About Me

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Lake Charles, Louisiana, United States
Hello, and welcome to my blog! I like to write about children's literature, fandom studies, video games, feminism, and pop culture in general. I've recently earned my Ph.D. in children's literature ( Fall 2012) at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. I also teach English (composition, British literature, and women's literature) at Sowela Technical Community College. Oh, and I like cats! [Banner image artwork by Yuki Midorikawa]

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

A Conversation on Dystopia

The New York Times put together a discussion page on the dystopic trend in contemporary young adult literature: Well, The Dark Side of Young Adult Fiction actually features more of a mini-lecture from seven authors in the genre, although they do loosely respond to one another. (I suspect it's more about placement on the editors' parts than actual response by the individual authors, though.)

What I find interesting isn't so much (or necessarily just)
*Blurb from Suzanne Collins' Hunger Games trilogy

 what each person had to say, but the debate itself. The best we can do it seems is acknowledge that this is a topic that is trending today. But even some point out that dark stories have always existed and remained popular, for adults and young adults alike.

My favorite excerpt is probably this one from Andrew Clements:

Perhaps the dystopian stories of today are darker because all of us, writers and readers alike, have become more aware of the many awful things that happen in our world. A study of world history shows that truly awful things have always happened. In our current media-saturated lives, however, every single awful thing that happens anywhere is pressed upon us in full-color, live-action images, both instantaneously and repetitively. In order for a book to seem scary today, it has to be very scary indeed.

I like this because it seems the most reasonable. We're exposed to more darkness, and so we write about it and read about it more. Show a picture of a dead body to a typical 15 year old and the response might be fairly muted. Why, because she's already seen far worse. Depending on your point of view, this can either be a disturbing thing or an empowering thing (knowledge is power, after all), but it's a fact regardless.

I myself am still torn between the first two very opposing viewpoints, however: is it a response to the overwhelming darkness that young readers already find themselves in? or is it a simple form of escapism for comfortable middle-class teenagers? Maybe it's both - in the same sense that hard hip hop lyrics can appeal to inner city kids and suburban kids alike.

Then again, maybe it's the writers who are responding to something, and the readers are simply responding to good writing.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Fujoshi and the Obsession with Angst

The image to the left is a screenshot from the Japanese BL visual novel Togainu no Chi. A visual novel is a sort of "choose your own adventure" game, and as mentioned in a previous blog post, BL = "boys' love," meaning stories that focus on male/male relationships and are marketed primarily to women, but are enjoyed frequently by young girls.

So lately I've been meditating upon yaoi/BL fans' obsession with angst and all things sad and horrific. I've become more and more aware of this unusual phenomenon as the years have passed, and lately it's become almost all-consuming for me. I don't believe it's limited to the yaoi/BL genre, either; young readers and viewers seem very drawn to horror, particularly the lighter versions, such as Stephanie Meyer's Twilight saga. And before Twilight, how many girls had their first encounter with Anne Rice's much sexier Vampire Chronicles before they themselves could be considered "adults"? Other, less popular vampire authors have waxed and waned; Poppy Z. Brite wrote about teen vampires and hence attracted a teen audience, despite the fact that her books contained extremely adult content and were appropriately shelved in the "adult" fiction section. Meanwhile, Laurell K. Hamilton's Anita Blake stories, which featured adult characters, were shelved in the fantasy/science fiction section and were/are more popular with older readers.

But I'd like to return to anime again, partly because I am somewhat of a fan of this genre of film (which naturally means that I must automatically dissect and deconstruct it at every opportunity), but also partly because it has a huge teen fanbase. I am and have been particularly interested in the yaoi/BL subgenre of anime, again, partially because I myself am a fan and partially because of its (perhaps alarmingly) youthful fanbase.

I used the term "fujoshi" in the title, and this, in case you're curious, is used to refer to female BL/yaoi fans. It means "rotten woman" or "rotten girl." Take of that what you will.

Now, the main reason I felt like blogging this out right here and right now is because of the anime Togainu no Chi. I have to give a quick spoiler for Episode 11 in case you haven't watched:

Basically, in Episode 11, Keisuke, the kind-hearted possible love interest to the main character, Akira, is killed. However, Keisuke is not simply murdered; he is sliced in half by the series' main antagonist, Shiki. Meanwhile, Akira cradles Keisuke's still-living torso as he has his last moments on earth; Keisuke legs are visible in the background of the scene.

Perhaps not surprisingly, Shiki x Akira is by far the most popular pairing for this series, which was based on the BL visual novel/game with the same name. Shiki is actually more violent in the game than he is in the series. Keisuke x Akira is also a popular pairing among young fans, but not nearly as popular as the Shiki x Akira pairing.

This scene was frankly appalling to me as I watched it. It actually physically sickened me; I had a suddenly nauseated taste in my mouth and a tightness in my throat. I looked the anime up on MAL ("My Anime List") and saw that it's classified as "action" and "sci-fi," but not "horror." Now, horror is a very specific genre, and it has its specific fans, both adult and teen. And believe me, had I known this anime were classified as "horror," I wouldn't have watched. But for me, this scene was the final straw. The entire anime, really, has been quite gruesome, and I started watching it not realizing that the game it was based on was beyond the pale as far as horror goes. I came across a screenshot from the game where one character was holding the main character's intestines. Oh, yes! This is real folks.

But mostly, what shocks me the most about this series and others are the number of people, particularly young girls, who 1) complain that the anime has not been violent ENOUGH, and 2) claim to love the brutal/angst-ridden scenes the most. These reviews can be found online on a variety of yaoi-centric or even simply anime-centric forums and internet hot spots, including MAL, tumblr, and aarinfantasy.com, a fansubbing group which features a forum with tens of thousands of members, the majority of whom are female and would be classified as young adults (20 years old or below).

So, again, we have the young "fujoshi" fascination with horror, angst, and depression. Many of these young fans are also Twilight fans, though a good many are against the series, for a variety of reasons. The series' sheer popularity is a turn off for girls who see themselves as "outsiders" from the general populace (as many young anime fans may), but yaoi/BL fans in particular find Bella's relationship with Edward shockingly unequal. This inequality is thus erased when the female/male couple is replaced with a male/male couple.

Why, then, do so many young fans, particularly yaoi/BL fans, prefer stories with unhappy or even violent endings? Why do so many yaoi/BL series have unhappy endings? Previously, the answer may have been "Because mangaka/writers/artists could not imagine a happy ending for a male/male couple in this day and age." And it's true that many adult yaoi manga series have focused on the complexities of a same sex relationship trying to take place in a very gay-unfriendly world. (Youka Nitta's Embracing Love series is a great example.) This was similar to the New Woman novels of the late 1800s; no one at the time could imagine a truly independent woman, so all novels featuring such heroines had the heroines dying by the end of the narrative. Basically, The Woman Who Did was being portrayed to her readers as The Woman Who Really Wanted To, But Really Probably Shouldn't Have.

But lately I start to wonder if the reason so many BL stories end sadly, and contain such an extensive amount of violence, is simply because this is what young fans crave. Instead of thinking of myself as the "norm" -an older fan who prefers romance, not horror or angst- should I start to consider myself an anomaly?

Is yaoi/BL in fact a fetishist genre? And should we be concerned that an overwhelming majority of its fans are young girls?

I don't mean to make this a moral question. But certainly I find it fascinating that so many girls embrace horror along with BL. These are simultaneous phenomena occurring, and it's fascinating to watch them coincide.