Monday, December 26, 2011

At Otafest
Originally Published Victoria Day 2009
as a Chitchat/introduction, pre-essay,
to Hollywood Morality

This weekend I am at the University of Calgary at a festival called Otafest. You know the word trekkie? The vague equivalent in Japan is otaku, meaning "fan" of Japanese comics, or "manga," and of Japanese animation, or "anime." So I'm around hundreds and hundreds of people in costume. Meanwhile there is also a western Canada high school aged volleyball tournament going on and the coaches and parents are clueless. And a male coach my age, who sees the costumes every year but still doesn't know what's going on, expressed contempt: I think he's a mundane fool. At least a couple of ladies asked.

As a middle aged man I can recall watching the first aired shows of Star Trek. And something else: I can recall that in the 60's female fans were writing fiction of Kirk and Spock having a loving relationship. There was quite a lot of such female "fanfic" and no one quite knew why. Now I "know:" It was to fill the void of no such comics from Japan. Now there are lots of "yaoi" (boy meets boy) manga.

I know because Doctor Antonia Levi has driven across a dozen mountain ranges from Vancouver to give lectures. Yesterday her first otafest lecture was a "nerd magnet" where suddenly I was not the only "old guy:" There were over two dozen people, almost none of us in costume (like I said, nerds) and the room included at least a half dozen men and women my age. Doctor Levi told us about universal myths being encoded into Japanese popular culture.

Her next lecture, after a short break, was a "girl magnet:" lots of costumes, lots of energetic people under 18. It seems that in Japan nearly all of the yaoi readers are under 18—just like their approving mothers before them. But here in America any yaoifest will have an age limit of 18+. The girls yelled it wasn't fair; they screamed with approval when a boy in a wig and dress said his mother helped him with his costume.

As for me, middle aged: normally at slightest hint of impropriety I go "harumph!" and rustle my newspaper. As for these kids, they aren't bad: They aren't the sort to wear black leather jackets and sneak smokes behind the arena. They are wholesome. In fact, two of them work part-time in a public library! (Where there is some yaoi they aren't telling the librarians about!) When they grow up, some of them will attend lectures on cultural encoding.

I can't fault the girls for their belief in tasteful boy with boy romance. Meanwhile I will continue to do the middle-age thing of vigilantly monitoring our popular culture for stuff that is sexist or too violent or- you know what I mean.

Sean Crawford
Summer 20009


pyll said...
Sean, What a coincidence! I stumbled upon the anime Saint Seiya on youtube and while looking at the wikipedia entry, found the term yaoi. Interesting indeed! I'm glad that you had an opportunity to go to otafest... I would have loved to attend the lectures, but I'm sure that it will be just as good hearing it from you! Did you happen to connect with anyone at the festival? I've been to a couple of events like this, and they are a lot of fun, but the feeling fades as you go home. It would be nice to have some intelligent discussions with people. Did the speakers leave time for questions? Keep up the good work! p

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