It takes a lot to freak me out, but…

First a little back story, I am the faculty advisor for an anime club.  As advisor, I have two tasks, to open the classroom door where the meetings are held, and sit tight while members conduct their meetings.  You should, please, understand that I am NOT an anime fan.  I agreed to advise the club because I really like the student who asked for my help — without an advisor, a club can’t form, so I said that I’d help out.  He really is a super sweet kid!

Again, I do NOT like anime.  I’m assuming that you all know the reasons why, but I’ll give you the main ones  anyway: it is often extremely sexist in the creepiest kind of ways, and it is usually ultra-violent — for those who haven’t had the opportunity to sit through an anime short, just imagine what an average twelve-year-old boy might think of gender roles, politics, and a grown-up, good time.  I’m sorry; I mean no disrespect to twelve-year-old boys, but I think you understand what I mean.

But I said that I’d be the advisor, so I’m following through on my commitment.

Despite all that I’ve written thus far, I do have to admit that I really like the club’s members.  They are really pleasant, nerdy people (both young men and women) who mostly think that anime is harmless and amusing.  To be completely honest, I am extremely surprised by how much I do really like the club members.

Anyway, while they watch and discuss their favorite shorts and characters, I sit in the corner and grade or do some nominal prep work for my next class.

It was our fourth meeting, and I though that I saw some pretty weird and twisted stuff, but today, one of the members showed up wearing headphones and dancing up a crazy-ass storm.  He shouted his devotion to his new favorite artist: Hatsune Miku.

I figured that this was just a kid being a kid (really that’s all that it was) but his proclamation started an anime-nerd debate like I never imagined seeing.  The room immediately split between the lovers and haters.

Of course I was intrigued! I had to know more about this artist who sparks such controversy.  The proclaimer opened his laptop and showed me what all the fuss is about.

Hatsune is not a real (meaning human) person, but a holographic image that performs with a live band before thousands of glow-stick waving fans.  As I caught my breath, the argument restarted.  One side was adamant that this art form, vocaloid, had crossed the line. (I was surprised by anime fans arguing that anything had or could cross any line.)   The other side argued that life, truth, and reality are subjective, so there are no lines to be crossed.  I secretly fell in with the latter group. This said, I am, indeed, really freaked out by vocaloid.

I leave you to be the judge: is it post, post, post modern wonder-stuff, or is it a stick-your-head-in-the-oven-get-me-the-hell-out-of-here freakout maker?




19 responses to “It takes a lot to freak me out, but…”

  1. Rachel says:

    I am more confused than anything. This feels like one of those Jetsons-type retro-futuristic inventions that 50 years ago we all thought we’d be digging, but now seems hopelessly quaint. Just as a video phone for your home is so less radical than a satellite-linked supercomputer in every pants pocket (e.g. the iPhone), isn’t a holographic pop star so less radical than an Autotuned, human-growth-hormone-pumped, perfecto-zombie (e.g. Madonna)? Are the kids really that enthused?

    Actually, I am more relieved than anything. From the first couple of lines, I thought this post was going to be about tentacle rape hentai. (Also, Godfree, you are awesome for being this group’s advisor.)

  2. AWB says:

    I’m fully in agreement with Rachel on all points, and with Godfree’s philosophical alignment. Art is always an intervention in the real, and people have been complaining that it disturbs our sense of reality since the invention of popular culture. Worrying about what world these innocent kids will come to think is normal is just an expression of our fear of becoming irrelevant and dying.

    Yesterday while at the airport I saw some CNN interview with a tech specialist trying to explain how to use the lessons of social media to stay competitive in today’s business world. The specialist was a guy in his 50’s who looks like my dad, very unhip and obviously a late adopter of all these things, trying to speak in oldguy terms to oldguy businessmen who can’t figure out how to interact with younger colleagues who don’t joke the same way or do sales the same way as they used to, and it made me sad. There will come a point when we’re all The Old Fools, I guess.

  3. Dave says:

    Wait, I thought that’s what Gorillaz was, basically?

    I mean, the Hatsune music sucks, but it’s the same as other bad Japanese pop. What’s kind of sad is that anyone would think it’s something different. Believing the hype, in this case, is a weird gullibility — maybe the kind of gullibility that accompanies a lot of the more intensely nerdy fandoms. It’s not even a real hologram; it’s just a flat image projected very brightly on a scrim. And it’s singing generic pop.

    Cultural critics sometimes talk about how our hypersaturated media world has made Kids These Days incredibly sophisticated and skeptical of attempted manipulations, but for the majority of kids I think the opposite is closer to the truth. The capitalist media spectacle is big, fun, and always available, and you have every incentive to get on board. Hatsune seems like a tiny iteration of that. (A lot of anime in general seems that way.)

  4. AWB says:

    I think the difference between this and Gorillaz is that even the voice is synthesized. But yeah, it is amazing how generic and boring the Japanese avant garde often is. Sianne Ngai has a really wonderful article on the sadistic aesthetics of kawaii that may be relevant: “The Cuteness of the Avant Garde”

  5. AWB says:

    Ngai points out that “kawaii”–meaning adorable–is similar to “kaoii”–meaning scary, and that cute/scary images in Japanese pop may be a kind of pun.

  6. Dave says:

    Oh, synthesized voice. Huh.

    Are vocaloid or anime considered avant garde? They seem pop to me, although maybe pop in the way Buffy spinoffs and stuff like that is — many productions don’t have a big audience.

  7. AWB says:

    I guess I was thinking of avant garde in the sense of being a clearly new form of aesthetic intervention, and less in the sense of being off-putting to the masses.

  8. LP says:

    Well, hmph. I watched all three videos with a big smile on my face – thought it seemed really cool and fun, and it actually made me want to go to a concert and wave a glow stick around. Then I read the comments and realized, I guess I’m just weirdly gullible or something.

    I really liked it. It made me feel happy. It made me want to speak in short sentences. But you know, I’m also a big fan of wacky Japanese shit. And part of the fun of wacky Japanese shit is that it doesn’t have to be meaningful or superlatively groundbreaking or whatever. It’s just good goofy fun.

  9. SG says:

    One of the problems with discussing Pop and its connection (or not) to the avant garde, is that we only have access to styles, artists, and movements, that succeeded — that become Pop. Watching these videos that I posted, it’s easy to say that everything about it is obvious and tired. But we forget that for every arena full of screaming fans there are thousands of other artists who toil away and never succeed, so we only have access to the pop that become Pop. So yes, the more revolutionary stuff is filtered out.

    As far as the tunes, I’ve heard way, way worse. LP, I’ll be the fellow next to you at the show waving along. It all looks like a pretty good time to me.

  10. FPS says:

    More agreement with Rachel.

    I watched some of the first video and eventually turned it off, but just because it wasn’t interesting and not, as I expected, in a moment of intense squick. I don’t like what reads to me as an infantilizing idea of women’s features, movement, and vocal mannerisms, but once I factor out some of my own culturally specific assumptions, this doesn’t seem to mean much.

    I wanted to take advantage of chiming in late here and reading youse guyses’s’s reactions first to say you’re all really interesting critics of things.

    In the original posting I’m most struck by the account of what it’s like to get an almost accidental glimpse into someone else’s fandom. I’ve probably written about the time I went to a party full of Buffy fanfic writers. It felt like this, kind of.

  11. FPS says:

    (And last week, when I told my folks I had done an actual piece of for-money freelance writing, and my dad asked for a link, I found myself “forgetting” later to send it, because I couldn’t help but think what my fandom would look like to him, having been on the other side of that.)

  12. Tim says:

    Rachel takes the day. I’m more freaked out by Katy Perry and Ke$ha than I am by this. In comparison, Hatsune seems just so innocent.

    That is . . . until I look at the audience, pumping their hands in the air in unison, glow sticks punctuating the beat. Not to go all Adorno on you, because I mostly think he’s a big grump who can’t just sit and enjoy a movie (wait, I’m kind of describing myself here), but watching these videos it’s fairly easy to see how many a cultural critic can suggest points of contact between mass culture and mass murder. I’m not saying that the people in Hatsune’s audience are about to march off and kill kill kill, but it seems clear to me that they are enjoying the same sense of belonging and loss of self in something greater than themselves that is on view in films of the Nuremberg rallies. This, of course, is not a factor of vocaloid, but one of pop in general. It is not condemnable in itself. What is done with this feeling is what is important — whether it ends at “Gee, that was amazing! I love you guys!” or continues to “Let’s all follow the leader and do whatever he/she says!” All the same, it makes me feel a little oogy.

    The Grump has spoken. Wait! Where’d everybody go?

  13. LP says:

    “…enjoying the same sense of belonging and loss of self in something greater than themselves…”

    Surely you have felt this yourself at concerts, no? Did it make you feel oogy then?

  14. Tim says:

    I don’t remember feeling it at concerts. At sporting events, yes, and it made me feel a little oogy, not at the moment, but in recollection, mostly because there is a clearly drawn “us” and “them” occupying the same space. (You’ve been to a game with me, LP. You know I don’t like doing the wave.)

    Again, I’m not condemning the Dionysian out of hand. It’s just that it can make human beings susceptible to control. Take a look at 2:19 to 2:20 of the first video above, and I think you’ll see why I thought of Nuremberg. I’m not saying that these kids are Hitler youth; I’m just saying that the same part of the human brain is activated at moments like this. It’s a relief that here it’s directed toward consumer culture and not toward violence and destruction.

  15. J-Man says:

    While I thought that the Vocaloid was simply catchy pop, I, too, got a creepy feeling about the chanting of the crowd in the videos.

  16. LP says:

    Ah! Interesting. Timo, I thought you disapproved of the wave because it tends to have nothing to do with the action on the field….? As I recall, you have in fact done a little wave-ing yourself when it occurs during a big moment in the game. It’s cute when you do it. I’m a fan.

    Anyway, I didn’t get the same oogy feeling about the concert-goers’ chanting, but as my favorite uncle always says, it would be boring if we were all the same, wouldn’t it? It very well may be activating the same part of the brain as does the chanting at fascist rallies, but I just get a really joyous, happy vibe from it.

  17. PB says:

    You would think that if you had an imaginary singer based on anime you might mix up her outfits or make her a better dancer. And although the idea seems so pop and so harmless (until they figure out a way to make it real enough that we don’t know who exactly is speaking at that political rally), I do think the unnatural length of her legs is indeed creepy when presented as “real.”

  18. swells says:

    Yes! My students showed me this in class today and I said “It’s just like those Japanese anime bands!” It took a little convincing on my part before they believed such a thing existed. The Tupac is even creepier because it’s NOT a cartoon. How dey do dat?