Friday, March 19, 2010

My new Yomiuri column--on anime, manga and censorship in US & JP

Is American prudery affecting Japanese law?

"The sentencing of 39-year-old American Christopher Handley on obscenity charges in Iowa last month and an upcoming vote on a “virtual porn” bill in the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly’s General Affairs Committee have sent shivers of anxiety through fans of Japanese popular culture worldwide.

Forget the recent U.S.-Japan dustups over the relocation of a U.S. Marine Corps base and the Toyota recall debacle. Suddenly, both postwar allies are converging on the same page in their desire to delimit the expressive sexuality in manga and anime.

In U.S. courts, Handley pleaded guilty in May of last year to possessing manga featuring “drawings of children being sexually abused,” and was sentenced on Feb. 11 to six months in prison–though his lawyer has recently noted that Handley’s submissive plea will likely win him a few months in a halfway house, with no actual prison time.

Yomiuri HERE; expanded w/reader comments at TCJ HERE, and w/graphics @ 3:AM HERE


ArthurFrDent said...

I think it is particularly interesting to think of the potential changes in the Tokyo law in terms of Jake's Big$ theory. I doubt that US law would spark the interest of the mob, as it's not big business here. But there? Yeah, cant imagine they wouldn't be bringing their power to bear.

Roland Kelts said...

Good point. I spoke to Jake about this, as I'm not sure how much the yakuza had to do with shelving the proposal this time around The proposed 'virtual porn' bill said nothing about live action underage pornography. Instead, its ostensible targets were artists, illustrators and publishers.

Matt Gleeson said...

ello Roland

I've read some of your book 'Japanamerica'. So far I'm really enjoying it, although I've only read the forward and the beginning of the third chapter. Im an Illustration student from Wellington New Zealand and I'm currently doing my major project for my honors Degree. I hope to use your text as one of my presidencies. I'm doing my major project on the issue of 'the weakening mind in modern society', I don't necessarily agree that the mind is being weakened but drawing chiefly upon the work of Hayao Miyazaki I hope to argue for and against this statement.

Your argument for the liberation of censorship is an old one. George Orwell advocated it in his essays and stated that Henry Miller was the most important novelist of the time. Now if I was born in the early part of last century I am sure I would have been right there with him. But I think you misunderstand the youth of today if you think that we ALL want to be relieved of more morality and sexual taboos. Just because lady gaga wants to be doesn't mean we all do. The problem is that if you strip away the taboo there is no going back. You strip it away from the future generations aswell as your own.

(the Millenial generations opinion about themselves) "A majority say that the older generation is superior to the younger generation when it comes to moral values and work ethic"

If the majority of youth today hold the opinion that older generations are more moral than they are, by making that admission doesn't that suggest that todays youth are getting sick of post modernity's moral deconstruction? I think that there is some dissention there. Mind you it might just suggest that we live amoral lives with a certain amount of premeditation and celebrate it, I don't know.

So what about when (not if) this contentious strand of hentai becomes exploited, co-modified and normalized to the point where the taboo is destroyed? Surely you cant claim that everyone will have intelligent conversations about the artwork with their mothers, not everyone is 'intelligent', not everyone has mothers.

I'm pretty sure that not all thirteen year olds would be happy to have cartoon versions of themselves become the object of a grown mans sexual fantasy. Shouldn't we be asking them what they want as they are certainly the muses of such art and at least the abstracted life models for it? Or maybe go even younger and ask 5 year old girls what they think as they will be inheriting the affects of this child-hentai liberation.

Your comparison of war and henti manga confuses me. The key difference between the two is that 'war' is fairly abstract and is an act traditionally performed by adults. Where as paedophilia is not nearly as abstract as 'war' and drawing under age girls getting sexually abused is only composed by adults, but involves underage girls simply by association. Are you as 'open-minded' about the child soldiers of Africa and the middle east? Should we be getting rid of that taboo? What is with modern society's fixation upon getting rid of taboos anyway? Surely we can see by now that western society just mines humanities instinctively shameful desires for all its worth and then leaves us to wallow in/celebrate our weakness's.

I have never travelled outside of New Zealand before so I accept that I'm naive by default and I'm not an established academic or lecturer, and I might be missing your point, or you might be one of those people that believe Post Modernity has got to deconstruct even the most sensitive Taboos before we can evolve again. I don't know, but when I read your article I was pretty much expecting you to hold the opposite opinion of the opinion you express. It just seems like hentai porn's role in creating progress seems a bit redundant to me that's all.

Roland Kelts said...

Many thanks for your thoughtful insights and very fair concerns about my column, Matt. I intend to reply in greater detail once I'm more settled on this side of the world. Please bear with me.

Matt Gleeson said...

Thanks Roland, it would be great to get some perspective. Pedophilia and child abuse are issues that i feel quite strongly/black & white about, so it might explain the annoyance or aggression that came through in my comment. Maybe this stops me having the objectivity you have. Anyway I hope you didn't find my opinions too hostile or accusatory, if they were then I apologize.

I was wondering if you could you recommend any further readings into post modern morality, censorship liberation or generational analytics? or any texts that Expand upon Hayo Miazaki's opinions of the Otaku culture or society in general?

When I come to do the practical component of my major project I will look at the idea of the role model in a media narrative as a vessel to inspire change. So Miayazaki-esk texts would be perfect.

Lawrence said...

A thing to note is that many people who attend cons and do other such events are under 18, and usually they are not supervised by parents and they can meet up with people of all age ranges. (And this can extend even further onto the internet where people use phony names and aliases.)

Once a client of mine who came to a convention with me asked: "Wow, do you know who is single?" I replied: "I know something more important I know who is legal."

He asked this upon seeing the the costumes of quite a few of the people which were quite revealing, and the thing is it can be very hard to tell who is of legal age just from an outfit (if not impossible).

And there is an additional catch here is that many of the characters in anime and manga are of high school age and people like to emulate their heroes. Or if you are their hero they like to take pictures with and/or him or her, and this before the crossplay aspects. (Where people can look even more different.)

You can find lots of stories about this, or just by asking and even observing.

Roland Kelts said...

Lawrence: Thanks for your insights into cosplay and the potential conundrum of youthful sexuality it brings into play. I think someone (maybe you?) should write a book on the subject, since it is the principal driver of fandom at conventions in the US.
Matt: I'm afraid I won't soon get to responding to your excellent and probing questions about my column. Can you contact me via email for a deeper discussion? My book address is:
Re: your other queries. I recommend works by Susan Napier, Anne Allison, Fred Schodt--the usual suspects--but also Hiroki Azuma's Otaku: Japan's Database Animals, recently published in English translation, and Takayuki Tatsumi's Full Metal Apache. Both contain material about postmodern morality and censorship/otaku-oriented topics. For Miyazaki himself, I recommend Starting Point, a collection of essays, interviews and asides from the master himself, beautifully translated by Fred Schodt and Beth Cary, with whom I interviewed Miyazaki live and onstage at UC Berkeley last summer.

Matt Gleeson said...

Hey Rolland

Thanks for all of the recommendations. I will look into your suggestions right away, I'm sure they will be a great help.

I was thinking that I may ask you a small number of questions with you via email, only if you are willing, rather than launch into a moral discussion. It would be great to get some specialist academic opinions. But it seems that you are a busy man, so I'll formulate a few questions and send you the email to your book address and if you are willing & have time to answer them then great, if not; no worries.

Roland Kelts said...

Worthy of an update: Tokyo's proposed "nonexistent youth / virtual porn" bill, targeting manga and anime creators, voted down twice today, and likely to tank in the General Assembly tomorrow, via ANN: