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Gougai! Gougai!

HOLY SHIT PEOPLE, IT'S NOT BAD ENOUGH WE'RE GETTING AN UTENA EXHIBITION RIGHT NOW

THEY. ARE. MAKING. A. NEW. MUSICAL. NEXT. YEAR. START LOSING YOUR SHIT RIGHT NOW

#76 | Back to Top08-15-2016 05:32:12 AM

barafubuki
Touga Topper
Registered: 05-13-2016
Posts: 56

Re: Utena and racism?

Disclaimer: I am not a person of color, so I don't know how much authority I have to weigh in on this subject, but I have been the victim of oppression in other ways (female, queer, fat, formerly homeless/low class). I also speak (moderate) Japanese and I think I can understand a little bit of the Japanese perspective, but if any actual people of color want to chime in and take over, be my guest.

ShiningSanctum1 wrote:

This series is far from racist. Anthy and Akio are very complex, possibly two of some of the most mysterious, interesting characters in the show.

One of the things I think many of us (or at least I) love about Utena is the amount of character development and complexity of the entire cast. However, you strike up an interesting point. Yes, Akio and Anthy are certainly the most "mysterious" characters in the cast. That is precisely what I think many view as a problematic component of Utena.

Japan inherited a lot of cultural ideas, artistic philosophy, religion and vocabulary from India through Buddhist missionary efforts. (Not unlike the way many Europeans inherited some Jewish philosophy and traditions by the expansion of the Catholic Church.) So utilizing a 7 day calendar and observing a sabbath/weekend is not exactly "racist" because it has been assimilated into our culture. (Very few westerners practice the paganism of their ancestors). But it is a different matter when we talk about the cultural appropriation of ukiyo-e by impressionists because there is a imperialist context and stereotypes pertaining to orientalism exists.

So, why make the only two people of color in the series the most "mysterious" ones? Is it because they are gods (my own head cannon)? Why do they seem to have these supernatural/god-like/magical abilities? Ask yourself why do Akio and Anthy not obey the same rules other of logic/physics as the other characters in the show? Think about what it means for them to wield so much power. Was it not sufficient enough to cast Japanese people in the roll of Akio/Anthy? Their names are derived from the Greek gods Zeus and Hera, so why not make them Greek instead of Indian? Why are people of color not incorporated anywhere else beyond the random excursion to India? I do recognize that Japan is a relatively homogenous society, and people of color are relatively few, so they are probably not asking themselves how can we be more diverse in our media. But it precisely because they are likely not asking these questions we need to critically examine their choices when such representation occurs. We need to ask ourselves, "Was this done the right way?"

We are given absolutely no context Akio/Anthy's existence in Japan. That isn't to say they aren't allowed to exist in Japan, but when the creators provide no context, it is up to the audience to determine their reason for being there. What is the significance of portraying the magical and mysterious characters as the other. Personally, I am thrilled people of color were incorporated into this show, but when you are incorporating them as "magical" characters unlike the rest of your cast, you have essentially designated them as the other. (This happens all the time in science fiction where the other are portrayed as space aliens.)

So, I think this decision for their skin tone lies in the fact that India is recognized in Japan as the country where Buddhism derives, and it is seen as a religious nation where Hinduism and Jainism also thrive. The modern day practice of meditation and yoga can be traced to India,this is all historically correct and accurate. It is likely due to the Japanese people having an image of India as a nation of religiously oriented people play a component in Anthy and Akio's abilities. So in the mind of many Japanese viewer,s their mysteriousness can be attributed to their Indian-ness. But when you make a decision to exoticize a culture for their "mysterious spirituality" it can be interpreted as dehumanizing and offensive by a member of that group.

The portrayal of a character in a certain way can resonate with a victim who has been subjected to a similar experience. So then, the "good intentions" of the creators or the overall message the creators were aiming for matter very little to the real life experiences of the person who has been oppressed by such a harmful stereotype. To say that Utena was never intended to be racist is harmful because it provides an easy dismissal towards people who have lived such experiences. I recognize this. I also enjoy Utena. This means I have to acknowledge that even my own head canon about the story is potentially problematic for some.

Let me also make it clear to you that it is possible to both enjoy problematic media while simultaneously acknowledging it has harmful components. You just have to be open to such dialogue to take place when it occurs, and understand why people are angry about it. It is not helpful to invalidate their own experiences. Even if there are people of color who do not find Utena offensive, or even enjoy Utena, they do not speak for the experience of all people of color. What is not productive is an attitude of unwillingness to look at and wrestle with legitimate criticisms made about the show. The reason this dialogue exists is so we can promote better depictions in the future as well as a more just and equitable society that is introspective and aware of these power structures. And when someone really hates on a show and wants nothing to do with it, please understand that it is likely not for the reasons you enjoy said media. More often than now, it is because they are tired of the continued repetitive and harmful depictions of people who look like them in the show.

Let me explain this with a personal example:
I have a feminist friend who can't stop raving about Zootopia. I get it, it supposedly has an empowering message for women in it. However, she is also not a woman of size, and she didn't really think very hard about why I think Clawhauser is a fatphobic character teeming with offensive and negative stereotypes about fat people. The creators may have even had intentions to portray him as a "nice guy" and never meant to offend fat people. But the problem is that many fat people find his character to be highly offensive. The segment where a donut is lost in the rolls of his skin does not advance the plot in any meaningful way. It was obviously placed in to be laugh. Being a woman of size, I take issue with this type of portrayal because I am sick of my own body (as well as bodies that look like mine in media) always being reduced to an object of ridicule. When these stereotypes are perpetuated, it tells reaffirms to a culture of opression that it is okay to make fun of fat people, that we are lesser humans, and that we deserve it. When media portrays these harmful views, it becomes a shared, collective knowledge that tells oppressors it is okay to continue thinking the way they already do.

It wasn't until I directed my friend to the fat blogs complaining about the portrayal of Clawhauser reenforcing these negative stereotypes that she lightened up on why I wasn't ecstatic about the film. I don't think I completely changed her mind or turned her off of Zootopia, but I believe she is at least thinking about why I find Clawhauser to be offensive. Some fat people may like Zootopia, and that is okay, but please don't invalidate my feelings or argue with me when I point out that this scene is fatphobic. Please don't try to stifle my efforts for dialogue. The reason we do this is because we want more empowering representation. We want people who look like us in media to reflect who we really are. It's only really okay to portray this type of character when other characters who look similar behave differently. The problem is almost every fat character in media is portrayed this way.

Another example!
A UK survey determined that 1% of the population is asexual. Western media really doesn't give a shit about portraying the asexual experience because...well...sex sells. So characters like Sheldon and Sherlock who are coded asexual or are said to be asexual will attract the attention from the asexual community. It is understandable for many asexuals to love these shows because they feel like they are (finally!) being represented. It is also understandable that some asexuals completely despise these shows for their inaccurate portrayal of asexuality or dismissing that asexuals actually exist when the writers decide that asexuals are just not interesting enough. It is possible to enjoy said media, while acknowledging that is harmful or problematic. That is why dialogue like this happens because efforts need to be doubled in order to educate people.

Sorry, I kind of went on a rant...

But the moral of the story is:
Don't invalidate people of color who criticize Anthy/Akio of being racist characters. And just because a single person of color has a positive opinion, please recognize that they do not represent all people of color and their experiences. Exoticization, fetishization, and objectification are all dehumanizing.

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#77 | Back to Top08-20-2016 04:53:46 PM

Decrescent Daytripper
Best Disney Princess
Registered: 04-09-2007
Posts: 2788

Re: Utena and racism?

barafubuki wrote:

Exoticization, fetishization, and objectification are all dehumanizing.

Anthy and Akio are, very likely, not human, though, and as far as we can tell, choosing their visual appearance entirely. Which, then, begs the question of why Anthy or her brother want to appear as they do, particularly why do they choose to appear foreign, why the bindi, etc. Like Shiori's lace, Utena's "boy" uniform, and Nanami's cowbell, these are affectations, and even culturally in-line affectations, such as Saionji's frequent harkening back to earlier Japanese traditions, are - in the scope of SKU - put on; affectations, as much as India, curry, and being a teenage girl are for Anthy.

Anthy, and Akio are both consistently eroticized, fetishized, and objectified in the series, and that they've chose visual appearances and ethnic connotations that may enhance that is probably significant on at least subtle levels. Anthy normalizes Utena's eccentricities, because standing next to her, Utena looks "properly" Japanese and more properly, a modern teenage girl. Anthy appears immature, naive, weird, foreign, often incompetent, and way too passive and forgiving.

But, again, this is only appearance. This is a facade by a calculating and improbably old intelligence with great powers, subordinate, in truth, only to one other or - as in the movie - only to her own anxieties over that one other.


My Brain is the Wakaba and Shiori Funtime Hour. With limited commercial interruption.

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