Humanity Has Declined #3: Yack! Subculture

“There are no original ideas. Only original people.” So said essayist Barbara Grizzuti Harrison, and Humanity Has Declined follows a similar line of commentary in its third episode. Watashi’s acquaintance, identified only as Y, discovers disc upon disc of yaoi manga and publishes it to great accolade. The fairies jump on the bandwagon and produce their own, competing ‘manzines’. The work of the fairies is derivative to the point of absurdity, and it is this point upon which today’s post ruminates. The present-humans see how successful Y is with (re-)establishing a fujoshi subculture and think only of emulating Camphorwood. There is not one shred of originality in what they do, and yet it is just as well received as the work from which they were derived. This episode is not a satire of fujoshi, as others have claimed. Rather, the blame this week falls upon the authors, the artists, the musicians… Creators, as Welcome to the NHK’s Tatsuhiro Satou would put it.

The idea of yaoi manga is clearly new to the residents of Humanity Has Declined’s post-apocalyptic idyll, so for this particular frame of reference we can take it to be an original idea. Within mere weeks however, a wave of copycats floods the market. The originality of the idea is no more. The idea transcends even tropes, becoming a genre in its own right. There is nothing fresh about the new works, and only a publication’s title distinguishes it from the others. The fairies churning the manzines out are most definitely not original people, to return to Harrison’s aphorism. So what can the originator do? Y may have kick-started this cultural revolution, but she herself was never ‘original’ – she was merely reproducing the works of old. In retaliation, she moves into the business of creating her own yaoi, and a new work is born. Cinnamon is more popular than any of the new titles, and yet this is still no more than an imitation of the pre-apocalypse publications; the only original idea here is to name her magnum opus after a spice rather than a tree.

“But surely,” you are perhaps thinking at this moment, “the blame cannot only fall with the creators?” You would be correct, and I would thank you to let me finish the post before you object again. There is a reason that media industries are content to have the market saturated by unoriginal works, and it’s because enduring ideas are popular ideas, and popular ideas sell. Or as Fry so eloquently puts it in Futurama, “TV audiences don’t want anything original – they wanna see the same thing they’ve seen a thousand times before.” This is the principle that is responsible for countless Shana clones, shows about cute girls doing cute things and genderbent Sengoku flooding the anime schedules each season. Among all forms of media, few works stand out as doing anything new or exciting – the fact that Humanity Has Declined is one such show does much to help its cause.

So the hordes of fujoshi are also to blame, right? Damned rotten girls, sullying manga with their lust for BL! Er, not quite. All consumers are to blame, not just a subset of consumers to which you or I happen not to belong. Posture all you want about how your taste in anime is so clearly superior to Average Joe Anime Fan, there’s always someone who thinks you’re a blithering idiot for liking a certain show. There’s always someone who thinks that you – yes, you – are the cancer that is killing the anime industry. And they’re right, because we all are.

3 thoughts on “Humanity Has Declined #3: Yack! Subculture

      • Well the thesis is right on the back cover: “the consumption behavior of otaku is representative of the postmodern consumption of culture in general, which sacrifices the search for greater significance in favor of animalistic instant gratification.” It goes on to explore how popular media transformed into a cycle of repeated motifs, database elements copied and repurposed endlessly to feed the public’s base desires.

        But while Humanity reflects on the changes in the otaku market in the past decade, Azuma’s book was prophetic in 2001.

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