29 October 2009

History of Fandom, Part II

I originally had something different planned for this entry, but last night a discussion I had gave me a chance to ruminate on what exactly it is I do.

I attended a wonderful talk last night about Lilith in the arts and popular culture. Of course, my contribution to the evening was about Lilith and her impact in the world of Neon Genesis Evangelion (for this I must give major credit to my girlfriend, who pointed much of her importance out to me over the past few months). Indeed, much of the classical Lilith mythology and astrological significance is reflected in the interpretation of Lilith in Eva, but that is another discussion for another day.

What struck me, however, was how the ideas of Lilith were received. The author of the book, who was extremely knowledgeable about the topic of Lilith, had never heard of Evangelion, despite it being one of the best known and best loved anime of all time. When I explained to her about the contribution of Lilith to the story, her face lit up and she immediately took down all the information about the series I had. She went on to exclaim that the version of Lilith found in Eva was "classic Lilith." She had never heard of Eva before last night, and it seemed to have an impact on her as a scholar.

The point of that little story is that anime, despite being something of a global phenomenon (at least from a media and media culture standpoint), is still very, very underrepresented in the academic sphere. Admittedly, much of this goes back to the idea of pop culture as being something more than contemporary or passing fads. Some aspects of pop culture change on a monthly basis and vanish into the annals of history as footnotes of what once was, or more frequently, as "what the hell was I thinking?" moments. But these segments of pop culture are often tied to trends or specifics.

Anime itself is neither of these. It is not a trend, as much as mass media cannot be a trend at all. And while specific anime can come and go, this is not an accurate representation of anime as a whole. It would be a fallacy to judge anime itself as merely one show or series of shows. Shows come and go. Some, like Evangelion, Cowboy Bebop, Dragonball or Gundam, transcend their temporal space and become phenomena in themselves. Other flare brightly and burn out, but not before leaving indelible marks on their followers.

So then, why is it that things like anime (and to an equal extent, comic books, video games and pop art) suffer from bias or stereotyping? If the classics of film can be studied, why not the classics of anime? Why is it that people who study and extrapolate on anime have to defend themselves and their work against laymen and professionals? If Star Wars can have books devoted to it, why not Galaxy Railways or Mobile Suit Gundam? And speaking of Star Wars, why, despite having been given attention to by legendary mythologist Joseph Campbell, do people who delve into the Star Wars fan culture still have to fight against being labeled journalists? Has the artistic, academic and mythological merit of media culture been proven time and again? Why do the classical traditions thumb their noses down, or relegate the study of such cultures to lesser branches of academia, despite their functions in our society?

Media cultures and fandoms are far more than just a cluster of antisocial or deviant people banding together to debate "their favorite captain." Fandoms are growing, evolving and living things, with their own associated mores, folkways, myths, heirarchies, sacred texts, priests and followers, who don't simply latch onto the idea of another person and emulate it, but contribute, worship and expand the views of something that otherwise might be static. The masses (and they are mass) of people who ascribe to a specific fandom are all part of the community, all have a place to belong, and all love to expand upon what they are experiencing, be it though art, writing, cosplay, convention or blog. They are, in all honesty, something akin to religion, sans the experience of the sacred.

Of course, that idea is also up for grabs.

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