… or at least one lady.
There’s been quite a bit of talk already about editor Sean Michael Wilson‘s assessment of female critics’ reaction to AX: A Collection of Alternative Manga, most of it much smarter than anything I might offer up (posts from Brigid Alverson and Kate Dacey among them).
Still, as a North American lady, I feel compelled to examine Wilson’s argument, my personal reaction to it, and why I feel this is appropriate for Fanservice Friday. As I proceed, please keep in mind that I have not read AX, so my reactions are to Wilson’s theory about the tastes of North American ladies, not about those ladies’ reactions to that work in particular. This is important. Please remember it.
First, the increasingly famous words from Wilson:
Now, onto ‘AX alternative manga’ book. It has had a huge amount of reviews, and overwhelmingly positive … However, one aspect has surprised both myself and Asakawa, the Japanese editor – quite a few female American reviewers have taken issue with the large amount of scatalogical toilet humour and also the sexual content of the collection. Somehow they seem to find it offensive, or unpleasant, or immature. It was surprising to me to see this kind of reaction, as it never occurred to me at all – as a British person – that these could be seen as negative …
Now, I don’t mean that ‘I am right,they are wrong’ and certainly don’t mean to upset these reviewers – its their opinion, and I’m interested to see it. It’s been an illuminating thing for me to see such reactions. What hits me the most is that it’s perhaps an example of cultural (and gender within culture) difference on perception of such things. I say that because I noticed that all the people making such comments are North American ladies. I have not seen a single man say it, or any women from outside North America. Therefore, I presume that it MAY be something in the shared cultural values and norms of such commentators coming through that makes them react negatively to such toilet humour and sexual content – perhaps? In Britain toilet humour is one of the main types, and our attitude towards sexual content is relatively ‘liberal’, it seems. Asakawa, as a Japanese person, was also rather surprised, for perhaps similar cultural reasons.
Given that this is Fanservice Friday, I’ll leave the discussion of toilet humor to others and move on more appropriately, to sexual content, because here is where I must emphatically disagree with Sean Michael Wilson.
North American ladies don’t like sexual content? Has the man never cracked open a Harlequin romance? I can easily imagine that many men might be unaware of things like the enormous volume of sexually explicit fanfiction churned out by North American women on the internet every day, but sexual fantasy is big business in this part of the world, and there’s no shortage of demand for it from women.
Even in the (relatively small) North American manga market, we women like our fanservice just the same as anyone. Sure, some of that comes down to chaste romance and slashable bishounen, but many of the best loved and most eagerly anticipated manga among female readers in North America derive their main appeal from sexual content, ranging anywhere from coy bedroom scenes to outright pornography. Fans of yaoi in particular (me included, perhaps), have not usually been known for our delicate tastes.
What I think Mr. Wilson is more likely encountering is that we, many of us, also have other standards, at least when we’re engaging with something that believes itself to be Art. We see merit in sexual content, but we expect it to have meaning beyond shock value or pure titillation. Hell, even in our pornography, we expect some level of craft, either visual or narrative in nature.
Speaking for myself, having come from a prose background, I’ll cut the artwork quite a bit of slack, but if the sex doesn’t drive the story (at least when it’s onscreen) I’m probably going to be unimpressed. In fiction, as in life, effective sex scenes require effort, and I don’t have a lot of patience for slogging through otherwise. I’m over forty. I’ve seen it all. You can’t shock me with your content. But there’s an excellent chance that you’ll bore me if you don’t have something more to offer. And if your point is simply to be subversive, you’ll likely bore me with that as well.
Now, obviously AX is not concerned with fanservice. Nor is it, I expect, concerned with having fans. “Experimental” work is generally about social commentary, self-expression, Damning The Man, and other perfectly noble causes, none of which are guaranteed to produce art.
Having not read the collection, I’m not prepared to comment on what its contributors have produced, but if my fellow Ladies haven’t appreciated it, I’m fairly certain it’s not the sex.
Really, quite certain.