Purity Is An Agenda

I was a number of years back that my friend Mike was talking about some narrow-minded twit from the anime message boards he frequented who complained that manga & anime (show-off words for comics and animation produced in Japan) should not intermix with comics & animation styles from the West. Now, of course, this is pure foolishness. The origins of Japanese comics and animation are tied very closely to direct American influences. Comics took off in Japan after World War II as a result of Japanese children being exposed to American comics by servicemen stationed there. The so-called "God of Comics" in Japan, Osamu Tezuka, was primarily influenced by Disney and Fleisher studio cartoons, and one would be hard pressed to find an artist in Japan who wasn't influenced by Tezuka, or at least someone who was. Anyway, long rant made short, the idea that American and Japanese comics and animation should not influence each other is so asinine that I'm kind of embarrassed to have validated it this much by even addressing it seriously.

What I'm actually writing about is the kind of though behind such wrong-minded assertions. Like I said, this originally came up a couple years ago, and it's been on my mind intermittently ever since then, and the conclusion I've come to is...

Purity is an agenda.

More specifically, attempts -- almost ANY attempt -- to keep something "pure" denotes the presence of an agenda -- almost always -- to impose control. It is my further contention that reference to purity should be met with caution and/or mistrust, and that purity itself is, in fact, a wrong thing.

Let us take the anime example. Now there are few people on planet Earth more xenophobic than the Japanese (but hang on, because I'll get around to the ones who are), but without the external cultural influence of American comics and cartoons, there very well might not even BE such a thriving and ubiquitous manga and anime industry in Japan, or, at the very least, not one we would recognize.

The flipside of that coin is that, after the comics crash of the mid-90s (following the glut of trash in the early-90s) both Japanese-influenced American artists, and Japanese comics translated into English, were a large part of keeping the floundering industry afloat. In the case of manga, comics gained a strong female following, which had long eluded "pure" (i.e. superhero) American approaches to comics.

So what does it profit the aficionado to rail against the inevitable winds of change, hoping to keep his beloved artform "pure" and self-replicating? Well, for one, it allows the most fannish of fans to keep the bounds of their chosen medium finite. If new works can only be created following strict limitations, then the fan can enjoy the certainty that he knows the precise limits and definition of the medium. He knows exactly where it begins and ends, and in so doing, can feel empowered by the knowledge, in control of it, utterly possessing the object of his affection. Furthermore, he wants this art to remain exactly as he has known it to be when he first encountered it. By attempting to hold this item in the past, in the place he once loved it, he is trying to hold himself in the past, denying himself the opportunity to grow and evolve alongside the particular medium in question. If he allows himself to grow as the medium grows and takes on new influences and discovers new things to say, his own view might be opened up, and he might grow away from this comforting relationship, in time. This is Life, and the purist fears its uncertainty.

The loss of purity spawns the seeds of Progress.

If that sounds vaguely sexual, then perhaps I'm being too vague. The intermingling of energies is the stuff of Life. Much as we humans wouldn't exist if our biological parents hadn't lost their "purity," cultures wouldn't grow and thrive without soiling the sheets of the creative norms.

We wouldn't have rock and roll if someone hadn't muddied the purity of blues and country music. We wouldn't have had country music in the first place, if someone hadn't violated the virtue of pure Irish fiddle music at some point. I'm no musical historian, but I know that we wouldn't have most (if not all) of what we have today, and what we'll have tomorrow, if someone hadn't mucked up the moons-old tradition of banging two rocks together by introducing the hollow log to the mix. Take your favorite medium and apply this principle as appropriate.

So far, I've mostly talked about art, but I believe that it applies to purity in virtually all areas of life. Purity sounds like a good and respectable thing, but it still means somebody is trying to maintain control. Of course, one of the most obvious and notorious "purity" agendas is racial/cultural/religious. Many of the same control motives apply here. By keeping races/cultures/religions anchored in the simple form that the individual first digested it as a child, the individual doesn't have to grow or confront challenging and uncomfortable questions. Further, it allows those who hold the reigns of that institution to continue to exert their primacy over those who would allow themselves to consider questions of the finer points. This would be the George W. Bush approach; the facts don't matter, as long as you commit to an unwavering decision. Ironically, we know scientifically that the merging of genetic strains provides an opportunity to make the species stronger.

And finally, of course, there's the sexual purity agenda, which is enforced by the religious agenda, although it actually cuts across cultural lines. The heightened value placed on virginity -- and of course this means female virginity in particular -- is part and parcel of male domination of women. Whether it's maintaining the "precious maidenhead" until marriage, to know that no one else has been breeding your prize heifer, or the premium paid for virgins in brothels, demonstrated in its most ritualized form in the mizuage ceremony for the auctioning off of an oiran's (the courtesan precursors to the geisha) virginity to the highest (and hopefully most socially advantageous) bidder. Transculturally, there is no premium placed on male virginity (BELIEVE ME -- am I RIGHT, fellas?), and male status is improved by planting his seed in any field that hasn't been guarded against him. Women, however, aren't expected to enjoy sex or have any basis for comparison beyond the man she "loves, honors and obeys." This topic has been considered more thoroughly by finer minds than mine, so I'm just going to leave it at that.

Life is impure. I know we'd all like it to be a little more simple, but that doesn't mean we should be simple-minded and unwilling to grow in ourselves and our appreciation for the wondrous variety in the universe.

Crosspost Classic! 8.22.2007

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