In Part 1 we went through the ways some social justice activists operate, namely stressing societal systems over individuals and strengthening otherness and the division “we vs they” by using rigid, repetitive vocabulary. We voiced our concerns on a theoretical level and proposed a different approach. In Part 2 we bring tangible examples of the extremism displayed on tumblr on the account of ‘social justice’. The cases concern art being given unfair scrutiny, and touch upon (minority) representation and cultural appropriation, two very interesting topics.
Chp. 1: The case of rvsa
Rvsa was one of my favorite tumblr artists for her creative, emotive and original artwork. One of the reasons I was a fan was that she did a lot of fanart for retro anime, such as Jojo’s Bizzare Adventure and Devilman. For members of smaller or older fandoms, such artists are a rare and much needed source of inspiration and joy.
Unfortunately, she is no longer active on tumblr because of a troubling incident. When she uploaded her newest artwork of Ryo Asuka, one of the main characters of Go Nagai’s Devilman (who also happens to be Satan) most reactions were positive. Since rvsa decided to delete the fanart and asked people not to reblog it, I will neither upload nor give a link to the illustration. Those of you interested enough will surely be able to find it online. The artwork depicted Satan naked, his wings spread open, with small breasts and male genitals on his body. In my opinion, it was a glorification of Ryo’s beauty. There were, however, some negative reactions to the artwork. A trans woman who reblogged the artwork said the following:
This just goes to show how much trans feminine bodies are literally demonized. I get it’s in a reclaiming context and thats cool, but damn cis people made our bodies mean the source of all evil.
Though rvsa apologized for unintentionally insulting the user, the latter claimed that rvsa was ignorant, that her intentions didn’t matter, that she was transphobic and that she needed to “educate herself”. The artist apologized again and, like I mentioned earlier, deleted her art and started asking people to stop reblogging it. At the same time, the news spread and many people stated their support towards rvsa. The person who insulted her now claims that she received many death and rape threats. In the end, rvsa said that she’d stop posting on tumblr and, after a few days, deleted her account.
Was rvsa at fault or not? Let’s start off with the fact that Go Nagai is the original author of Devilman, thus she had no responsibility whatsoever to apologize for Ryo’s characteristics in his Satan form. In other words, the attack was misguided. The tumblr user was upset by Nagai’s depiction, not rvsa’s. Her complaint should have reflected that.
Some sjws argue that having a LGBTQI villain is harmful to LGBTQI people. Supposedly by depicting one person as an evil, negative entity the whole community is stigmatized. Had we been living in eg. 1960 and all stories depicted LGBTQI people as evil, this claim would stand some ground. In a world with limited options, asking people for more diversity makes sense, up to a point. Right now, however, is not 1960. In the era of the internet and free access to pretty much any material one wishes to find, be it comedic gay novels, underground experimental comics, or nsfw material, to mention a few examples, the claim that a responsible reader/viewer will only come across one type of archetype is ridiculous. The stories/illustrations/songs/etc. are out there, waiting for you.
It would be wise to ask ourselves where exactly people learn to practice prejudice. I’d argue that this happens in education, the family, the workplace, in religious environments, etc. Even if LGBTQI characters were depicted as angels in anime/manga society wouldn’t change, because anime/manga are not political or religious documents to influence societal and institutional changes. At best, they reflect a small part of what is happening in our society, often in a distorted way.
The fact is, though, Ryo is not much of a villain when compared to guys like Dio Brando -his intentions are not genuinely evil and he regrets most of his ill deeds. Even more, I would argue that there is hardly one completely good person in Devilman -even Akira, the protagonist, is more of an anti-hero than anything else. What makes this even sadder is that I have yet to meet, read or listen to a single person from the Devilman fandom that dislikes Ryo. His personality, lunatic and unpredictable, and his overall appearance are some of the reasons he is one of the fandom’s favorite characters. That being the case, I find it hard to believe that having him being intersex is somehow harmful to LGBTQI people.
What I find more unbelievable is that people seem to forget that this is fiction, which means that no artist is obligated to make things a certain way in order to satisfy another person’s thoughts and feelings. There are tons of material that I find to be either repulsive or offensive. For example, there are stories that fetishize bullying, which for me -who was a victim during my teens- feels hurtful. That doesn’t mean people who write these stories owe me an explanation, that doesn’t turn them into real life bullies. It’s not fiction that hurts minorities, but real life bigotry which is preserved by very flesh and blood people.
If we were to follow this social justice argument to the end, Togashi needs to apologize for Alluka Zoldyck, one of HunterxHunter’s most interesting yet morbid characters, who is also transgender. And, of course, Tezuka should write an apology for depicting a feminine, beautiful gay man as the world’s most dangerous terrorist in MW. Is this what we want? When we ask for more representation, do we want to dictate what people can write or draw?