Who Got Cultural Studies In My Fandom?

Bendições from Brazil!  By the time this post goes live, I will have been in this lovely country for two whole weeks, and will be getting ready to head back Stateside.  But being here has got me BRA_orthographic.svgthinking a lot about culture and self-education and my relationship with the media that I consume.

My last post was about otaku as an identity, and  I’m on a similar track with the following question: How does our cultural identity shape our expression of fandom?  Very few people are completely uninfluenced by the culture in which they live.  I am Italian-American, and although I spent much of my preteen years trying to claim that this truth didn’t affect me, being raised by Italian grandparents has very much tailored the person that I am, as well as the things that interest me.

Anime came to me as a product of media during my childhood, but I stuck with it partially because of a lifelong fascination with culture.  Being raised ethnically Italian in a country of myriad ethnicities, it was easy for me to see how traditions varied from home to home.  So I took to the ideas of tatami mat floors and sushi and Kabuki with a very broad and curious mind, tripping only slightly into fetishism early on, and animanga has proven to be a vast cultural resource.

Writing this post from Brazil is particularly apt; this is a country I never thought I would visit – and I probably wouldn’t have necessarily chosen it.  But the prefecture of Liberdade in the city of Sao Paulo has the largest Japanese population outside of Japan; naturally, this has had a significant influence on Brazilian culture.  For example, Portuguese language has adopted the Japanese words for chopsticks (“hashi”) and tea (“cha”); it is worth noting that the Portuguese were the first Europeans allowed to trade with Japan, and the influence has been mutual (the Japanese words “soba,” “pan,” and “arigato” are all Portuguese-derived). My interest in anime, then, spawned a desire to learn more about Japanese culture; in the course of educating myself, I have learned a good deal of information about yet another culture – that of Brazil.  I obviously have interests other than anime that have helped me gather information from across continents, but constant exposure to media outside of my own culture’s narrow vision has only increased my perception and receptivity.

images (1)So, cultural identity and expression.  I’ve seen manga at every newsstand, Hello Kitty paraphernalia in every store, and manga-fied versions of the classic Brazilian comic strip, “Monica.”  The Brazilians, much like many Americans, dangle keychains from their bags without seeming to realize that the character thereon is part of a huge Japanese media franchise.  In other words, while Japanese pop culture is all around me, I have yet to see what I would immediately recognize as any die-hard anime fans.  But perhaps this ties in with my last post, also: I don’t look like what anyone thinks a die-hard fan should look like, either.

How do I express my fandom? Quietly, mostly.  It was unfeminine and unattractive to my grandmother when I wanted to wear my anime T-shirts growing up (and I did it anyway, because that was about as rebellious as I got).  When I started to go to Catholic school and had to wear a uniform, I found that I put much more effort and thought into my outfits outside of school; fashion became important to me, and though I still loved animanga, my T-shirts really were unflattering.  I caught on really quickly that there were only certain people I could communicate with using my fandom slang, and I adapted my speech for family gatherings and school events.

I don’t begrudge American culture on the whole for not being into anime, and I don’t actually feel like I’ve been forced to sacrifice a huge part of my identity to “fit in” (if I wanted to fit in, I wouldn’t have joined the circus in college and become a feminist and eschewed smartphones).  The culture that I was raised in put forth certain ideas and ideals, and I picked and chose among them to find an expression that best suits my personality.

And the animanga that I consume is also part of that picking and choosing process; my Catholic upbringing, artistic background, interest in fashion, taste in music, and – yes – fascination with different cultures has led me to certain styles and titles.  I read everything from gothic horror stories to romantic shoujo eye candy to serious semi-historical biographies in manga form, and it all makes sense that they pique my curiosity when I see them on the bookstore shelf.

Humans are social beings, very much a product of the times and climes in which they live.  Fans are no different, though some of their hobbies may be considered niche.  I’m curious, readers: How has your cultural upbringing affected your expression of fandom?  Do you have examples about how different people have been affected differently?  Let me know!

[P.S. I apologize if any of the formatting or grammar is weird in this post; I’m typing from a tablet, and I think it’s not getting along 100% with WordPress and also doesn’t always understand the concept of paragraphs. I can fix any issues when I’m back in the States on a laptop.] [Ed. Note: Not necessary, it came through just fine.]

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