. All the sweetness strikes people outside of the US as odd. Bread, after all, shouldn’t be sweet. But American taste buds are ruined by cheap salt and syrups to the point where anything that tastes proper, like old-school “sugarless” bread, tastes bad or off. I’ve ran into people who can’t stand drinking water because it lacks flavor. One admitted to developing kidney issues after discovering iced coffee and drinking nothing but that. Water has a flavor–water. But flavors and sweetness aren’t considered odd by most Americans. For us, its how food is.

Price Tags Don’t Include Tax

Prices in American stores don’t reflect sales tax. You have to calculate that and add it in. Stores do this to create the illusion of lower prices. Some of this is because of laziness (or “cost cutting”) by the retailers. Sales taxes vary by county and by state. Not including them allows companies to avoid the headaches of regional pricing and offloads the responsibility (and cost) onto consumers.

The American Smile

American culture requires a smile in public interactions. The illusion of friendliness comes from the bias toward extroversion that is entrenched in the culture. Many businesses with a public face require employees to be jovial and smile with every interaction. For introverts, this can be exhausting if not impossible some days. The smile is considered default. If you aren’t plastering it on your face, people assume something is wrong with you or you have an attitude.  Part of the American smile involves inane small talk and phrases like “Have a good day”,”Have a good morning”,”Hope to see you again”. These phrases are uttered even to customers who are acting in ways that should bar them from going outside until they learn to behave less seflishly. Many people accuse Americans of being fake because of the default smile.

American Exceptionalism

American Exceptionalism is the almost unconscious–I say almost because the phrase does show up in conversations about America time to time–idea that America is unique in the history of the world. Many Americans internalized this idea and don’t think much about how it effects their actions. The phrase takes for granted our relationship with the world and involves a sense of entitlement. Americans expect welcome when they travel overseas. The unconsidered sense of superiority (which is inherited from the defunct British Empire) carries into unintentionally disrespectful behavior toward other cultures, such as being loud or pushy. It also carries over to create a sort of blindness to the faults of American society and an unwillingness to make drastic societal changes that would make the US truly exceptional, such as attacking the roots of drug abuse at a societal level–depression, hopelessness, lack of purpose, lack of community. The US does have good things going for it, but American Exceptionalism works against those great aspects by creating a collective arrogance.

Hyperbolic Excitement and Tragedy

Everything has to have over-the-top, better-than-sex excitement in the US!!!!!!! From toilet paper to make-up to cars, every product and action has to be life changing. The hyperbolic marketing that surrounds Americans has stripped us of our ability to describe truly life-changing events or truly catastrophic events. Words used too often lack impact. Even sacred words like God and Jesus are used to the point where they lack the same level of meaning. Some words used to stir the soul or were reserved for the heinous, but overuse and hyperbole have ruined them now. Whenever there is a school shooting or some other tragic event, Americans reach for worn-out boilerplate words that were used just a week before to describe some inane celebrity story.  Truly momentous events like death and marriage and childbirth are couched in terms that mean nothing now–miracle of childbirth *yawn*. The bombastic culture of awesome has rendered language unable to describe the events of life. Instead, once sacred and meaningful words have become slogans for consumables that we can live rather well without possessing.

Nudity and Sex are Taboo, but Killing People is Okay

We Americans have a strange relationship with sex, nudity, and violence. First, nudity can never be innocent. It always has a sexual component to it. As you likely know, Japan has a different attitude toward nudity, at least child nudity. Nudity itself isn’t a big deal unless it is meant to be sexual. Children like to run around naked, as any parent knows, and manga/anime aimed at young children shows this normal part of childhood. However, this is taboo in the US. Nudity can never be innocent, even with young children involved. There’s always a fear of sexualizing–child predators in the case of our argument. When it comes to adult nudity, despite the long tradition of nude art, there is always a sexual, pornographic component. We struggle to admire the body for its beauty and just its beauty. Instead, there often is an element of objectification, of possession, of a nude body.

Conversely, violence is accepted. Television shows teem with violence and death. Blood is fine to show but not female breasts. It’s perfectly okay to show people being shot, mauled, or hurt. But making life is wrong to show. I’ve heard people talk about the sexuality in various TV shows, but they make no mention of the violence. Even foul language garners more of a response than violence.

Lack of Volume Control

Americans are loud. Even I, despite being soft-spoken, am loud compared to Europeans I know. This comes from a combination of hyperbole and noise escalation and American individualism. American hyperbole require escalating loudness in order to be heard. All the marketing noise, advertisements blare at you almost constantly, means people get used to talking over artificial background noise.

Individualism plays another role–it affirms your view and voice should be heard and is more important (to you, anyway) than the voice of others. The end result? Conversations tend to get loud as people keep talking over each other. Hyperbolic excitement plays into this too. American culture expects people to speak loudly when they are passionate and excited. Calm and logic isn’t seen as passion or excitement. I’m soft-spoken and calm, and I’ve been accused of being a cold-fish, never excited about anything. This isn’t to say I don’t get loud. I’m an American, after all, and I’m not always aware of my volume relative to others. But I don’t like to emote in conversations. Some people don’t care about the sensibilities of others either. I hate Harley Davidson motorcycles. They are obnoxiously loud and disruptive when they zip past. But that’s is their selling point. It’s an expression of individualism. People can’t do anything except notice you as you pass. Some people are like that with their conversations, especially with soapbox issues they are passionate about, such as gun rights and religion and abortions.

American Behaviors Aren’t Strictly American

These behaviors aren’t limited to the United States.  They also affect anime. The reservations around nudity leads to anime’s censorship (Japan has its own reservations about nudity) and many stories never make it to the US in the first place. Every culture has certain norms people internalize and consider natural. That naturalness disguises the fact such behaviors are cultural and not necessarily a human norm.  Some writers tailor more American-friendly messages that include some of these behaviors. I find it fascinating when these writers look in on the United States and comment about the culture.

Despite being American, I am critical about many American behaviors, particularly hyperbole and loudness. Hyperbole is dangerous because it removes the ability to communicate properly. It is better to reserve certain words for when they are merited. A catastrophe is an event that kills hundreds if not thousands of people. It isn’t something as inane as a celebrity divorce. Likewise, people toss about sacred words  too readily. It is better to use words like Jesus, Muhammad, Buddha, and the like rarely so they retain their reverence and impact. Sadly, I hear Jesus uttered so often that the name has about as much meaning as the word car.  American culture needs to learn the value of silence.

This list falls a bit on the negative side. It’s easier for me to see the negative aspects of American culture than the positive, sadly. The American Smile can come off as friendly–which is the point. Americans are also neighborly. Just yesterday I joined my neighbors  in shoveling snow from each other’s driveways. I selected the behaviors on this list because I’ve had to explain them to my foreign friends. The behaviors confused them.

Are there any other American behaviors that confuse or trouble you?

Anime’s Big Brother and Little Sister Complex, Examining Incest in Anime

Recently, there seems to be a glut of anime focusing on sibling incest. Known as the big bother complex or little sister complex, sibling incest has become a subgenre of romance. The level of romance varies. Most of the time, the complexes appear between siblings without any genetic ties or removed cousins. Sometimes, you have blood relatives flirting with each other but never going all-in to a romantic relationship. As you can guess, I’m staying away from hentai for this discussion. I also recommend you check out the article at Manga Therapy in addition to my analysis here. In any case, the complexes center around an attachment toward an elder brother by a younger sister, as in Oreima, or an attachment toward a younger sister by an elder brother. The attachment goes behind normal sibling behavior and into the realm of dating and romance.

When I started to research this topic after noticing just how many anime on Crunchyroll center on this lately, I had wondered if it was unique to anime. But it turns out that western Romantic literature teems with incest between siblings and cousins. Lord Byron writes about it in Manfred, and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein features an incestuous relationship between Victor Frankenstein and his cousin Elizabeth. Throughout romantic literature is a single theme: love is agony (Reed, 2012). Manfred describes his sister using this theme:

She was like me in lineaments—her eyes,

Her hair, her features, all, to the very tone

Even of her voice, they said were like to mine;

But soften’d all, and temper’d into beauty;

She had the same lone thoughts and wanderings,

The quest of hidden knowledge, and a mind

To comprehend the universe: nor these

Alone, but with them gentler powers than mine,

Pity, and smiles, and tears—which I had not;

And tenderness—but that I had for her;

Humility—and that I never had.

Her faults were mine—her virtues were her own—

I loved her, and destroy’d her!

In Frankenstein, Victor accounts of how painful his affection for his cousin is:

“Sometimes, indeed, I felt a wish for happiness; and thought, with melancholy delight, of my beloved cousin.”

He goes on:

“At these moments I often endeavoured to put an end to the existence I loathed; and it is required unceasing attendance and vigilance to restrain me from committing some dreadful act of violence [upon myself].”

Romantic period literature introduced a sibling story line we’ve seen in Star Wars. A brother and sister were separated a birth and fall for each other only to learn about their blood relationship after they become involved. Only Luke and Lea didn’t get as involved as in Romantic period stories. Anime usually involves stories where the siblings grow up with each other. Sometimes they go through a period of separation. Of course, the siblings aren’t always blood relatives, such as Sword Art Online’s Kirito and Leafa. Nor do they always develop full romantic relationships. Anime likes to flirt with sibling romance rather than fully commit as English Romantic literature does. But anime fans would readily recognize the 3 main relationships found in Romantic literature (Richardson, 1985):

  1. Erotic relationships between foster brother and sister who are raised as siblings and believe they are blood relatives.
  2. Brothers and sisters who are close and share a common fate but lack a sexual relationship.
  3. Brothers and sisters who share a sexual relationship.

The first type of relationship is the most common in the literature and fairly common to anime too. All three types involve a death of sort sort that relates to the consummation of the siblings’ romantic feelings. The death may be a physical death or an emotional death, but either way, the theme ties back to the idea that love is pain. I have to point out that anime touches on this theme in many stories too. Oreima, for example, while not a full-on incestuous romance touches on how the taboo of incest can make the feelings of affection feel painful and unnatural. Romantic writers linked pain with pleasure, considering them inseparable. Incest, with its pleasure and destruction (incest being unacceptable) represents the single theme that captures the Romantic view (Reed, 2012).

The Taboo of Incest

Among traditional societies, death was the most common form of punishment for sibling incest (Yates, 2016). Most societies, but not all, have a taboo against sibling relationships. There are times when this taboo broke down, such as during Ptolemaic Egypt. Language sometimes confuses things. People sometimes think all of Egyptian history involved incest among the pharaohs. Hawaii and Peru also confuse because of the custom of referring to a spouse as sister or brother and how the language didn’t distinguish between siblings, cousins, and unrelated peers (Bixler, 1982). Sometimes incest isn’t a matter of language. During the 2nd and 3rd centuries, it was common for lower class brothers and sisters in Roman Egypt to marry.

There are two explanations as to why the taboo is almost universal, the Freudian view and the Darwinian view. In the Freudian view, incest is a universal feeling that must be repressed. The Darwinian view considers the taboo to be a built-in avoidance mechanism because incest hurts the ability of genes to survive (Tidefors, 2010).

Despite the near universality of the sibling relationship taboo (blood relatives or otherwise), modern studies have found incest to be more common than originally thought. Some of these studies seem to contradict each other, but the problems come from the definitions used in the studies. Surprisingly, the definition of sibling incest varies–some require one or both parents in common. Others count it as among those who call themselves as a family. The definitions of sexual relationships also varies from study to study. And these definitions give us the variety of numbers we will see, but in the end, it seems sibling relationships are common enough to explain why anime and English literature feature them.

Medical Studies of Incest

Sibling incest can also be between brothers and between sisters. Most of the time, they are step or adoptive siblings such as in Super Love

In a study in the 1980s, a sibling incest study in New England found such behavior in 25% of respondents and the majority of them regarded it as a positive experience. This study and others like it, shaped medical professionals’ view that sibling sexual behavior is usually harmless. This view leads many to downplay sibling sexual abuse as a problem. Other studies estimate anywhere between 2%-13% of the general population has engaged in sibling incest behavior during childhood. Again, definitions explain the strange data ranges (Yates, 2016). Researchers have drummed up a few other trends (Kokkola, 2016): most incidents happen between 13-15 years of age and consensual fondling is the most common event with 80% of respondents reporting this in various studies.

The taboo of incest along with the apparent commonness of it makes it hard for medical professionals to know what is medically normal and what is abusive. Literature and anime also normalizes what is essentially abuse. From the medical studies I’ve read, abuse comes down to a few indicators. Harmful sexual behavior usually distracts the siblings from other important developmental tasks” but defining what is harmful is still up for debate (Yates, 2016). The three indicators: large age gaps between involved siblings, the use of threat or force, and the use of bribes and other forms of manipulation. What constitutes normal sibling sexual behavior remains unclear to medicine, making it more difficult for nurses and other professionals to know when they are required to act.

Parents shape the chances of sibling incest.  Researchers have found families with parents who are victims of abuse sometimes reinforces abusive behavior between siblings–including witnessing abuse and not stopping it, such as what happens in Oreima. Parent absence results in a higher degree of bonding between siblings and that comfort-seeking can become sexual (Tidefors, 2010).

Westermarck and Childhood Friends

A common theme in romance anime is the childhood friend who has romantic interest with the protagonist who doesn’t share the same feelings. This trend in story telling comes from observation and the Darwinian view of relationships. If you remember, the Darwinian view states there are natural mechanisms against incest that are built in by natural selection. Edward Westermarck developed this idea by hypothesizing that people lack sexual attraction toward those they had lived with during childhood. Anime’s childhood friend falls directly into Westermarck’s idea. A few studies have put Westermarck’s idea into question: “…people brought up in small involuntary groups with high levels of social cohesion are less likely to be sexually attracted to each other, and less likely to act on attractions, in order to maintain the social order.” Some studies suggest incestuous marriages were encouraged in human societies when they preserved social harmony. Some cultures, like the Hoti in central Venezuela lack defined family boundaries. Incest has no meaning for them and marriages between ‘siblings’ are not uncommon (Yates, 2016).

However, more studies support Westermarck’s conclusion. A 2003 study found a correlation between the time children live together and sexual aversion in males and females. Females also report higher aversion than men. De Smet’s study (2014) was the first to study women and this aversion:

Our study is the first to indicate that, at least in women, frequently shared “sibling-typical” experiences (i.e. bathing together and sleeping in the same bedroom) with an opposite-sex sibling during early childhood (0–6 years) correlates positively with later sexual aversion…

The studies that support Westermarck’s idea suggest blood-relationship doesn’t matter as much as time spent together during the most formative years. Romantic literature mostly ignores Westermarck, but anime often follows this observation. In many–though not all–sibling romance stories, there is some type of early childhood separation, either emotional or physical, that halts the bonding process found to correlate with incest aversion. Of course, this becomes comedy fodder when a sibling or childhood friend, often the lady, wants to try to recapture this lost bonding by bathing with the guy. Westermarck explains why the childhood friend rarely becomes the protagonist’s romantic interest: they are too close. Of course, this is also a piece of the rom-com formula anime has perfected.

Anime doesn’t focus as much as the Romantic period on the idea that love is agony. If anything, anime finds love amusingly awkward, but I guess you could argue that embarrassment can be painful. Anime, like the Romantics, enjoys flirting with the sibling incest taboo. As Kokkola (2016) points out, sibling relationships disgust and fascinate. The dichotomy of comfortable bonding and understanding with the taboo against such relationships attracts many people. After all, forbidding something makes people curious. As we’ve seen, incest has deep roots in history and language. Most cultures have forbid it, and it appears humans have natural mechanisms that reduces attraction toward those we share childhood.

Candy Boy features a romance between twin sisters.

Sibling relationships aren’t unique to anime. English Romantic literature teems with it more than anime does today. It is a relatively small subgenre of romantic comedies. Sibling relationships of all stripes gains more appeal as we fragment and struggle to connect with others. Communication has become superficial and rife with problems. Siblings, on the other hand, mostly skip the awkward getting-to-know you period. They also share a closeness (usually) that many romantic couples wish they could achieve. While the Romantics viewed sibling relationships as the best representation of “love is agony,” anime views sibling relationships as a stand-in for the state of relationships today–often a forbidden place rife with problems but still containing a deep level of connection people often can’t achieve.

Of course, anime avoids the problems of real-life incest: abuse, psychological issues, and birth defects. It avoids the fact Japan forbids sibling marriage even if it doesn’t criminalize such relationships (Kokkola, 2016). Despite these problems, anime will continue to explore these relationships for as long as audiences remain interested. Sibling relationship stories will remain a part of world literature because of its built-in conflict and tension between disgust and appeal.

References

Bixler, Ray. (1982) Sibling Incest in the Royal Families of Egypt, Peru, and Hawaii. The Journal of Sex Research. 18 (3) 264-281.

Bryce, Mio (2008) Another half and/or another individual: representation of twins in manga. The International Journal of the Humanities. 5. 143-153.

Kokkola, Lyida & Valovirta, Elina (2016) The Disgust that Fascinates: Sibling Incest as a Bad Romance. Sexuality & Culture. doi: 10.1007/s12119-016-9386-6.

Reed, Mandi (2012) The melancholy of sibling incest in British Romanticism. LOGOS: A Journal of Undergraduate Research. Fall 2012. 111-120.

Richardson, Alan (1985) The Dangers of Sympathy: Sibling Incest in English Romantic Poetry. Studies in English Literature. 1500-1900. 25 (4) 737-754.

Tidefors, Inga, Arvidsson, Hans, et al (2010) Sibling incest: A literature review and a clinical study. Journal of Social Aggression. 16 (3) 347-360.

Yates, Peter (2016) Sibling sexual abuse: why don’t we talk about it? Journal of Clinical Nursing. 26, 2482-2494.

What is in Ramen?

Have you ever wondered what goes into the otaku’s go-to food on the cheap? It’s also Naruto’s favorite food–ramen. The bowl of noodles and magic-flavor powder, like most packaged foods, is a wonder of engineering and chemical science. There is some actual food in it too.  Some brands have slightly different formulas (you really can’t call them recipes), but these components are in most of them.  I pulled this list from a package of chicken-flavored ramen in my cabinet.

Enriched wheat flour (wheat flour, niacin, reduced iron, thiamine, mononitrate, Riboflavin, folic acid) This is wheat flour that’s been processed to take out much of the good, healthy stuff and then some of it is put back into it artificially. Like with all food-processing, this is done to stretch the batches and increase profits.

Palm Oil – oil derived from the pulp of oil palm fruit. It’s cheap, and it has a long shelf life. It’s oil appears in soaps, detergents, cosmetics, and pharmaceutical drugs. In 2015, we consumed 17 pounds of it, on average over the year (Raghu, 2017).

Salt – Salt is the go-to preservative and flavor enhancer. In the past, people died from not getting enough salt. It’s necessary for our health, but now people die because of getting too much of it. It’s hard to avoid salt too. As ramen goes, if you eat an entire block and its magic powder–and who doesn’t?–you’ll eat 1500mg of salt, at least half the recommended amounts you are supposed to eat.

Autolyzed yeast extract – This is a fancy name for yeast corpses. Yep, you are eating the remains and poop of yeast. Their cell walls break down as they eat proteins and release amino acids, salts, and carbs. Food engineers separate the yeast and their poop from the stuff that doesn’t dissolve in water ( Wiesenfelder, 2017). The result tastes umami, like monosodium glutamate and mushrooms.

Dried leek flake – Real food! A leek is a type of veggie related to onion, garlic, scallion, and chives. In this case, the leek is dried and turned into flakes.

Egg white — Don’t eat ramen if you have an egg allergy.

Garlic powder — More real food! This staple in cooking is good on spaghetti, buttered bread, and more.

Hydrolyzed corn and soy protein – Hydrolyzed vegetable protein is made by taking wheat gluten in water and mixing it with an enzyme like Neutrase to break down the proteins. The result is a protein with umami flavor. It happens naturally in foods like cheese and other foods that ferment for a time (Wang and others, 2015).

Lactose – Lactose is better known as milk sugar. It’s a type of sugar that appears in milk and can be extracted to add to other foods, like ramen.

Maltodextrin – A food additive that comes from partial hydrolysis of starches like corn or wheat. It contains glucose, sugar, molecules within it. It shows up in candy, beer, soft drinks, potato chips, jerky, and more. It thickens foods.

Natural flavors – The “secret recipe” that gives ramen its beef, chicken, or donut flavor. Yeah, not so much donut, but there are tons of flavors out there. The flavors are likely spices such as paprika, onion powder (which is listed), chili powder, etc.

Potassium carbonate – A type of salt used in making soap and glass. It’s a drying agent that keeps powders like ramen’s magic powder from clumping with moisture. It’s also used in making cocoa powder. It appears naturally or is manufactured.

Sylvite is just one of several rocks found in ramen.

Potassium chloride – This type of salt can be used to make potassium carbonate. It appears in natural rocks like sylvite.

Sodium alginate – Yet another salt (explains the 1700mg a packet, doesn’t it?) that comes from brown algae. It protects against intestinal absorption of radioactive isotopes so you can’t say ramen isn’t at least a little healthy (National Center for Biotechnology, n.d. A). Ramen sounds like a good food to have in the event of a nuclear war, eh?

Sodium carbonate – Works as a water softener and comes from the ashes of plants or from seaweed. Used in making glass.

Powered chicken – Bones and all?

Rendered chicken fat – Rendering takes all the waste parts of a chicken and turns it into fats like lard or tallow. Think candles.

Silicon dioxide – In a word, sand. Silica, which contains silicon dioxide is the major component of sand.

Sodium tripolyphosphate – Used in laundry detergents and dish-washing detergents. It’s used in foods to texture and thicken (National Center for Biotechnology Information, n.d. B)

Soybeans – Something natural! Actually, a good number of the ingredients in ramen appear in nature or through natural processes which allows the marketers to use the phrases “natural flavors”  and “contains small amounts of naturally occurring glutamates”. All of which is true.

Spice and color – Gotta get the chicken-gold broth looking and tasting right.

Succinic acid – Used in medicines and making lacquer. The acid is also found in and around cancer tumors. It’s main purpose here is to add to ramen’s shelf life (National Center for Biotechnology Information, n.d. C).

Sugar – Balances all the salt.

TBHQ – Short for Tert-Butylhydroquinone. An antioxidant  used to add shelf life.

Wheat – Some whole wheat is hidden in the noodles.

Many of these components are common to processed-packaged foods where self-life is one of the main factors. As you can see, ramen has many different types of salts. Salts are the most common additive in packaged foods because we crave them, and they help food keep longer. But too much salt is linked to health issues such as high-blood pressure and vertigo. Salt is hard to avoid today, but with some planning you can curb it. So if you want a bowl of ramen, you can enjoy it. Just cut salt from the other meals you eat that day and drink a lot of water.

References

National Center for Biotechnology Information. (n.d. A)  PubChem Compound Database; CID=5102882, https://pubchem.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/compound/5102882.

National Center for Biotechnology Information. (n.d. B) PubChem Compound Database; CID=24455, https://pubchem.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/compound/24455

National Center for Biotechnology Information. (n.d. C) PubChem Compound Database; CID=1110, https://pubchem.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/compound/1110

Raghu, Anuradha (2017). We Each Consume 17 Pounds of Palm Oil a Year. Bloomberg News. https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-05-17/soap-to-chocolate-we-consume-17-pounds-of-palm-oil-each-year

Wang, Lihua and others (2015) Enhancement of umami taste of hydrolyzed protein from wheat gluten by β-cyclodextrin. J Sci Food Agric 96. 4499-4504.

Wiesenfelder, Heidi (2017) What is Autolyzed Yeast Extract? LiveStrong. https://www.livestrong.com/article/71755-autolyzed-yeast-extract/