This is Why We Can't Have Nice Things

Two issues tangently (or not so tangently) related to anime and manga have suddenly popped up their ugly heads and are causing quite a debate, both within and outside of the anime community this week: the conviction of a US comic book collector for having “Japanese manga books depicting illustrations of child sex abuse and bestiality” and the possible ban of so-called “rape games” in Japan.  Both issues have been topics of heated discussion.

However, both of these topics largely deal with the same issues:  what to do material which a vast majority of people may and probably do find patently offensive, yet which do not physically harm anyone in their production, sale, or usage?

Those on the side for banning such things basically argue that the mere existence of these materials are harmful to society – that “rape games” create a social acceptability to abuse women, and that child sex depicted in manga create a social acceptability to abuse children or view them in an overtly sexual manner.  Those on the side of not banning these things are essentially arguing that, since no harm was done to anyone in the production of the work, that banning such works amount to “thoughtcrime” and censorship that is worse than the work that is being banned.  Personally, while I empathize with those who make the former claim, I’m pretty firmly in the camp that it’s hard to make something illegal if no harm is done to anyone while producing it.

On the issue that is more well known at least within the US – the comic collector’s case – anime and manga fans have the problem of misunderstanding exactly what the medium is as well as perhaps those who are, shall I say, highly emotional about the topic.  The first problem has to deal with the age old problem that, to many people, “anime,” “manga,” and “hentai” are all the same thing or interchangable terms when clearly they address different things, as obviously not all anime and manga (indeed, the great bulk of it I would imagine) isn’t hentai.  Yet, that’s perhaps the most well known type, so that’s just what people associate with it.

The second conflation that I’ve seen which complicates debate on these issues is the difference between arguing whether something should or shouldn’t be illegal vs. whether something is or isn’t ethically or morally OK.  I’ve found that those who argue that it should be illegal often conflate the position of “it shouldn’t be illegal” with the position of “I have no personal ethical or moral problem with it.”

All of this leads me to the title of this post which is, of course, a comment people seem to make whenever something like this comes up, which just makes people misunderstand anime and manga even more, and thus makes it more difficult for it to reach mainstream acceptance.  I suppose the easy path would be to, as a community, just say “we’re not gonna put up with this stuff,” but that ignores the more complex issues at hand in these cases.

2 thoughts on “This is Why We Can't Have Nice Things

  1. My first visit.
    Already listed up your blog in my blog list.
    I’m glad if mine also will be able to be listed up in yours.
    By A.S. on May 30, 2009

  2. “I’ve found that those who argue that it should be illegal often conflate the position of ‘it shouldn’t be illegal’ with the position of ‘I have no personal ethical or moral problem with it.'”

    Indeed; I often find that people feel that something which is offensive to them ought to be illegal. If asked for reasoning, they generally simply assert, “well, that’s just wrong!” Really the problem is that people confuse legality, ethics, and morality, and see nothing wrong with submitting their personal emotions in lieu of precedent and reasoned consideration of legal principles.

    It is interesting to me that some people who support these measures – the Filipino ban, UK law, and Japanese censorship – oppose other impositions of community standards on minority groups. A great many people in the anime blogosphere do not look favorably upon California proposition 8, for instance, yet the logic there is the same: something which harms no one is essentially being disallowed because voters find it offensive. The same principles are involved, and I fear that once we set foot on allowing whimsy as a justification for law we head down a slippery slope.

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