#258 The Tokyo Censorship Law

CensorshipThe Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly recently passed a law that further limits minors’ access to “Any manga, animation, or pictures (but not including real life pictures or footage) that features either sexual or pseudo sexual acts that would be illegal in real life, or sexual or pseudo sexual acts between close relatives whose marriage would be illegal, where such depictions and / or presentations unjustifiably glorify or exaggerate the activity.” Perhaps understandable, but without clear guidelines for determining what is OK and what is not, there are fears of a slippery slope. Could this become defacto, outright censorship? Tim, Kumar, and Mulele discuss the new law, and how this situation compares to the events in the U.S. that led up to the creation of the comics code.

Dan Kanemitsu’s Paper Trail — many good blog postings on the topic

Editors’ defiant comments

Publishers boycott anime convention

“My publisher has banned school uniforms” — (visuals on this site are NOT SAFE FOR WORK)

Child sex in manga: Art or Obscenity? — The Japan Times

JL Roberson touts Deconstructing Comics

6 thoughts on “#258 The Tokyo Censorship Law”

  1. This was a very interesting episode and I agree with all of your statements against censorship. I’ve often thought about how impossible and ridiculous it is to apply sex laws to fictional creations. Lolita was underage–so should that book be banned? I’m pretty sure that Shakespeare’s Juliet was also underage. As were many heroines of 19th century literature. Achilles in the Iliad was clearly bisexual (if not outright homosexual) and had a relationship with another soldier–so should that be censored? Of course not.

    Unfortunately, I think this episode got way off track and exposed quite a few of your own hang-ups and prejudices. In an episode about comics censorship in Japan, why did I have to hear so many typical cookie-cutter put-downs of the American religious right? Before I go any further, I’ll let you know that I’m neither religious nor right-wing myself. So this isn’t a personal issue that I take offense to; rather, I was simply disappointed in the illogical and unprovoked scapegoating of certain groups of people by you guys. I don’t even know why you guys brought up religion in the first place. The overwhelming majority of people in Japan today don’t even believe in God/Buddha/whatever. I notice that this mayor of Tokyo is supposedly a Buddhist, but if he is open and somewhat enthusiastic about pornography, then apparently his religious beliefs aren’t what drive him toward censorship. The real issue is apparently a misguided attempt at “helping the children”. So I’m not sure why you guys would bring religion into the discussion to the extent that you did. I have to conclude that you’re like a lot of other trained humanoids out there who have conditioned reflexes to blame their particular political enemies for everything involving problems in society.

    By the way, a lot of what I’m going to say below doesn’t apply to Tim. I found him to be by far the most rational and informative on the show. You other two guys seems to have personal axes to grind, which lead you to smarmy righteousness and irrational thinking. In a lot of ways you guys seem to be just as “stupid” as the religious people you attack.

    First of all, you don’t even have your facts straight in many instances. The censorship campaigns of the 1980s in the U.S. were led by Tipper Gore (obviously a Democrat), and the crowd she preached to was not made up primarily of religious Republicans. From from it. More recently in the U.S. a religious group, the Westboro Baptist Church, has actually protested comics conventions and released statements to the effect of “It’s immoral for grown men to be obsessed with super-heroes.” But the leader of that group is a Democrat also. This church group isn’t traditional, or right-wing by any stretch: they also hate the military and assemble at soldiers’ funerals holding signs saying “God wanted you dead.”

    I’m not trying to demonize Democrats here. I generally like them. And I also know that the religious right is usually a ridiculous bunch of people; I don’t agree with them. But what I’m really getting at here is your own lack of awareness of what kinds of people fight for censorship. It’s a stereotype to say that it’s mostly the religious right. It’s really just BUSY-BODIES of all stripes, pure and simple, who are the problem.

    I also found it laughable for you guys to attribute WCT’s lack of success to pressure from religious groups or from “the residual effects of ’50s comics censorship”. What world do you think you’re living in? As you guys actually admitted at one point, the violence in WCT isn’t any worse than what you see in many mainstream comics. And in case you didn’t know, most mainstream comics have featured ass-shots, sexual innuendo and more for nearly two decades now. Currently, Wolverine is portrayed as: having a steady girlfriend who’s a cop, banging the character Domino every chance he gets, having casual sex with another superheroine at the Avengers mansion. Teenage Spider-Man and Mary Jane are also portrayed as having sex in the Ultimate Spider-Man title.

    It’s a myth that American media is afraid of violence and sexual content. If they want to make sure that certain titles are “safe” for kids, well that sort of “self-censorship” is just common sense and good business sense. But there ample opportunities for more “adult” stories in other titles. (As per the Japanese example, it seems to me that simply indicating that the title has “adult” content (and putting it in a bag, I guess?) is enough. Your fear that the three-strikes rule would apply to comics already designated as adult seems quite off-base. Now, personally, I don’t even like that degree of censorship. But the idea that this is going to shut down the Tokyo comics industry is ridiculous. Worth fighting against? Sure. But it’s not as draconian many are making it out to be.)

    And to me it sounds like a simple rationalization on your part if you think WTC couldn’t get published due to some supposed “repression” of the American populace, or due to fear of Mormon reprisal or something. I’m not aware of any religious groups protesting American comics due to perceived insults against their particular faith. (Christians are insulted all the time in comics. The “evil priest with sex fetishes” is featured all the time, most recently in the series Haunt by Image.) Personally, I looked into the matter of why the lead character of WTC might be offensive to Mormons, and I didn’t see that it was that big of a deal. I don’t think there would have been a protest. It’s hard to perceive that as any sort of insult whatsoever. So I blame that particular publisher for being overly sensitive.

    That said, I’m not sure how you can really apply one publisher’s caution with religious groups being too powerful. (If I don’t want to ever say the word “black” in any circumstance because I think it might offend a black person, then that’s my own over-cautious delusion; it doesn’t mean that black people would protest me if I said it.) But there are still some conflicting parts of the puzzle here. First of all, if you really are “writing for yourself”, then you can’t blame other people for not wanting your product. There’s a conflict between “writing for yourself” and blaming society for not embracing your writing. You can say “fuck Mormons” and/or create a character that may theoretically offend some people (and you shouldn’t be censored from doing those things), but then you can’t really blame a publisher for not wanting to throw in with you, get behind your work and publish it. Maybe that particular publisher just didn’t want to put out a work that would offend people–not because he was worried about a protest from Mormons, but simply because he didn’t want to aid in what he perceived as an insult against Mormons. Some people just go out of their way to not have anything to do with certain types of meanness, negativity, or even callousness.

    Or: Maybe you guys just don’t quite have the talent you think you do. There’s violence all over the place in every medium. There’s all kinds of crazy sex too. If you guys are had a tough/impossible time getting your work out before now, then you can’t really blame any new censorship laws for your continued failure. Are you going to look back on things a year from now and actually blame the mayor of Tokyo for your not finding a great job in the comics industry? You’re already basically blaming Mormons and the religious right of other countries for your failure, so to me it seems like there is indeed a great likelihood for you to find another scapegoat to feel better.

    Personally, I DO think you guys have talent. I’m not trying to insult you. I’m just pointing out the facts. Real talent that’s worth sharing with the world will always shine through. The Comics Code didn’t stop R. Crumb. Alan Moore grew up under censorship codes as well–but as soon as DC Comics could, they hired him to write “mature readers” stories for Swamp Thing. A truly talented creator will always find a way, because the industry and medium will want to accommodate him.

    It’s a shame that you guys could barely get to the real issue of the matter: which is the extent to which media (particularly fiction) influences people’s behavior (particular children’s behavior). The matter isn’t as simple as mimicry: the kids who played Mortal Kombat didn’t turn into adults who ripped people’s heads off. But on the other hand it is quite conclusive that media portrayals tend to short-circuit critical thinking skills, and they also tend to perpetuate stereotypes (not the least of which is “religious people are bad”). But since the dawn of mass media after WWII, there’s really no example of culture ever getting more stable or conservative for any notable length of time. What Tipper Gore set off in the ’80s didn’t lead to pop music without sexual innuendo or swearing. Quite the opposite: the tag of “parental advisory” became a badge of honor. And think of those R. Crumb comics: censorship basically drove him to produce art that was aggressively vulgar and nasty. (BTW, I’m not making a judgment call here. I LIKE R. Crumb.) Censorship or moralistic campaigns often backfire and have the opposite effect of what they intended. For better or worse, there’s really no rolling back the clock: mass culture gets more and more licentious, and culture gets more and more fragmented and confused. Individuals retreat into fiction or virtual worlds in order to live out experiences they can’t reliably undergo within in societies that are more and more cramped and alienating to the basic human condition. I’m not saying this is a good or bad thing. Indeed, there are good and bad aspects to it, I would say.

    What’s really sad is that censorship debates like this bring us to lose-lose situations. Censorship is obviously bad. But on the other hand, are comics about poop or underage titillation-for-the-sake-of-titillation really all that valuable? There’s another solution that you guys didn’t even seem to consider: each person can simply choose to ignore the art they consider non-valuable. If you really consider comics about poop to be valuable, well I’m sorry that the pop culture you’ve indoctrinated yourselves with have brought your mind so low. I’m sure you can derive some sort of petty righteousness from “sticking to the man” by producing a comic about poop. How oh so very intelligent and subversive.

    One last thing: Glenn Beck is obviously right-wing. I don’t even like the guy. I know him to be a propagandist. But how did I know I was going to have to hear his name mentioned? It must feel so good to have such definite scapegoats to mention, little lists to run down. You obviously have no idea about the guy if you don’t even realize that the guy is right-wing. He’s a slick propagandist. Anyone with any critical thinking skills who actually watches his show will see how he twists facts. I hear so many people just dismiss Glenn Beck as a guy who yells and rants. He doesn’t: he reads long books and then twists their meaning. It’s really clear that the people who just say “Glenn Beck is an idiot” are people too stupid or lazy to actually read (or even know about the exist of) the books he references and distorts. So, as much of a deceitful liar as Glenn Beck is, it’s a shame that many of his enemies are so much more uninformed even than Beck’s audience is. Prejudice, laziness and stupidity on all sides. And the most annoying people the lazy ones who think they’re smart.

    You guys DO have such a lot of critical skills when it comes to the texts of actual comics. I would stick to that. Or, even better, if possible try to develop better critical thinking skills when it comes to real political issues. It’s a long process to realize how propagandized you yourself have been through media that flatters you, tells you that you’re one of the smart good ones, and it’s everyone else who’s stupid, prejudiced and evil.

  2. P.S. Sorry about any misspellings or grammatical mistakes. I’m typing all this into a 2-inch screen on a portable device, which makes it hard to proofread. The interface is really better suited to twitter-length twitter-level discussion.

  3. Holy Cow, that’s a long response! Although, I should have predicted that if any episode was going to get it, it would be this one.

    You are right: religion is not part of the issue with the new Tokyo laws. I think we were attempting to do some kind of sprawling, all-encompassing episode about comics censorship on both sides of the Atlantic, and there’s something of a jumble in there. (I even wanted to talk about the Mike Diana case, but we never got around to it.)

    You are right: cries for censorship come from both the left and right. I just did a post about Sin City on my blog, and Frank Miller speaks to exactly this point regarding Janet Reno and Paul Simon.

    Attributing “WCT’s lack of success to pressure from religious groups or from “the residual effects of ’50s comics censorship” is incorrect. We did no such thing. What you come around to later is correct: We had a potential publisher. Said publisher asked us to *consider* changing the name of our male lead character from “Lesbian” for fear of censure from middle America. WCT’s lack of success has never had anything to do with “pressure from religious groups” and I have never claimed that it has. But in a very, very roundabout way the content has been affected by such considerations. But that publisher was still willing to publish us. So the situation is even simpler than what we laid out in the show, and what you laid out above. There was no mention of Mormons specifically (as I recall) at the time. (Although the publisher did suspect that based on my writing, we must speak English as a second language!) So, no, I don’t even blame the publisher. (Although, if a publisher has to fear legal reprisals, rather than just religious, then that would make them even more cautious.)

    WCT is dead even on the web — I look at our stats every 10 minutes, and I figure we’ve got about 16 regular readers total. That’s fucking brutal. At the beginning I was “writing for myself” then we started looking for publishers, and suddenly I was writing / accommodating for them and potential audiences. Then they all rejected us, and I told myself I was “writing for myself” again. Then we went to the web and it was, like, “Shit! Is anybody come on board with us?” Obviously, not. Now I’m trying to convince myself I’m really “writing for myself” again. Trust me, I look at the stats, and question my “talent” every goddamn day. Mulele will also attest to this from the blubbering, depressed emails he gets from me at least once a week. I don’t blame any censorship laws for WCT’s lack of current success, but I think the point we were trying (probably unsuccessfully) to get at is that it does potentially close certain future doors. And I will also point out, that even if I photocopy my comics and sell them out of a baby carriage like Crumb, in Australia the content could interpreted as illegal if we were to include Mel nude or in a sex scene.

    (Also, some other publishers did cringe at the violence despite whatever may be happening in Wolverine. Believe me, I read Garth Ennis’s Punisher — I know how tame we are. And I would also point out that while teen Peter and Mary may be having sex, I don’t think we’re seen his penis enter her vagina, which is what we are really talking about here.)

    Re: “Your fear that the three-strikes rule would apply to comics already designated as adult seems quite off-base.” As pointed out in the show, we weren’t really sure WHAT the interpretation of the law entailed, so this might not be off-base after all. I don’t think the law will kill the Japanese comics industry, but I think we will see a transformation — into what, I don’t know yet. The sex comics side of the market is significant — if the laws result in those books being curbed, we might see serious shrinkage. If things like DragonBall and Urusei Yatsura are affected, the results will be even worse.

    Re: Parental Advisory tags. This is a hugely complicated issue, probably too big to go into here, but while it is a badge of honor for some, it will be a form of censorship for others coming from the labels. For example, let’s say — for whatever reason — Celine Dion wants to use the word “Fuck” in one song on one album. The label says “No, we don’t want the album to be stickered.” So what’s Celine to do considering she’s under contract, except cut the word? In fact, if you have a ratings SYSTEM like in movies, you would be obliged IN THE CONTRACT to make a movie that fell withing the studio’s desired rating, and you would have to cut it until it fitted.


    Re: “think of those R. Crumb comics: censorship basically drove him to produce art that was aggressively vulgar and nasty.” This is incorrect, at least according to Crumb. Crumb claims that he disliked his trendiness / popularity and deliberately ramped things up to disgust and drive away anyone who was only reading him because it was trendy to.

    Re: “But on the other hand it is quite conclusive that media portrayals tend to short-circuit critical thinking skills…mass culture gets more and more licentious, and culture gets more and more fragmented and confused.” I couldn’t agree with you more on these points.

    Re: “Censorship is obviously bad. But on the other hand, are comics about poop or underage titillation-for-the-sake-of-titillation really all that valuable?” I couldn’t disagree with you more about the poop. “Ed the Happy Clown” is “about” poop to some extent, but, yes, it is valuable. DR SLUMP features lots of poop and it’s hilarious. It doesn’t matter WHAT something is about, it matters HOW it is about it. Any subject matter can have value if executed in the right ways. Titillation-for-the-sake-of-titillation is one thing, but the whole issue here is: Who decides that it is “for the sake of”? The example I used in the show was Debbie Dreschler’s DADDY’S GIRL. It only takes one idiot to flip through it and decide the father-daughter sex is “for the sake of titillation.” And shit happens. Why shouldn’t we be allowed to create art of value about it?

    Re: “each person can simply choose to ignore the art they consider non-valuable.” Shit, that’s what I should have said in the first place. Yes! Censorship should be unnecessary because people should be making their own decisions, or deciding for their own children. I can’t believe we never actually said that on the show.


    P.S. There were no spelling or grammatical errors in your post.

  4. Kumar touches on a key point, which is that we may have tried to make the scope of the episode too comprehensive. Not just the new law, but “censorship of comics”, period. Perhaps either the topic was a bit too sprawling, or we didn’t organize it quite well enough.

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