So, there were a few things tearing up the Twitter stream lately that I'd like to break down.
First up, TokyoPop is closing its US operations. This news has been greeted with a mix of disappointment and unsurprise, no less than by me. Of course, the American "otaku" community's relationship with American translators of manga has always been one of love mixed with hate, so it's no surprise that the ambivalence that's been there since the beginning should be there at its end.
I've been a manga and anime fan on and off for years, and remember the excitement of being able to buy Sailor Moon manga in the store coupled closely with the knowledge that the translations weren't very good. I remember being excited seeing manga bloom on the shelves of comic book stores and bookstores and then being upset at how much they cost. I was glad TokyoPop had done so well and made a degree of concessions to manga fans and then the reports came out about the really poor way it has treated its creators of original work (which I won't even pretend to be conversant in). Like I said, mixed feelings. Very mixed.
Still, reading over the press release about the company's end, I can't help but be drawn to this:
Starting with just four titles -- Parasyte, Ice Blade, Magic Knight Rayearth, and, of course, Sailor Moon -- we launched MixxZine, aspiring to introduce comics to girls. These four series laid down the cornerstone for what would eventually become TOKYOPOP and the Manga Revolution.
My best friend tweeted about the ludicrousness of a decision to pair up a violent manga like Parasyte with titles like Magic Knight Rayearth and Sailor Moon. Even so, I can't help but be heartened by the phrase "aspiring to introduce comics to girls." Despite all their odd decisions over the years, one has to admit they really did it. They built it. We came. And they're proud of it. Considering the alienation most women feel from comic book publishers and the geek industry itself, the fact that as this company is going out of the US it has said "We wanted you there, and we wanted you there from the beginning" is a very, very big deal.
Thanks for the memories, TokyoPop. (And I better get to buying more Fruits Basket if it goes out of print. Eeek!)
Switching over from an acknowledgment of geek women and girls to yet another sad dismissal, many on Twitter have also been epically pissed about this off-hand comment in Ginia Bellafante's New York Times review of the TV adaptation of George R.R. Martin's Game of Thrones series:
The true perversion, though, is the sense you get that all of this illicitness [the series sex and incest] has been tossed in as a little something for the ladies, out of a justifiable fear, perhaps, that no woman alive would watch otherwise. While I do not doubt that there are women in the world who read books like Mr. Martin’s, I can honestly say that I have never met a single woman who has stood up in indignation at her book club and refused to read the latest from Lorrie Moore unless everyone agreed to “The Hobbit” first. “Game of Thrones” is boy fiction patronizingly turned out to reach the population’s other half.
Well, Bellafante's got me there. I certainly wouldn't stand up at my book club and demand we read The Hobbit over Lorrie Moore, but that's only because Lorrie Moore is really good and in any book club I'd be a part of, the ladies would have all have read both The Hobbit AND The Lord of the Rings trilogy in high school, even if they never got through the appendixes (cough cough).
As for my own book club -- which isn't so much a club but my best friend and I looking at our more than 100 unread books each that we own and going to each other "Maybe something should be done about this ..." -- we're both reading Orlando right now. It's fantasy-tinged novel by Virginia Woolf about a nobleman who becomes a woman, which is awesome in itself but we're reading it too so we can get references in Alan Moore's (no relation to Lorrie) League of Extraordinary Gentlemen comics. So I would also suggest to Ms. Bellafante that perhaps she hasn't gone to the right book clubs.
But amid all the indignation the main point of this passage has gone curiously unremarked upon. Now, I haven't read Martin's work. I hear it's a fantasy version of The War of the Roses, and so long as he has a heroine half as cool as Queen Margaret of Anjou I'm pretty much down. Anyway, I have no authority myself on what would or wouldn't appeal to the average woman or average geek woman about Martin's work but I'm a little weirded out by the assumption that what the average woman wants is stories with lots of sex, preferably incestuous sex. That's not usually a stereotype that comes up, although I guess considering how often the Times writes trend pieces about how women are like Sex in the City maybe that's just the buzz around the office. Or maybe she/her friends read a lot of Flowers in the Attic in her youth and that's the "girl fiction" standard she's going for.
On the other hand, and because I don't want to be too mean, considering one of the few non-Tolkien doorstopper fantasy novels I've ever read is Jacqueline Carey's Kushiel series, which is much higher on sex than it is on fantastical elements, she may have a point. Still, I'd probably tell my book club to read Tolkien over Carey. I guess we have to get through Silmarillion at one point.
And speaking of novels that have developed a reputation in my mind as dense and long and maybe don't have a literary reputation comparative to their time/effort demand, Atlas Shrugged has a mainstream movie adaptation. The first part of it, anyway.
I haven't seen it yet. Other than professional critics I think nobody has seen it yet. I'm not sure I will see it. I have the book lying around somewhere and I'll get to that one day because I've read enough of Steve Ditko's Mr. A comics for it to be worth it and sometimes I like to track the depth of my anger levels. Yet even though I admit I don't have an informed opinion, there have been a couple of things I've been wondering in the amazement over the collective critical throw up.
1.) I wonder if it's fair to call Bella Swan fandom's choice of "Worst Female Character" ever when Dagny Taggart exists. From the little I saw/heard of her in the trailer and what I've read about her character in essays about the book she seems incredibly unpleasant. Of course, I've also wondered that when I read the Sookie Stackhouse series. And when I saw my roommate was reading a Shopaholic book and remember the blinding rage I felt watching 30 minutes of that movie.
2.) How much the people who are freaking out over the negative reviews in the form of comments don't really seem like fans. They seem like cheerleaders.
I saw this phenomenon a lot when the conservative comedy An American Carol was coming out. You'd see a lot of messages of support in response to the bad reviews but most of them weren't about how great the film was or how much they expected to enjoy it, but how glad they were that something on "their side" was coming out. I remember one comment in particular that gushed "I'm going to take 12 of my friends!" I had to laugh because 1.) I don't know anyone who has that many friends and 2.) it's hard to get my friends into anything I'm really, really excited about. How many viewings of Monty Python and the Holy Grail have been ruined by someone who knows all the lines and says them before they happen?
I also doubt their fannishness because fans tend to fret and freak out over whether a movie adaptation of their favored work will be good, and then when it turns out not to be curse the filmmakers and talk about how amazing the book was and how nobody could get the essence anyway. I try to be above that but I've succumbed to the hype/hate cycle. These cheerleaders, on the other hand, seem to bypass all that and go straight to "It's amazing!" Of course, people want these movies to fail, so some defensiveness can be expected and even human. It still seems like an alien concept to me. I won't pretend I don't prefer movies that reflect my worldview but since when did watching a movie become voting?
Oh well. Hopefully there'll be a potential Rifftrax. It'll rock! Or it'll suck! I need to post about this everywhere! And bring 12 of my friends! DOWN WITH ATLAS SHRUGGED! UP WITH RIFFTRAX! I HAVEN'T SEEN IT AND IT DOESN'T EXIST BUT I DECLARE VICTORY! TEAM MIKE NELSON! Wooooo!