I remember a specific event from my very early teens that gave me a better view of the world.
It was a televised debate held very late at night with a single topic – should Manga be banned in this country. I watched with interest, listening to both sides of an argument I’d hear many times after that, and realised something life changing – some people don’t care about other people’s points of view or finding the truth of the matter because they’ve already made their minds up. I listened to a Japanese director of anime films talk about the films and how they’re aimed at certain age ratings just as live action films are. I watched him explain that the particular movies being discussed aren’t the sort of cartoon for children that the West is used to, and giving them to a child is equivalent to giving a child an 18 rated slasher film or pornographic material, which is why he’d voluntarily submitted his films to the ratings boards a second time (after they’d been given a low rating) with a list of scenes they should consider while rating it. The very next question came from an incredibly fat woman with a thick Birmingham accent and, ignoring what the producer had said, she asked this: “What right do you have peddling smut to our children?” When the producer tried to explain again, the woman and several other audience members spoke over him. I wasn’t even into anime at the time but after watching that I sought some out for a first hand experience. Admittedly, part of that was teenaged experimentation and rebellion against the mores of society but, looking back, an equal part was impressed by that producer and angry at the crowd who refused to even listen to this man who’d flown around the world to attempt to educate them on something they weren’t familiar with. By the time I had gotten into anime that way the larger debate was all but over. Some shops stocked the stuff, others didn’t, but no law was put in place that stopped me from buying what I wanted and, looking several years older than I actually was, I was able to buy videotapes without worrying about age ratings. I soon learned the difference between manga (published as a comic book) and anime (published as an animated film) and saw that the Manga company brand used on some localised (redubbed in English) films was confusing the issue for a lot of people.
Did you enjoy that tiny trip into my past? Yeah, I’m a private person and don’t share much about myself so it’s a rare treat for you. In fact, according to my e-mails, many of you find my viewpoints and way of thinking to be quite unique and are interested in how I came to be this way, so I’m attempting to share a little more about my past. Anyway, on with the post. I mentioned earlier that I’d see that argument made many times in future and I wasn’t wrong. The most recent victim of that argument is the video game industry. Like anime before it, it is being portrayed as something evil that is insidiously corrupting our children. Like anime before it, it has some well spoken champions who try to set the record straight. And, like anime before it, people aren’t listening because they’ve already made up their minds. Unfortunately these people don’t want to realise they’re basing their entire viewpoints on conclusions they’ve put together by applying an outdated view to something new so the argument shall continue until they find something else to blame for society’s problems.
Wont Somebody Think Of The Children?
Anime and videogames have one thing in common that has caused this reaction from the public. They’re both evolved forms of a media outlet that is traditionally aimed at children in the West. When people think about cartoons they think about cartoon mice dropping anvils on the head of a cartoon cat, they don’t think of a post-apocalyptic dystopia being ruled by a superior race of genetically altered humans facing off against demonic forces. The two ideas are seperate in the public mindset – cartoons are for children and sci-fi horror is for adults. To that mindset it’s obvious that anyone who tries to mix the two is attempting to introduce children to subject matter that is too mature for them. That mindset cannot bring itself to understand a new form of media that explores traditionally adult themes in an animated format and wont even think of the fact that this media emanated from a different culture. The same goes for videogames, for the most part. The mindset that groups all cartoons together can’t fathom that videogames have evolved to a point where they’re capable of telling unique stories with the same maturity as some films and books have. To them videogames are all chunky and colourful romps with cartoon plumbers jumping barrels and attempting to rescue a princess from a giant ape. These people seperate games and cartoons into a distinct category in their own heads that they mark “For Children”. As they see these things as childish they cannot understand why an adult would want to use them and see anything aimed at adults that makes use of those “childish” formats as a threat to children that must be stopped.
A Defined Enemy
Mankind is a strange species really. Have you ever noticed how many wars we have compared to how many people claim they want world peace? How about the fact that so many religious groups have started wars throughout history with people who agree that something is up there but disagree on minor details? Hell, just take a look around you at the people in your life sometime and I’ll bet you know someone who doesn’t seem to be happy without an enemy. This is another reason people will latch on to scapegoats for all of life’s woes and battle against them. Humanity needs an enemy. It draws them together with a common cause, something that has been noticed by politicians for hundreds of years and used in their favour. Take a look at America in the 1950s and how, still reeling from the horrors they’d witnessed and committed during the Second World War and with country morale at an all time low, the country was united by fear of the insidious (you ever notice how all these things people don’t actually need to fear are labelled as insidious?) threat of Communism. Of course, we know now that the Communist party weren’t brainwashing people into performing anarchistic acts in order to bring down the government of the United States at all, and that most of the things members were accused of were lies designed to incite fear amongst the people as well as unite them under their government. The horrors of the newly started atomic age and the guilt and shame over Hiroshima were forgotten as neighbour suspected neighbour and all looked to the government for guidance against this new threat.
The sad fact is that it’s easier for people to view the world in black and white (black and red in the case of the Communist witch hunts) rather than shades of grey. It just takes less effort and education to seperate things into good and bad categories than it does to review both sides of an argument, and people will in general choose whatever requires the least effort on their part. It’s this duo-centric outlook combined with an inherent laziness that causes humanity to look for scapegoats. We want the easy answer, a single enemy that we can beat to solve all the problems in our lives. Why tackle eating disorders and the media that exacerbates them when we can say anime is corrupting our children and just ban that instead? Why spend time with our children and get to know them as people while instilling moral values in them when we can say videogames are too violent and have them banned instead? It’s much easier to sign a petition and think we’ve done our part in the battle against the imagined enemy (whether it be anime, videogames, communism, rock ‘n’ roll, heavy metal, horror films or whatever else is an easy target) than it is to find the real problem and tackle that, and that’s exactly what the majority of us do because we want the satisfaction of being part of the solution without the effort needed to actually make a real change to the world. Like I said, lazy.
A Panel Of Experts Say…
So you’ve seen how people misunderstand new things and leap to the only conclusion they’ve left open for themselves, and you’ve seen how humanity’s need for an easy enemy to beat and solve the world’s problems lets them set new things as the cause of problems they have nothing to do with, and you’ve even seen how politicians will take advantage of these factors to further their political careers. You may be wondering why these things haven’t been pointed out before, why psychologists around the world haven’t banded together and defended these things we use as scapegoats for our problems. Hell, if you’ve looked into these things, you may even have seen experts agreeing that these things are out to corrupt our children and having test data to back their claims up. Would it shock you to learn that the reason they have this proof is because that’s exactly what the experiments were designed to find? Yeah, I didn’t think it would.
The problem lies in the hypothesis stage. When an experiment of this nature is designed, the idea is to come up with the idea that one element (lets use videogames for this example) is affecting another element (children’s aggression is the usual one) then design an experiment to see if your hypothesis is correct or not, and measure the results. Unfortunately that doesn’t seem to be the case with these experiments. Instead they assume that the videogames are definitely affecting children’s aggression and design an experiment to see how much. One recent example followed that model and the researcher (a term I use very loosely in this particular case) illegally provided an 18 rated game to a class of 13 and 14 year olds. To make matters worse, the game this researcher inflicted on these children was from the Postal series, one that I, at the ripe old age of 32, find vulgar and overly violent simply because that’s what it’s designed to be. Unsurprisingly there was a marked increase in the aggression factor of some of the children, due mostly to being provided with a videogame they couldn’t legally buy for another four or five years and having their entire week at school being changed from work to videogames being another contributing factor. The researcher, already looking for anything to back up her predetermined conclusion, noted it down and triumphantly claimed videogames as the cause then went on to make a name for herself from her study. One has to wonder if she’d show 18 rated pornographic material to 13 and 14 year olds and conclude that having porn in the country is a threat to children’s wellbeing, ignoring the fact she’s the much more dangerous threat.
So, there you have it – a small view of the inner workings of humanity that gets them to declare something that is relatively innocent as a threat to our children, and the world in general. A mixture of misunderstanding new formats, laziness, paranoia and experts trying to make a name for themselves in an already overcrowded field by influencing experiment results in favour of their hypotheses. There are, of course, several other minor aspects that affect this situation (one of them being the traditionalist’s need to rally against anything new, believing themselves to be some modern day Canute and that their screaming will somehow hold back the tide of advancement) but it’s much too boring and lengthy to go into those during the length of this article, and only tend to influence the main points rather than add to them. Suffice to say, some videogames and anime do indeed cross the line into bad taste and offensive material, but those are fewer and farther between than we’ve been led to believe. Entire industries shouldn’t be judged by these few anomalies and, in other media formats, this has held true. Would you be willing to give up your favourite book, song or TV show simply because someone, somewhere has produced something disgusting using that media format? Of course you wouldn’t, and no-one has the right to demand that of you, yet that is exactly what people are attempting to do to the videogames industry now just as they tried with anime all those years ago. It’ll pass eventually, of course, just as everything does. My generation, raised on videogames and anime, are getting older and taking the world as our own. We understand these things better and they’ll soon become as much a part of our culture as other previous scapegoats have. I have no doubt that my generation will also find new scapegoats to rally against themselves, but that’s a whole other story for another time.
Until then I’ll see these arguments happening more and more frequently and, I have to admit, I’m always reminded of that debate I saw as a child when they do. A small japanese man sits on stage and respectfully states his viewpoint while an overweight woman ignores what he says and throws the same accusations out over and over again, accusations he’s already dealt with in a manner that makes anyone actually open to listening understand. I see the two in my head and I know which of them I’d rather be.
How about you?