This podcast segment accurately highlighted the problem with popular culture consumption on a large scale level and the reason that people get stuck in cultural ruts. The speakers suggest that this phenomenon occurs because people begin to consume popular culture as “comfort food” and once they find their niche and find the genres they like, they become uncomfortable when consuming popular culture from a different genre or platform (Thompson, 2014). From listening to the podcast, I found it interesting when one of the speakers said that getting out of a cultural rut can’t occur by asking friends for a suggestion on what kind of shows to binge watch next or what album to listen to. He says that this is because we have acquired our friends who have a similar taste and they don’t push your cultural boundaries because their tastes in culture would be too similar to your own.
I remember at one point in high school, I kept re-watching my favorite TV show Community. Within the span of about three years, I had probably seen the whole series at least three or four times and then at least twice with the DVD commentary. I had other TV shows, even though they were mostly sitcoms of a similar type, on my “to-do” list, but getting through those episodes sometimes felt like a chore because all I wanted to do was watch Community. Even though I had already established that I despised the reality TV format, in order to get out of that “rut,” I began watching Big Brother, a reality-competition program. Within a few weeks that led me to other reality TV shows that I truly enjoyed and would have never found otherwise.
The piece of pop culture that I chose to consume is a television show called Gurren Lugann. This program is a Japanese television show of the anime genre. I accessed it on Netflix which hosts many popular anime shows. Anime is a specific animation style originated in Japan that’s defined by emphasized features, lack of detail 2D animation, convoluted storylines, and adult themes. I chose an anime program because it is both foreign and a type of genre that I’m not conditioned to enjoy. Although when I was 7 or 8 years old I did watch Pokemon and Yu-Gi-Oh, those were more because of the cards and the interactivity associated with them. Since then, I have had very little exposure to anime, in fact, there was a group of kids in my high school who were very interested in anime and I had never associated with them. I found them quite obnoxious so I actually had a pretty negative connotation with the entire genre of anime. That’s how I ended up selecting this program, because I aimed to choose something that I was the least interested in watching and therefore that would naturally make whatever I consumed “out of my wheelhouse.” Most television that I consume is either in sitcom form, drama, or reality TV, all either American or British, so an animated Japanese program was the last thing that I was naturally inclined to watch.
I watched the first three episodes of Gurren Lagann, which is about a young boy named Simon in a post-apocalyptic world who lives in a village deep underground. Their entire society revolves around digging holes every day in order to expand their community. One day he finds a treasure that looks like an arrowhead while digging his holes which prompts him getting recruited by an older guy named Kamina who is convinced that they can find a way out from underground and break the surface, which is a deeply forbidden act. The first three episodes follow the boys and a heroine named Yoko breaking the surface and living with the communities that live above the surface who are attacked daily by gunmen.
I somewhat enjoyed this program, if only because of the dramatic intensity it creates for these characters. The main character has consistent flashbacks to losing his mother in an earthquake and he starts out the first episode as a nebbish, shy kid. His character’s arc into a brave young adult already is established within the first few episodes. Another aspect of this show that I enjoyed was the music. I remember from the few anime shows I watched as a kid that the music was always very epic and it matched the characters’ conquests. Unfortunately, I found myself losing attention throughout the episodes primarily because it was in Japanese, therefore I watched with subtitles, and I feel like that hindered my enjoyment of it. Other than that, I feel like this kind of media could easily fall into a very formulaic pattern where a young, awkward kid goes on a conquest or mission and ultimately matures throughout the story to become a man and to conquer the original antagonist. I feel like if they could use these epic storylines that they already have in conjunction with characters who weren’t so two-dimensional then I could really get on board with the genre and seek out more anime programs.
I think studying this piece of culture, an animated Japanese show, within the framework of ideology and the theories of Louis Althusser would help distinguish the differing fundamentals between American society and Japanese society. One of the first things I noticed about this program was the overt sexual innuendo and exaggeration of female physical aspects while this also being a show aimed at 13 year olds. While I have no reservations or qualms with this, it is an animation style and explicit verbiage that wouldn’t be appealing to or approved by the general American public. Althusser suggests about representation that “…we observe that the ideological representation of ideology is forced to recognize that every ‘subject’…must therefore inscribe his own ideas as a free subject in the actions of his material practice” which to me suggests that the sexual representation in anime programs could have an influence on sexual behaviors of Japanese mass youth who consume these shows (Althusser, 1969).
This show also prominently and explicitly featured a gender neutral character. While an American program targeted for this age group would today most likely hesitate to include a character like this, Gurren Lugann aired in Japan in 2007, almost 10 years ago, was already including a character like this. This suggests to me how much less taboo of a subject gender-neutrality and transgender people must be in Japanese society compared to American society. Bennett assesses Gramsci’s theory that “popular culture is…a perspective which enables a significant reformulation of both the theoretical and the political issues at stake in the study of popular culture,” which allows one to understand how the introduction of this sort of character, whose presence is acknowledged but not necessarily taboo, suggests how Japanese theoretical issues with transgenderism are different than those of Americans (Bennett, 3041390).
Thompson, S. (2014, September 5). Pop Culture Happy Hour: Repurposing ‘The Simpsons’ and Busting Out of a Rut. Retrieved from http://www.npr.org
Althusser, L. (1971). Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses. In L. Althusser (Ed.), Lenin and Philosophy and other Essays. New York: Monthly Review Press.
Bennett, T. (1986). Popular Culture and the ‘Turn to Gramsci’. In T. Bennett (Ed.), Popular Culture and Social Relations. Milton Keynes: Open University Press.