According to Gordon Lynch (2005), arriving at a concrete and solid definition of popular culture is filled with a certain degree of complexities or difficulties (p. 1). This particular concept has been often a topic of various heated debates and arguments in many academic discourses and scholarly analyses. Whenever popular culture becomes the center of attraction, the mere definition of the term seems to instigate tons of both criticisms and skepticisms alike.
Lynch (2005) explained that this seemingly antagonistic issues of popular culture stems from the fact that different fields of expertise have their own interpretations and understanding of the matter (p. 1). This situation implies two things. First, either popular culture is too broad—broad in the sense that it covers a wide array of issues and topics that creating a more specific definition seems to be way too impossible.
On the other hand, it can be also argued that popular culture, is indeed an abstract idea that is capable of touching every field or domain , thus a concrete definition is prone to being misinterpreted as something that denotes exclusivity and power struggle. But then again, if one has to take a closer look, the problems that popular culture experience can be attributed to the fact that popular and culture imply two major complex ideas and concepts. Once and for all, culture is widespread. It embodies different facets of life and various ideological beliefs and opinions.
In the meantime, identifying the objects or personalities or establishing criteria for an object or an individual to be categorized as popular is also beset with difficulties. Once and for all, there are instances wherein popularity is achieved simply because it is embedded in one’s culture. However, this situation cannot be really understood within the context of popular culture. There are also instances wherein a certain object, symbol, or value has nothing to do with culture yet popular. This situation cannot be also seen as a manifestation of popular culture.
Indeed the seemingly encompassing and abstract nature of popular culture makes it hard for one to understand the whole matter in just one sitting. But this does not necessarily mean that the matter should be immediately dismissed as something that is of less importance. Although popular culture is responsible for the continuous clash of ideas and beliefs, it cannot be denied that such is too influential that eliminating it within academic discourses can be seen as a total disrespect for the matter. Popular culture tends to affect the manners and behaviors of many individuals.
In recent years, it is apparent that popular culture did not only influence the lives of many—to a certain extent, it seems that popular culture has also dictated the ways wherein mankind expresses its existence and social contribution. Browne and Fishwick (1988) described that popular culture is considered as the so-called “lifeblood of one’s existence and way of life (p. 1). ” This one leads to the conclusion that popular culture pertains to the socially-relevant practices and values that man acquired, practiced and readily shared.
As Browne and Fishwick (1988) explained, popular culture is mainly comprised of the daily practices and routines that an individual goes through (p. 1). In addition to that, popular culture also echoes, even the nitty-gritty sentiments of an individual (Browne & Fishwick 1988, p. 1). Given this situation at hand, if popular culture tends to act as the voice of each and every community, then it would not come as a surprise if issues regarding sexuality and preferences are also articulated by popular culture. Sexuality and sexual preferences is a way of life.
It is also the lifeblood of one’s existence and to top it all, it is something that should be readily expressed and manifested. One cannot also deny that both sexuality and sexual preferences are also influential. However, due to certain norms and conventions that society has established, there are certain aspects of sexuality and sexual preferences that are still considered as taboo or not worthy to be discussed, moreso, to be expressed in public. This scenario is most especially true as for the case of queers who have to hide their true identities in utmost secrecy to avoid the scrutiny of a judgmental public.
This dilemma is very much manifested in traditional and conservative communities or social settings. This is where popular culture comes into place. Through popular culture, the conservatism and judgment that is rendered towards queers is slowly transformed into ultimate tolerance. Take note that the term “tolerance” instead of absolute “acceptance” is used in this case. Tolerance and acceptance are different from each other. Yet, there are many instances wherein the two are interchangeably understood and interpreted by many.
This discussion will provide insights on how popular culture is able to permeate the tolerance of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender expression. To enrich this study, the focus will revolve around Asian communities wherein popular culture is instrumental in the tolerance, rather than acceptance of various queer expressions. Chinese Cinema and Popular Culture Sigley and Jeffreys (1999) elucidated that topics regarding sexuality in China is still viewed differently (p. 51). To many, sex cannot be considered as something sacred. Tackling these matters tend to go beyond the borders of ethics and morality (Sigley & Jeffreys 1999, p. 1).
Moreover, mass media, which often perceived as the institution responsible for the educating the public and knowledge dissemination, is often blinded by the unconscious fear to discuss this matter (Sigleys & Jeffreys 1999, p. 52). Based from this, it seems that China tends to shy away from discussing sexually-related issues and topics primarily because its cultural orientation requires a private manner of addressing these concerns. If sex, in its simplest context tends to raise eyebrows for many critics, then it would not come as a surprise if queer topics are most likely to be seen on the peripheral side.
If sex between heterosexuals cannot be openly discussed by China’s mass media, then more prohibitions is expected to emanate as for the case of many queers. However, although China’s mass media has remained quiet and reserved regarding this matter, there is already the attempt to touch these issues and eventually present it into the public’s eyes. Although this may not be thoroughly expressed and given full attention in news organizations or programs, other forms of mass media, such as film for example, played an important role in presenting and proliferating queer themes.
This has led Yang (1999) to the contention that China is yet, one of the prominent hodge-podges wherein explorations of the queer life and concept of reality can be accomplished (p. 338). Yang (1999) shared that films such as those of Wong Kar Wai’s Happy Together and Stanly Kwan’s Yang and Yin: Gender in the Chinese Cinema, have been consistent attempts to showcase the homosexual experience and lifestyle (p. 338). Slowly, but surely, these films have the capacity to destroy the cultural barriers and conventions that are often attributed to many queers.
It has been often said that films present a specific portion of reality, which are often ignored and taken for granted by many viewers or audiences. Films are usually described as symbols or reflection of reality. The existence of queers and their corresponding lifestyles are the ones that are often taken to the side and are voluntarily taken out of the picture. These realities are then depicted into the movies that are focusing on these particular issues. On the other hand, it cannot be also denied that films are often considered as part of popular culture.
Thus, through these aspect, what was once perceived or viewed as taboo or even explicit for that matter now have the chance of being expressed. However, although films greatly contributes into the gradual acceptance of queer culture in China, Berry (2000) explained that the societal conventions are still pretty much apparent as queers, to be more specific, gays are often depicted and portrayed as individuals who are often subject to sadness due to the lack of a loyal and faithful partner vis a vis companion (p. 187).
Solitary moments in Chinese cinemas are also coupled with the enduring process of waiting for the “right one” to eventually come (Berry 2000, p. 187). Although this stance seem to imply a certain degree of queer stereotyping in Chinese cinema, the solitary experiences, the search for loyalty and companionship as well as the longing for the perfect partner, are indeed a portion of realities that are existent in many queers—not only to gays per se, but also to lesbians, bisexuals and transgenders. Thus, presenting these into movies, somehow, the conservatism that is within conservative communities, are challenged and put into a serious test.
Manga and Japanese homosexuality Whenever one mentions the terms manga and anime, it all boils down to one country, Japan. Aside from Japan’s highly technological skills and capabilities, mangas also brings an intense degree of popularity in the nation. Almost every Japanese is aware of these materials. But then again, one should always bear in mind that mangas has literally taken the world by storm. Mangas’ acceptance cannot be solely attributed to their abilities to provide pleasure and entertainment. More than anything else, these have been the heralds of the Japanese experience.
The recognition and acceptance that mangas received, made Dooley and Heller to (2005) a conclusion that such are perpetuators of popular cultures in Japan (146). But as the years passed by, mangas is no longer constricted or imposed to place heavy emphasis on romantic and adventure themes. As time goes by, mangas has also dabbled into the arena of discussing queer issues. McLelland (2005) implied that the growth of queer communities in Japan was triggered by certain channels of communication, print media, to be more specific (p. 0).
McLelland (2005) stressed that during the times wherein internet connections were still not widely used by the public, it was print media that eventually provided a platform for “queer social networking (p. 10). From it here it can be seen that the incorporation of queer themes and issues in mangas are not purely coincidental. It is rather expected. Perhaps, the only thing that is coincidental in this aspect is that manga happens to be a symbolic manifestation of Japan’s popular culture.
Since queer related topics are easily incorporated to managas, one can lead into the assumption that homosexuality is readily accepted in Japan. Once and for all, mangas are cultural products that are patronized and appreciated not only by Japanese, but also by individuals from the other side of the world. However, bringing it, within the Japanese context, if mangas can be easily distributed and at the same time, if such is a manifestation of Japanese culture, then mangas generally provide a platform wherein queers can express their beliefs and sentiments.
As a matter of fact, it can be argued that the easy articulation of queer themes in mangas tend to purport that queers are warmly accepted in this country. The truth of the matter is, many queers have decided to create their own mangas and eventually share their experiences through this medium and eventually disseminate and share it to the public (Berry, Martin & Hue 2003, p. 70). Accepted or Tolerated? While popular culture has managed to present the queer experience via films and print media, one cannot really see it as a form of acceptance.
As mentioned earlier, popular culture as an instrument for queers to voice out their views and opinions has not managed to produce total queer acceptance within the community. Take for example in China, one thing that contributes to the failure of popular culture to achieve queer acceptance stems from the fact that (homosexuality) is seen as an influence of the West (Chua 1993, p. 38). Therefore, it can be seen that there is already a socially-constructed denial of the queer’s existence.
Even though, there are little facts to support the contentions that homosexuality is a western influence, still this cultural belief is still engraved into the minds of many. Popular culture then finds it too difficult to go against such a strong and seemingly invincible system of belief. In the meantime, Chinese cinema’s portrayals and depictions of queers as individuals longing for the ideal relationship and partner that will last for the rest of time comes really short in presenting the authentic and genuine queer experience (Berry 2000, p. 87).
What happens is that queer stereotypes are instead made and from time to time, the directors or producers of such movies are having a hard time in going against the country’s cultural convictions. Once and for all, there is a question of why several Chinese films often focus on the lonely side of the queer experience. This further places queer communities in a much derogatory stance. There is still the attempt to reconcile with the overall perspectives regarding queers.
If there is already acceptance, then Chinese cinema should strive to stay-away from presenting how queers are prone to loosing their perfect partners and wait for another one. Although, this is something common in homosexual relationships, this area alone is just a portion of the colorful yet highly challenging queer life. In the meantime, as for the case of mangas, queers and popular culture in Japan, Grossman (2000) shared that while there are instances wherein mangas may present sexually related content, it is still permissible—not because it is already accepted (p. 41). Rather it is more on the fact that queer themes and even explicit content are highly tolerated since it simply inhibits “fantasies (Grossman 2000, p. 141). ”
Inhibiting fantasies are tolerated by the actual act is still not permissible (Grossman 2000, p. 141). Grossman (2000) further discussed that the market potential of mangas is seen from a positive light and it is tolerated with the intention to lessen the curiosity of the public and therefore lessen the occurrence of queer-related incidents and sex crimes (p. 141). Conclusion
Popular culture is indeed influential and somehow it was able to give a voice to many queers. However, due to strong cultural orientations which often contradicts the queer existence, the matter is simply tolerated and still on the process of being readily accepted. Popular culture, in its articulation of queer themes and experiences is still at its infancy and insinuating to totally accept these matters still have a long way to go. As of the moment, the only thing that popular culture can offer to queers is tolerance. Acceptance can be only determined by time.
Courtney from Study Moose
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