Thursday, December 8, 2011

In a World of Lolcats and Bronies

   In discussion of "Confessions of a Mask" one particular theme continually comes to mind; the fact that the motivation behind K-chan's having to shelter his feelings and tendencies and hide them from the world is very much motivated by what the society he lives in considers normal. 

   It's also very easy to speculate a number of 'what if' scenarios with regards to that.  What if he had met someone with like tendencies and thoughts for instance.

   Well here's another, what if he lived today?  Japan today (at least the youth culture) is far more open to homosexuality.  Not to mention the new outlets by which he may choose to express himself, most notably the internet. 

   And what an outlet that is, I mean have you looked around on there of late?  The most immediate reaction aside (thank you Avenue Q) there exists on the web a world that is perfectly alright with twenty something straight males watching a show about prancing pink ponies who throw parties (try saying that ten times fast), a society that regularly uses the expressions 'guy crush' or would 'go gay for' without even so much a moment of hesitation pondering how they'll appear to their friends.  Granted there still is a good deal of homophobia out there, but generally and increasingly it is becoming fringe with its biggest proponents being labeled as out of touch, reactionary, and in some cases even just plain moronic (ala Rick Perry's new Iowa ad.)

   So really it does have to be wondered, would growing up in this new online world have led K-chan down a different path?

Shamwowing a Modest Proposal

   You!  Yes you! 

    Do you get aroused by images of dragons consuming strapping attractive heroes?  Do you fantasize about devouring your classmates like some twisted European count in an extravagant feast?  Does seeing rebellious hooligans make you picture people being rendered limb from limb?  Not want society to realize your bizarre fetishes and desires to subsequently indulge and destroy the apples of your sexual eye?

   Then do I have the product for you!

   Behold normalcy mask!

   That's right this delightful little mask will allow you, the possibly psychotic introvert to move about every day society with the distinct impression that you are in fact normal.  Show off to your friends, impress that girl you sort of think you're in love with yet have no sexual attraction to and are bored out of your mind while indulging the fluttery little moths in the tummy moments replacing genuine intimacy.  Why admit sexual deviancy when you can just pretend?!  And for just five easy payments of 14.99 this wonder of modern post colonial fiction can be yours!

Warning: Normalcy Mask may cause unhealthy retention of natural tendencies, confusion, vomiting, unexplained Lupus, irrational reactions to normal situations, poorly written parodies drawing loose connections to scottish satyrists, and the author you may or may not be an autobiographical interpretation of committing ritual suicide.  Normalcy Mask should not be used by pregnant women, bdellophobes (look it up), or anyone named George.  Please see your doctor if Normalcy Mask leads to any of these complications.

A Grave of Fireflies and No One Came to the Funeral

   Ever see something so horribly heart wrenching that it took all of your energy and resolve to not spend the rest of the week bawling uncontrollably into tear dissolved tissue box?  Then some time later you read something from the same setting and period, as well as the same national perspective as the former; but this time regards the same elements with an almost cold disregard?

   That is more or less what I am experiencing right now.

   A few years back I saw for the first time the Studio Ghibli film "Grave of the Fireflies."  It is more then likely the saddest story I've ever encountered, telling the story of a brother and his little sister in late world war 2 japan, orphaned by a bombing raid and trying desperately to survive after being abandoned by self serving relatives.

   Enter the book "Confessions of a Mask".  Another story about a youth in World War 2 Japan, as well as another story that incorporates descriptions of the devastation and trauma caused by the fire bombing raids.  Save this time it regards the grieving widows and burnt children with little more then passing remarks about how they seemed to be shadows to them, ghosts not sharing in their torment.  A blind mole rat could spot the emotional schism in how these two stories deal with that horrible scene.

   Now granted the focus of the book's story is not bent on the war and its tragedies as the film is, yet the shared plot element and association resulting from it is difficult to ignore.  My initial reaction to the difference leaned on the side of revulsion; how could anyone regard that scene with such cold analysis?

   After a bit more contemplation however it occurred to me that really it's probably the reaction most would have while passing by quickly on a train, that my perception was perhaps a bit skewed having seen one prior to reading the other, and that in a way seeing such a thing from that angle perhaps would allow me to both better appreciate how moving the film's story was and appreciate that it was not the shared story of the japanese during that time but rather just one small piece.

Haunted in the Night by the Squeals of Yaoi Fangirls

   While reading "Confessions of a Mask", I find a number of things that really don't seem all that new to me; at least with regards to what I find emerging from the samplings of Japanese culture youth in America are exposed to via the popular mangaka and anime subcultures.  (A rather skewed sampling I might add but a sampling none the less.)

   Take, for instance, the romantic interest the main character takes in the other student Omi early on in the novel.  If you threw what is described of Omi and K-chan's (as I refer to him) thoughts on him into the context of the anime genre, almost immediately fans would presume it part of a series of the 'boy love' or yaoi type.  They wouldn't hit too far off either, it does hold a number of cliche's associated with that genre.

   To offer an example, this particular one sided non mutual romance shares a number of similarities to the popular series, "Ookiku Furitubuki" (the obnoxiously renamed "Big Windup" in the US); a sort of dramatized play on the sport of baseball and the exaggerated shinanigans and towel whipping in the locker room.  In that story we follow the rather abrasive, short tempered, and domineering catcher, Abe, and the introvert pitcher who's dialogue is little more then mumbling and blushes at every glance from his teammate. 

    Sound familiar? 

   Yet the lead's sexuality isn't the only topic this applies to.  The constant theme of the novel as suggested by the title is the notion that K-chan is putting on a mask; a false identity he feels is "normal" for the world.  Again, this is a very common theme in anime plot lines.  For example, the popular Clamp (the name of the company that produces the series) series, "Code Geass", focuses on a notion that everyone wears a mask and utopia cannot be achieved until the masks are removed.  In the end the antagonists attempt to do this via an odd semi-supernatural machine to achieve a rather selfish end, and are stopped by the protagonists upon whose co-operation everything hinges (not the most reliable of schemes is it.) 

Fus Roh Huh?

   It's a bit of an odd coincidence that in the same month a much anticipated fantasy game which is focused around burly and dusted fantasy figures dawning armor selectively exposing the taught muscles and imposing figure as they battle winged draconic horrors; I find myself indulging a book which describes a character's inner sexual fantasies about men being devoured by similar scaly monstrosities; indulging every flesh piercing detail.

   In that regard I think fate is chuckling a bit

   Fantasizing about one of the same gender is one thing, frankly I've had my own share of such.  Yet that masochistic tendency described in "Confessions of a Mask" does not fit into my usual forte', and the point A to point B connection that is conjured by my gutter track mind has made in both reading this book and playing that game, which if you haven't figured out yet is Skyrim, has led to some very awkward moments.  It's not the same sort of fantasizing on my part as the main character in the book exhibits; but rather now this implanted curiosity and contemplation on how he would react to the play of the game.

   It's a sort of "oh look, the dragon just bit my head off.....I wonder if that would turn him on?" type thought that has become the artificially implanted notion, to which the usual reply emerges "....more then likely, yes." followed by an uncomfortable shiver.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Jane for President

  If I were to tell you that it was with fond nostalgia that I recollect my days studying English in high school as a freshman, I'd be lying; rather it was a castrating experience of humiliation fueled by my own blundering ineptitude and an instructor quite open in her distaste for my grade level and gender.  So it is understandable that one of the pieces of literature we indulged that year, Jane Eyre, would share the cold and farcical stigma that association bears.

  Then I grew up, and with youthful naivety also went the foggy warped lens by which I tended to pass judgement with upon works of literary craftsmanship.  No longer did Macbeth seem the right hand of the devil, no more did I have a desire to burn Hawthorn in a manner akin to the puritans he wrote of, and Atticus Finch and Boo Radley indulged the status of facebook BFF's.

  Poor Jane stood, however, at the end of this metaphoric hallway of new literary admiration; more then likely associating her neglected nature once more to her plain and lowly standing; but not for long.  Granted it was by requirement I again indulged the pages of Bronte's pen work, yet it was not a bitter reunion; having long ago left my resentment much as Jane had her own of Mrs. Reed.

  Yet, as I again ventured the rooms of Gateshead and Thornfield Hall, a new revelation dawned on me; something that time dictated I would have been unable to note so many years ago.  There was something of a familiar ring to the predicament Jane endured early in the novel at the hands of her adopted family and the venomous bigot Brockelhurst.  It was that nature she seemed to have that fated all her actions to be seen as acts of deceit and evil; that cannot do right attitude they bore regarding her that seemed only to grow worse if she offered the olive branch to their scornful hands, and how even though their hateful ways were clearly in the wrong, somehow they were perceived as the chaste lot by all save their victims until well into the story.  Why did this have such a familiar ring to it in echoes of recent events I heard?  Then it dawned on me...

Jane Eyre was the President!

  Indeed, the similarities between the plight of the orphaned child and the leader of the free world was in-mistakable.  In both cases the assailing party claimed to represent the will of God and voice of good christian society, branding their victim with labels of evil and the devil's servant.  Yet beneath the sweet sugared icing of both lay a deep rooted hypocrisy.

  As the Victorian metaphor revealed itself in my mind another thought occurred.  In the story Jane, before departing to Lowood sharply rebuked her wicked aunt and called her on all the evils committed on her part.  It is noted in the writing that this act shakes the wicked old crone quite visibly and, in a sense, proves a victory for Jane, rewarded further by the poetic justice that besets the Reeds in the years after.  The President really needs a moment like this; to call out the deceitful lot who labels him as a communist or tyrant, even though they could not tell you the dictionary definition of either even if it were staring them in the face.

  Or perhaps the hypocrites claiming the christian banner, waving it about with proclamations of the love of Jesus, then denying it to any who disagree with them and enthusiastic applause and jubilant cries of "YES" when the death of someone who dares live on their money is called into question.  That yes echoes among the cups of rancid water, bowls of inedible porridge, and drowns out the commsumptive coughing of poor Helen Burns; slowly dying because the grim pillar named Brockelhurst decreed that anything better for her would only encourage vice.

  I may have been an attention deprived nit wit in high school, but even then I could discern who the villain was in that scene.  When did the Reeds and Brocklehursts of the world become the protagonists?