Ghost in the Shell
By Shirow Masamune
Everything is complex.
This is not what I expected.
In terms of my expectations – I thought Ghost in the Shell was just going to be shooting and robots. I mean: that’s not a bad thing (who doesn’t like shooting and robots?). But it left me a little bit unprepared for what the book is actually like.
Isn’t “cultural appropriation” just another name for “culture”? Or has capitalism rotted my brain? Or does it all depend on whether or not you think “culture” should be in flux and change and open to new ideas or not? (It’s all depends on your definitions?)
Because you open it up and bam it just hits you with all of this stuff. Brains and geo-politics and computers and cells and sections and agencies and etc. Like: I don’t wanna come across as a dunderhead or whatever but I’ll admit that actually a lot of it left me feeling lost in a “I just don’t really understand this sorta way” but it still seemed kinda cool….
If we’re talking about the stuff we can agree on: then yes – it’s beyond obvious that we need diversity of viewpoints and experiences in the stories that we consume – and not only for the social good it can do and how it’s most probably our best chance to get to the level of luxury socialist utopian communism for all – but you know: just for our own individual mental health / having a varied diet of different perspectives is as important (more important?) – exactly the same as not just eating the same cheeseburger again and again and again.
Actual quote: “Next we use a magnetic yoke to adjust the matrix settings so that the micromachines at each coordinate properly network with the server grafted to your occiptal.”
I’ve never understood why Scarlett Johansson is so popular. Like: I’ve met people who talk about her in hushed whispers and go on about Ghost World and Lost in Translation and Under the Skin but then I’m just like *shrugs shoulders* meh. But then god – aren’t all actors just kinda rubbish?
I mean: yeah – I do love this stuff and it definitely helps with the sensation of oooh being in a cool robot future world. But normally this kinda stuff is window-dressing but Ghost in the Shell (and I mean this in a good way): all this stuff is embedded into the core of it: so I kinda feel like – by not having it all sink into my brain I’m actually not understanding everything that’s going on. Like: I’m kinda reading it in the usual way I read comics – lightheartedly – as a mental snack between meals and it’s only now that I’ve almost finished it that I’ve realised that was probably the wrong way to do it.
I do like Sam Rockwell tho. He makes me smile. 🙂
The new Ghost in the Shell film (which I haven’t seen) is directed by a guy called Rupert Sanders. Who – as you can probably tell from his name – is so English it hurts. His wikipedia page is amazing. The only other feature film he’s made is Snow White and the Huntsman which I haven’t seen but I think we agreed was kinda shit no? But oops then again:
Sanders’ first feature film was Snow White and the Huntsman, which was released in the US in early June 2012. The film’s budget was $170 million, including an eight-figure marketing expenditure, and it earned $20.3 million on its opening day in the US. To date, the film has grossed $396,592,829 at the box office.
LOL Because it’s all about the gross right?
One of the things that I really liked was the comments in the margins between the panels. It’s almost like they were scribbled there after the book had been published. Like: I can’t really put into words how cool they work. It’s like little stray thoughts coming from the outside of the action. Like a David Foster Wallace footnote but just hanging out in empty space. I mean: shoot – why aren’t more comics like this?
Do we wanna talk about the manga or the film or the things outside it or all of the above?
“After this, there’s a scene where Mokoto takes over the driving and Togusa checks his gear and puts it on, but it was too much of a hassle to draw so I left it out.” = this is pure actual genius.
I don’t know if I’m trying to explain a thought or a feeling (maybe both / what’s the difference?): but with everything there are these layers (like an onion) but all interconnected (erm ok – like a hyperonion?) and as soon as you try and explain and understand one thing – it turns out that it’s connected to another thing. For example: when I went to go see Logan in the cinema (LOL) they showed the Ghost in the Shell trailer and I heard very loudly from behind me someone say “they should have cast an asian” which is basically (for a certain segment of the internet) the whole argument right? More Hollywood whitewashing. It’s Iron Fist. It’s Doctor Strange. It’s Chinatown.
(which stars two white people ffs)
The thing I don’t get it – if it’s all a serious examination of politics and artificial intelligence then why oh why does it have all the lab assistants dressed in all of these skimpy little outfits that would make Frank Miller blush? I mean: it’s like the highest of the high-brow mixed with the lowest of the low-brow? (I mean yeah ok – I kinda love it: but it’s still kinda weird).
Did everyone all see that cover with Nicola Sturgeon and Theresa May and the “Legs-it” caption? I mean yeah of course you did. Everyone saw it. That was the point. I dunno – it just made me feel sad and hopeless because yeah: obviously it was disgusting and an expression of misogyny and the patriarchy – but also – why the fuck does the cultural conversation always have to be on the things that are bad? Why are all the good-thinking people always spending their time reacting to the bad stuff? And why do they never have the time or the power or the whatever to put forward the good stuff? Instead of letting the forces of evil set the agenda. Our attention is limited. Maybe we should spend it on different things?
(Instead of watching Ghost in the Shell I think you should watch Train to Busan).
How do people choose to focus on the one thing when there’s everything else? It’s like choosing one sound from a sea of noise. I mean: the majority of all your typical big budget Hollywood films are about white men doing white man stuff (of all of The Avengers – Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow is the only one not to star in her own film): so why not a cheer that there’s a big budget mainstream action film starring a women for once? (I would see if I can find some stats but come on: we all know this already don’t we?).
There’s a thing on io9: Powerful Video Shows Why Ghost In The Shell Whitewashing Has Real Consequences. “The two-minute film centers around a young Asian girl struggling to find characters who look like her in a comic book shop. She’s surrounded by white heroines who she has trouble identifying with, and you can see how uncomfortable and isolated she feels. Then, she finds Ghost In The Shell. Fast forward several years, the young girl is now a strong, confident adult… that is, until the Scarlett Johansson poster brings out the child again.”
I haven’t watched the video – but there’s a sentence in the article that twists my brain up into a pretzel: “Even though the video is focused on Asian-American whitewashing, it has a universal quality that translates to representation in race, sexual orientation, gender identity, and other groups.”
I’ve seen the original Ghost in the Shell 1995 film – but I was always more of an Akira fan.
“The director of the original Ghost in the Shell, Mamoru Oshii, has weighed in on the whitewashing controversy surrounding the remake, saying that there is no basis for the criticism leveled at the decision to cast Scarlett Johansson in the lead role rather than an Asian actor. Speaking to IGN, Oshii said that because the main protagonist – Major Motoko Kusanagi – is a cyborg, the question of race and whitewashing is a moot point. “What issue could there possibly be with casting her?” Oshii said. “The major is a cyborg and her physical form is an entirely assumed one.”” (from this here Guardian thing)
Does that make everything ok?
I don’t think I know.
What do you think?
I haven’t read the manga yet (it’s been on my list for ages) and I’m not going to see the film, and this is why:
I get the whole ‘Motoko is a cyborg so her skin can be any colour’ thing, but this is… willfully naïve, I think. Motoko doesn’t exist. Motoko is a character created in a comic book, in a world where representation matters (both positively and negatively, depending on the representation!) and East Asian people and cultures are erased, appropriated, and discriminated against.
So it doesn’t matter whether Motoko CAN be white. She isn’t real. Our racist world, however, IS real.
You cannot praise a Hollywood film for having a female lead – because the industry and our world is misogynistic – and also say it doesn’t matter if that woman is white. Recognising that Hollywood and the world are misogynistic should come with a recognition that they are also racist. And, importantly, that these things are not separate. Intersectionality yo!
A white woman in a lead role =/= feminism. It can improve representation but it’s also limited. When we add onto this the fact that GITS (lol, ‘gits’) is a Japanese creation and, from what I’ve heard (might be wrong, haven’t read the manga) does feature some Japanese-centric narrative/plot points, then we also need to recognise that intersectionality is VITAL here. It’s not just a case of ‘female representation’, it’s also a case of ethnicity, culture, politics, and frankly a society that does differ traditionally from our western society.
Everything IS complex. And so I expect Hollywood, and frankly the rest of my media and pop culture, to recognise this, instead of basically saying SHE’S A FEMALE LEAD THAT’S ENOUGH STOP COMPLAINING
Listen, marginalised people ARE putting out good stuff, but to ignore the difficulty of this within industries like film and comics (often ESPECIALLY film and comics, let’s not be naïve) is to put the onus constantly on the people who are struggling to struggle less. Get Out is a film made by a black man, starring a black male lead (possibly for the first time in a mainstream horror?) that is intended for white and black audiences in different ways. It’s funny, it’s a good horror, and it has important cultural messages that give it depth, like all good horror does, but even better those messages contribute to the horror itself.
And to ignore the struggle of creating such a film, or even to minimise it, would be wilfully perverse. Black folk don’t need to fucking educate the rest of us. East Asian people, who have spent their whole lives dealing with the effects of colonialism, of cultural appropriation, of racism, should not need to educate us on why these things suck and why maybe we can do a better job NOT BEING RACIST or at the very least, thoughtless. It shouldn’t be that hard for mainstream media to create stuff that isn’t harmful. Everyone else manages not to!
Ultimately, people don’t question enough the racist, misogynistic, queer-hating, Muslim-hating, ableist nature of our society. Y’all are still watching GITS, right? And Iron Fist? You are funding this stuff that hurts other people and damages representation. You’re giving it your views, your tweets, you’re not INSISTING on better – only asking, but hey we’ll settle for whatever you got bc Marvel or robots or ScarJo.
GitS doesn’t have to be perfect. My own South Asian heritage is patriarchal as fuck, and even tho I will always fight against the racism I see towards my heritage, and the hate towards Muslims, and the colonialism and appropriation, I will simultaneously challenge the misogyny and racism within my culture too, because IT’S THERE. GitS can display the misogyny we know is a part of some Japanese culture, and we can criticise that – it still doesn’t excuse Hollywood from ALSO being misogynistic and racist.
Finally, culture does involve the integration of different heritages and ways of living (and food, lifestyle, music, etc) but appropriation does not integrate, it steals. Appropriation is not a celebration of other cultures, or diversification of your own. Appropriation is based on racism, it’s oppression and erasure. It’s the whole thing of tea being very British – when the truly British thing about tea is how we deliberately erase the violence, oppression, and destruction of other people, lands, and culture in order to get our grubby imperialist hands on some fucking PG Tips. THAT is appropriation. (You can argue that it’s also ‘the culture’ of imperialist nations like Britain, in which case I suggest we change that instead of perpetuating the same creepy, violent patriotism )
So yeah, my concern will always be with REAL people and REAL experiences and REAL history over fictional ones. But I will try to read the book, bc I hear it features some excellent and thoughtful ideas on identity, humanity, and technology, and that seems cool. Also (most importantly) robots.
There is an irony to discussing White Washing / cultural appropriation etc. over Ghost in the Shell of all franchises.
From the opening of Mamorou Oshii’s 1995 version.
IN THE NEAR FUTURE – CORPORATE NETWORKS REACH OUT TO THE STARS, ELECTRONS AND LIGHT FLOW THROUGHOUT THE UNIVERSE.
THE ADVANCE OF COMPUTERIZATION, HOWEVER, HAS NOT YET WIPED OUT NATIONS AND ETHNIC GROUPS.
The point being that at some point, notions of ethnicity and nationalism would be destroyed by the march of technology. That we would all become nodes on the network – that ethnicity and nationality – all the “socially constructed” elements of humanity such as race, gender, ethnicity, familial past would no longer survive the onslaught of progress – that these attachments to arbitrary points in space and time, and even space itself would become near obsolete. Furthermore, by implication, that these notions, once tied by biology, but now liberated by technology are regressive notions in themselves.
These seem to be core philosophical precepts of transhumanism, cyberpunk, and stories like Ghost in the Shell. Identity itself is obliterated by technology.
In a world where people can change the very nature of their biology puts to bed any arguments over whether gender or race are based in biology or social construction to bed. In a world where you can literally change this on whim, then all arguments are rendered moot – it simply doesn’t matter. In fact, it completely renders null and void what those definitions are. You can’t be misogynistic if biological sex is a matter of putting on a pair of pants. You can’t be racist if race itself is a choice – because in both cases the core deliniations of sex and race collapse into meaninglessness – at best they are affectations.
In this light, those calling for the preservation of historical notions of identity seems curiously conservative and retrogressive – the desire to ghettoise humanity, to set it apart from others – to declare some spaces sacred – and that people should inhabit neat little ideological boxes according to definitions that you or the people in power arbitarily designate – battles to assert, or undermine power and shape the world in their conservative image. It all seems somewhat fruitless and anti-humanity as a whole.
The people of the present, and the future should be concerned with looking at what ideas from the past have value and work, and discarding those that don’t, regardless of whether those ideas have come from.
Hi Jeremy, all,
Interesting ideas, thanks for sharing. I’m not quite sure which of these you’re presenting as ideas that are put forward elsewhere, which you’re espousing yourself. I may have misinterpreted what you’re saying. Anyway, i want to pick up on a couple of the ideas you’ve presented…
“Identity itself is obliterated by technology.”
This feels to me like it falls into the trap of technological determinism, the way the future _will_ unfold, as opposed to how we might choose to let it unfold. Labelling notions of race and gender as “regressive” or “conservative” also buys into the notion of a “natural” progression, or even a purpose, in which replacement of biology by technology is an inevitable next step. I don’t see that it is inevitable, or the only option, and characterising it as such is a neat little ideological box in itself.
“The people of the present, and the future should be concerned with looking at what ideas from the past have value and work, and discarding those that don’t, regardless of whether those ideas have come from.”
To quote cyberpunk grandad William Gibson, the future is unevenly distributed. While some of us might have the luxury of discarding ideas because they’re outmoded, large portions of the world are directly impacted in their daily lives by those dinosaur ideas of racism, sexism, and other flavours of hate & cruelty. When I speak out against these ideas, and expend my precious time and energy on them, it’s not because I see them as having any validity or future, but because they’re hurting people that I empathise with (some who I know, some I don’t), here and now. And, as a white dude, if I leave the speaking up to the women, people of colour, etc. who are directly impacted, I find it hard to look myself in the mirror at the end of the day.
I’m a geek, a programmer, a formalist and an aesthete. I grew up reading JG Ballard. I really feel the pull of your dispassionate futurism, but my empathy and conscience, and the part of me that knows how to grieve and laugh, don’t fit inside that space.
That’s really interesting, Jeremy, I wasn’t aware of that intro (and my only exposure to the franchise is through the two feature-length animes).
But surely, the specific quote you’re pointing out – that the technological advances have NOT yet wiped out nations and ethnic groups, even within this fictional world, means that there is more than some sense to discussing the specifics of ethnicity/cultural identity in this context. Particularly when the issue of whitewashing really doesn’t take place within the story, but in our world, through casting. And in our world, race is not yet, at least, an affectation.
I’m very interested in transhumanism, and enjoyed the anime for the exploration of those ideas. But what made it interesting, I felt, was in the clash between the new-world ideas of identity being wholly created, and the old ones which still very much exists within that world. So ignoring the realities of whitewashing in our reality, the context within which the new film is made, kind of devalues the content of the film as well, doesn’t it?
Examining what old ideas have value and recognizing that gender, for example, is a social construct, is incredibly important. But recognizing that gender is a construct doesn’t mean immediately becoming blind to the way that gendering affects our society currently. “I realized yesterday that gender is a social construct rather than an inherent trait, therefore I now realize that gendered violence is impossible” – surely, that doesn’t make sense, if only because the rest of the world isn’t considering gender to be a construct. And, even if our identities were holy chosen, they would still not be arbitrary. Transwomen can experience misogyny as well as transphobia, right? Even if the world’s population of women was only 50% cis, prejudice against women could still happen, no? Not even mentioning the fact that I’m pretty sure any trans person will tell you that their gender is anything BUT an arbitrary affectation.
Like I say, I like the idea of transhumanism, of the current possibilities of humanity being pushed and what that means for our identity. But one thing I’m pretty sure that won’t do is entirely eradicate the meaningfulness of personal identity, regardless of how physically unencumbered our acceptance of personal traits may become. And even if – in the far, far future, by the definition a future further away than even Ghost in the Shell – that were to happen, I’m not sure that changes much about the realities of our world today.
I recently read Woman on the Edge of Time by Marge Piercy, which addresses this idea of dismantling the social construct of ethnicity/cultural heritage. Essentially, in the utopian future imagined in this book, gene pools are all shared (using technology around artificial conception and birth) which a) meant that everyone is just mixed-race so biological ethnicity no longer matters, and b) motherhood is no longer isolated to people with the appropriate reproductive system (anyone, regardless of gender, can be a mother in this world.)
In geek circles, I’ve seen a lot of enthusiasm for transhumanism and this idea that technology is just inherently positive progress, and Woman on the Edge of Time addressed my personal feelings about these things.
One, the protagonist is uncomfortable with the notion of dismantling the structures she is used to, and that she uses to define herself and others.
Two, technology makes these changes possible.
Three, the utopian characters humanise the process, something I rarely see addressed in real life pro-transhumanism type folk.
Who knows how tech might affect the ways in which we conceptualise ourselves in future? Who knows (yet) how it will affect identity. But we don’t need to ‘dismantle’ identity in order to make positive social progress, and in all honesty, I think even having the option to choose today’s identity IS your identity. I don’t believe you can destroy such a fundamental part of being human (while still being ‘human’), you can only change the parameters (and maybe so dramatically it becomes unrecognisable, but it’s still identity.) Identity is tied up in consciousness, right?
In Woman on the Edge of Time, the characters don’t distinguish or ‘place people into boxes’ in terms of gender, ethnicity, disability, etc. But they do respect and honour things that some people still have a sentimental hold on, such as cultural traditions or folklore. This is for two main reasons: firstly, each community shares these traditions which strengthens bonds between people. Not everyone in a community shares the same cultural beliefs or traditions, and so each person contributes to a shared sense of beauty, culture, meaning.
Importantly, there is no in-fighting between different communities with different traditions because people are not segregated based on biological or even geographical lines.
Secondly, in this story, it is a healthy part of being human, to hold onto parts of your shared history WITH humanity, or your family, or even with yourself. You are allowed that, because frankly that’s part of what makes life worth living, for some of us. For me, part of the beauty of our flawed species is cultural history, in its infinite forms.
I’ve known people who think it’s ideal to become an android, give themselves up to tech, or entirely and irrevocably destroy concepts tied up with identity. And while all of these ideas have merit in their own ways, these people’s ideas of an ideal future sounds, to me, incredibly clinical and ~boring~
And that’s also what identity is. It’s about having different tastes and preferences, about having different ideas about how to live, express ourselves, what’s important to us. Yes, my heritage is important to me, and in that way it has a positive effect on me. You can tie it up into negative things, too, like racism or other ways in which someone actively tries to cause harm (which is the one line I draw about acceptable behaviour and beliefs!) but you can say that about literally everything, and similar to Dave’s point, why is the onus on me to stop someone else from causing me harm?
Tech connects me with people and places and things I’d never be able to know about otherwise, and it offers so many opportunities in the future. But it’s also fucked up my concentration, it’s made it easier to experience pain and hurt, and some technology has meant the irreversible destruction of what I value most of all: nature.
I think this view that you can have ALL or NOTHING, you can have RACISM or NO IDENTITY is so, so boring and so closed-minded, and simply not true to reality. Everything is complex. We don’t need Y/N, we need And/And/And.
Motoko Kusanagi’s core conundrum (at least as espoused by the trope maker, Mamorou Oshii – Shirow’s Motoko was far goofier, but every subsequent presentation, including Scarjo’s is a take on Oshii’s), and the central theme of GiTS is what is Motoko’s identity? She doesn’t even know herself. Even down to her being referred to as of “indeterminate race”. There are hints that Kusanagi may not even be female, iirc. This conundrum arises from the arbitrariness of her external appearance / shell and the old mind / body problem.
“This feels to me like it falls into the trap of technological determinism, the way the future _will_ unfold, as opposed to how we might choose to let it unfold”
I’m not saying these things will happen – just that if they happen as described as in GitS, then arbitrariness, and obsolesence of Identity will be the logical end result, and in light of this, ghettoisation – the requirement for those with a certain family background, amount of melanine in their skin or on the preserving of arbitrary traditions based upon the geographic location of the birth of their ancestors to remain within those narrow ideological boxes – is conservative, and retrogressive, by comparison – hence ironic within this context.
But I think it’s fair to say that wherever technology provides evolutionary advantages, then, if competition arises, those societies with that technology will always triumph over societies without them. So in that respect access to technology selects who will survive, not choice. Pretty much all attempts to control the progress of technology has been doomed to fail because power is meted out in technological advantage (advantage here meaning suitability, not physical might).
In that way there is an element of technological determinism, but only in the way technology provides evolutionary advantage. In that respect, I think if we gain the ability to swap our bodies at will, this would be a pretty big evolutionary advantage.
“To quote cyberpunk grandad William Gibson, the future is unevenly distributed. While some of us might have the luxury of discarding ideas because they’re outmoded, large portions of the world are directly impacted in their daily lives by those dinosaur ideas of racism, sexism, and other flavours of hate & cruelty. ”
I disagree that it’s a luxury. That seems like a patronisation of POC to be able to determine their own futures according to how they see fit. This change is all part of a conversation that is happening globally by the flow of information and the social interaction of people from different cultures and class backgrounds. There’s a growing movement to try and balkanise this, both politically and culturally on both sides of the ideological spectrum – but this seems to me to be an anti-human move, for the sake of preserving old national and ethnic conceptions, and arisen out of fear of the world changing too fast.
“I’m very interested in transhumanism, and enjoyed the anime for the exploration of those ideas. But what made it interesting, I felt, was in the clash between the new-world ideas of identity being wholly created, and the old ones which still very much exists within that world. So ignoring the realities of whitewashing in our reality, the context within which the new film is made, kind of devalues the content of the film as well, doesn’t it?”
It’s definitely worth discussing, for sure.
I was really pointing out the irony of the discussion with respect to GitS, where the Major is explicitly described as being ethnically ambiguous (even down to her distinctly non-Japanese blue eyes).
“I think even having the option to choose today’s identity IS your identity. “
I think one of the core themes of (Oshii’s) GitS is that it points out that having identity as a choice destroys any meaning of that identity – the two aren’t logically comfortable bed fellows as they’re axiomatically opposed. The absence of any grounding means that you float incorperealy, like a ghost. Identity is continuity and history. If you can choose those two aspects, either by reprogramming your history (by inserting a wife that never existed) or by hopping from body to body, then you cease to exist. (This is similar to the belief of Buddhists that the self is an illusion – the ego doesen’t exist in the first place.)
I think, this makes the desire to cling to national identity / racial identity / gender construction etc at least understandable out of the fear of the above. This kind of ego death might well usher in an enlightened age as depicted in Edge of Time as the barriers between people dissolve, or it might all drive us mad as we struggle to get to grips with who we are, I dunno.
Nerdwriter, also talks about some of this beautifully here in relation to Oshii’s use of physical space in the anime:
This is by-the-by but my favourite computer game of all time is the Civilisation II sort-of sequel Alpha Centauri – which is basically a Civ game on another planet. One of the cool things about it is that the 7 ‘factions’ you can choose from are not distinguished by prior national attachments, but by ideology. Like a lot of sci-fi, there is no overt mention of racism or sexism, even though these things can subconsciously affect how the world is depicted – e.g. in the game some of the characters lean on gender / racial tropes. But anyway, despite the apparent egalitarianism, there’s still plenty of competition (and war if you so choose) in the game. Which leads me on to my point that if humanity somehow manages to rid itself of racial or gender distinctions, we’d still find other things to argue over and be tribal about. It would probably be a fairer world to live in, but I’m not sure it would be a peaceful, luxurious utopia.
I’m a dabbler in cyberpunk, but one of the things that struck me about Gibson’s Neuromancer (a foundational work) is how downbeat it is about technology – it predicts how isolating and unfulfilling it can be. A bit like Ghost in the Shell, Neuromancer is about two AIs pairing off to form a ~dynamic life-form~, that then becomes uninterested in the petty quotidian lives of human beings. The novel ends by evoking simple human pleasures of food, sleep and sex – and ends up celebrating the people we are away from the virtual worlds that we create.
I think there’s a little bit of that in the 1995 anime version of Ghost in the Shell – which dwells a lot on urban anomie and existential angst. It kind of echoes the ‘rootless cosmopolitanism’ that Theresa May talks about – this idea that having no tribe to belong to leaves people adrift and abandoned (I’m not entirely unsympathetic, although it annoys a lot of my tribe of lefty Londoners). Anyway, I think this concern comes from the film’s director Oshii rather than the Shirow’s manga (Oshii’s sequel is basically about how a man’s relationship to his dog helps ground him as a unique and valued human being). Shirow on the other hand is more enthusiastic about humanity’s ability to transcend itself.
Which leads me on to the problems with the manga. To make Joel feel a bit better – I’m not sure it’s possible to read ‘Mobile Armored Riot Police’ (as the manga was originally called) with all of its notes and asides and make sense of what Shirow is on about, given that most of it assumes a degree of engagement with the work that only its creator can have. But one thing that is worth drawing out is this:
“I think all things in nature have “ghosts”. This is a form of pantheism, and similar to ideas found in Shinto or among believers in the Manitou. Because of the complexity and function, and the physical constraints they have when they appear as a physical phenomenon, it may be impossible to scientifically prove this. There are, after all, humans who act more like robots than robots, and no one can say for certain that they have no ghosts just because they don’t act like it. In ancient times, neither air nor the universe were believed to exist.”
This gives a good sense of the unstructured nature of the guy’s entries, jumping excitedly from idea to idea. But it also shows up his quasi-pantheistic belief in a kind of cosmic ordering in which spirits can influence our lives (btw he also believes in mediums and psychics). I think the sexual (in the biological sense) union of the Major and the Puppet Master is presented as coming one step closer to the spirit world. The film makes this explicit – Kusanagi sees an angel descend just before her merger is complete.
My quibble with this is that pantheism starts to look a lot like atheism when you push it far enough. If you introduce the idea of a machine that can generate its own ghost, the distinctions between those with souls and those without becomes more unstable, and it might just be simpler to jettison the spirit world altogether for the sake of simplicity (there is also the rather dark intimation that some people may not have souls in the quote above, which is a bit icky). What I like about Oshii’s anime is that it’s a lot more ambiguous about this stuff. Kusanagi disappears and becomes something like a guardian angel for Batou. She becomes something completely inexplicable, while he remains a human being having to navigate the confusion of modern life. Given that I don’t believe the spirit world exists, I think we’re stuck with him, which is why I would say Oshii’s film is one of the few times that an adaptation betters the original.
[Also, I’ve watched Snow White and the Huntsman and it’s not that bad. No idea about the new film tho]
Transphobia isn’t a discrete phenomenon. Trans women are subject to transmisogyny, the fundamental roots of which are the same notions of gender that inform misogyny directed at any other women.
It’s a constant irritation that whenever the notion of gender as a social construct comes up, trans women are immediately brought up as if we’re the only people who enact a deliberate performance of gender. It may not be deliberately prejudiced, but it’s fundamentally the product of patriarchal coding of the feminine as being inherently artificial. Everyone enacts a performance of gender, everyone experiences a gap between what they consider to be the innate sense of their own gender and how it’s perceived externally. Challenge yourself to think about gender as a social construct in the context of your own relationship to it rather than using a complete misunderstanding of mine to prove a point.
Anyway, the thing about Ghost in the Shell as a franchise is that every iteration of it has a distinct dialectic on the topic of how bodies are racialized and gendered. Masamune Shirow’s conception in the original manga and Mamoru Oshii’s in the film are practically polar opposites and the Stand Alone Complex series has its own take. Shirow’s work is deeply informed by an exploitative erotic gaze, as Joel alluded to in the intro, the most hilariously ironic byproduct of it being that that the Major’s queerness is rooted in Shirow’s discomfort with the erotic male figure.
Shirow clearly wants her to be an erotic figure but doesn’t want to draw naked men, which he’s supposedly freely admitted, so he portrays her having sex with other women, in a scenario where he’s inserted a male voyeur to preserve the Major’s sexual availability and foreground her sexuality as a performance for the male gaze. Claire Napier has written about the semiotics of that scene here and here. I wrote about how Brandon Graham subverted it in an explicit Dirty Pair fan comic here.
By contrast, Oshii de-eroticizes the Major by an incredible amount despite how frequently she’s naked. It’s fascinating how important of a motif nudity is to the film relative to how disconnected it is from titillation. The most arresting and memorable image of her in the film isn’t her stripping and jumping off a roof completely naked, it’s her muscles rippling and shredding under her skin when she tries to rip the top off a tank.
And that’s just a tiny piece of it. There’s just so goddamn much to talk about in this franchise.
Kendall Jenner Pepsi advert.
I mean – I’m sure everyone already knows about it. But if not: here you go.
LIVE BOLDER. LIVE LOUDER. LIVE FOR NOW. etc
And not forgetting (of course / what we’re all talking about): “They should have cast an asian.”
Now – stay with me (I might take some flack for this I know): but there’s a part of me that can’t stop thinking that maybe – all of this is a good thing. And why on earth would we want to change it?
Like: please forgive me for stating the complete obvious – these are all just big faceless evil corporations telling to sell us stuff / make as much money as they can. And because they don’t care about people they keep getting things wrong and then our response to that is: oh wait. Let’s tell them how they messed up so they can get it right next time?
If someone breaks into your house and tries to kill you and then messes up – why on earth would you want to try and train them to do it better next time? In fact – I mean: gosh – in fact: it’s even worse than that: instead there’s outrage. Why on earth didn’t the assailant know enough about diversity to get it right? Oh my god: they’re racist. Oh dare they.
(and especially especially: if there’s one thing I’ve learned is that: if the mainstream is getting behind a message then you should treat it with high levels of suspicion: because the point of the mainstream is not to change things and make things better but rather to propagate itself and keep everything exactly the same with minor cosmetic differences)
I’m currently re-reading my favourite website of all time which is called The Last Psychiatrist and oh my god you should go away and read it right now. I just read an old thing from 2006 called: Time’s Person of the Year Is Someone Who Doesn’t Actually Matter which feels kinda relevant (like I said it’s from a while ago tho so unfortunately there is a reference to MySpace *cringe*):
Being on YouTube, having a blog, having an iPod, being on MySpace– all of these things are self-validating, they allow that illusion that is so important to narcissists: that we are the main characters in a movie. Not that we’re the best, or the good guys, but the main characters. That everyone around us is supporting cast; the funny friend, the crazy ex, the neurotic mother, the egotistical date, etc. That makes reminders of our insignificance even more infuriating…
It can’t last. If society chooses to make narcissism the default, it’s going to have to deal with society-wide narcissistic injuries– when we suddenly realize that it isn’t solely our movie and we’re really not the main character.
I mean: shit. I could be wrong: but I’d like to think that I’m passionate and engaged about social issues and trying to create a world free from the forces of evil and oppression. But here’s the point where I disagree: I don’t think we’re going to create a more equal world by making sure that we have an asian in Ghost in the Shell or that the President of the United States is a woman. Because – as nice as those things would be – they’re not actually gonna sort out the systematic / structural problems blighting our lives you know?
Or to put it another way: I think we should be suspicious of the things that tell us that we should work to make everything look diverse rather than actually undoing oppression. Because a system where the main aim is to make everything look like a United Colours of Benetton advert is only skin deep. And the idea of trickle-down diversity I think should be treated with suspicion: like I’ve read writers which make it seem like the aim to have more minorities in the boardroom as CEOs and etc: while I’d rather we shoot for burning down the boardrooms and dismantling the whole idea of a CEO.
And yeah yeah ok: like I said at the start – it’s all complicated and all the objections to what I’m writing is already ringing around my head: you know – why can’t we have both? An asian in Ghost in the Shell and social justice for the most marginalized? Like Zainabb said: “We don’t need Y/N, we need And/And/And.”
If we lived in an infinite world then I would agree that we should focus on all the things. But gosh darn it: our time is short and our attentions only stretch so far: and everything is a trap. I mean: I could talk about right-wing fascism versus centrist liberalism versus left-wing socialism but Trump, Hilary and Bernie personify so much better. And yeah: Hilary would have been better than Trump: but both of them are very much pro-war. And etc.
I mean: don’t get me wrong: I’d love to see a film about a mild-mannered Children’s Librarian with German, Ghanaian, Polish, Irish and French heritage – but something tells me that it’s not going to happen. But also: apart from how good it would make me feel (trying to work out who I’d get to play me? Sam Rockwell maybe?): As much as I would like it and as good as it would feel to watch it: I don’t think it would really solve anything.
But then: do we want to solve things / restructure our system to create a fairer world for all or do we just wanna feel good / and keep everything the same?
Both. BOTH. BOTH.
I can’t feel good in our existing system(s) – keeping things ‘the same’ is not about feeling good for me (I’m aware that for some people, it very much is, hence all the Marvel diversity stuff.)
But also, it takes work and effort and energy to dismantle systems – and it takes time. And frankly, normally the labour of doing the dismantling falls on people like me – marginalised people, vulnerable people – because if you’re already in a position of privilege, why would you want to give up your power? I’ve known many, many white men who “want to do the right thing”, who advocate dismantling oppressive systems and power hierarchies, etc. – but they never put in the work. Because it is hard and it is thankless. There’s no ego in this work when it’s done properly and white men, and white women, who have been raised and live in a world where they are always having their egos fed – where they are always recognised and uplifted and they have power over others – they often cannot handle doing the work and not being recognised for it.
So, when we place the onus of systematic change on the people who are being hurt by our existing systems, who are the most vulnerable, the least socially powerful, who have the least resources, and who already take on higher levels of emotional labour, we also need to recognise that meaningful societal and structural change will take years, decades, lifetimes. It will exhaust us. It will kill us. Some of us may give up because when your own life and health and (relative) freedoms are on the line, sometimes being quiet and putting up with the shit seems like a better option if it means that you survive – and who can blame the people who make that decision?
YES, I believe in dismantling capitalism and other systems of oppression. YES, I know that Hollywood can be diverse and representative and still be harmful, and the same goes for comics and consumerism of any kind, honestly.
But this is what we have right now. So let’s work on two things at once: improving what we’ve got while also working towards better systems.
One big, big problem I see with the idea of “dismantling” oppressive systems is that no alternative gets offered up (apart from socialism, which rarely ever addresses issues of oppression specifically against women, POC, migrants – it’s all about class, which is important but come on, people: your future utopia needs to be intersectional) So how can we make ‘small steps’ towards alternatives that we don’t even know how to define? Maybe, with a solid action plan in place, the next steps are to boycott Hollywood and live on a commune instead of giving our money to Marvel and racists – but until we KNOW our next steps, we’ve still got to live in this shitty, hurtful existing state.
And like it or not, our current state includes a lot of people giving away a lot of their money to corporations without question or criticism. A side effect of making a lot of noise is that it raises awareness. Maybe if enough people yell loudly, we can make it just a little less painful for the people who hurt the most in our society. Do I think it gets rid of the hurt entirely? Of course fucking not, but if you have a bleeding wound, maybe wrap it in a bandage until you can get it sewn up. You always need to work towards getting that wound sewn up, so it can heal – so you can heal – but in the meantime, there’s no point in bleeding to death.
Ultimately, yes – it’s hard. It’s easier to bleed into unconsciousness. It’s easier to give up. It’s easier to settle for the path of least resistance. But for those of us who really, genuinely want to see a more celebratory and kinder world, there’s no other way forward. You fight for the big changes, and you fight for the little ones while they still matter.
Also, a note on art – the magic of creativity and making things is that you get to produce the stuff in which “you are the protagonist.” This is my favourite thing about comics, in fact. It’s the ‘personal’ stories, the autobios, the explorations of the creator’s mental health and identity and the struggles they’ve faced in life. I like this because it is human, it’s beautiful, it’s painful. It reminds me that we ALL struggle – nobody is “the protagonist” and yet we all are, too. We can’t help but feel special and important and different – but also, everyone feels that way. It’s not good or bad – it just is, and it’s part of what’s amazing to me about humanity and how we all live and exist. Some people use their ego in harmful ways, and some only help others.
I’ve never found a story I could fully identify with either, but I have related to The Nao Of Brown, to Funhome., to this indie book on PTSD I read recently, to fucking Lying Cat and Sophie – all in different ways, never wholly, always meaningfully. If you want your mixed-race librarian story, go and create it – comic, film, music, visual art, whatever. I genuinely think one of the most important lessons to be learned (and that few people ever truly do learn) is to both embrace your ‘self’ and let go of it. We’re all important and none of us are, and even though it’s comforting to find stories you can relate to (at least on some level, if not exactly), none of those stories were created for us. They were created by someone else who feels special and different and who’s struggled or thought a lot about something, and wanted to express themselves. They were created by people who felt like “the protagonist” and they also make us feel like “the protagonist” and that’s very freeing to me.
Art doesn’t have to solve anything, but it’ll probably mean something, even if it’s just the emotional relief of turning off your brain for an hour watching trash television. Your librarian story might not instigate world peace, but if it makes your – or anyone else’s – short life a little more fun/warm/interesting/thoughtful, then that’s enough.
I love your response.
I had skimmed this conversation and although I love ghost in the shell, I’m tired and like you mentioned, don’t feel like doing the work required to shed light on why it’s important to be diverse and representative even in “evil” corporate production.
I applaud you for responding with that much detail and passion. After reading some of the previous posts, I literally thought “does it matter if I explain this? Does it matter whether I manage to get someone to see things my way or if they continue with their opinion? Does anyone reading this have the ability to make meaningful changes either way? Let me enjoy the sunshine and deal with my day-to-day.”
I guess thank you for caring enough to engage when I chose not to.
Oops. Sorry. I’ve been drafting the below all day. And it doesn’t really answer any of the things that Zainabb wrote (and actually probably makes it worse) but whatever – here’s another log for the fire.(Will try and write something to reply to what people have written so far soon: because well yeah – lots of cool people have been saying lots of good stuff: but at the moment I’m still stuck at the stage where I’m just trying to get down my own thoughts and feelings – sorry / not sorry).
So this is me still on the “they should have cast an asian” trip:
So – I 100% agree with the sentiment that Hollywood (*shakes fist*) should cast more diverse people (I think we can all agree that we’re sick of straight white guys called Chris right?)
I’m just wanna suggest that maybe proclaiming that Major Motoko Kusanagi should have been played by an asian actress as a few unintended side effects.
Namely – well: it helps to propagate the idea that there are some stories or characters that are uniquely tied to a particular race or gender or whatever. And well that’s complicated but also I think it’s kinda bullshit.
I mean: if you’re the kind of person who pays attention to the internet (and this isn’t something I would recommend): there was a big kerfuffle when Zendaya was rumored to be playing Mary Jane Watson or when Michael B Jordan was cast as Johnny Storm. I mean: James Gunn wrote a thing that pretty much sums it up: “For me, if a character’s primary attribute – the thing that makes them iconic – is the color of their skin, or their hair color, frankly, that character is shallow and sucks.” But also: that’s not the whole story.
Because yes yes – of course: the problem is white supremacy and everyone being played by a straight white guy called Chris. And if you feel like it you can have a go at me for being a pedant or whatever. But the point I’m trying to make is: make sure that your arguments are good and they’re don’t run the risk of being co-opted by those in the wrong (It’s not hard to imagine a racist saying that all the white characters should be played by white people and etc)
But actually that’s not everything: because I think the deeper problem here is nerd / geek fandom (or whatever you want to call it).
Anyone remember this?
I mean: I’m sure all the cool kids know this already: but The Departed is based on a Hong Kong film called Infernal Affairs (which is actually a whole trilogy: but I’ve only seen the first one).
Now obviously the world wasn’t as woke back in 2006 when The Departed came out: but I don’t really remember much in the way of people getting pissed off when it came out and doing the whole “they should have cast an asian” thing. And something tells me that there wouldn’t be so much controversy if it was released today (you may feel different? I don’t know?). And well: as far as I can tell that boils down to three things:
1. Where it’s set
Maybe this is a minor point (maybe not?). But the Departed is set in America. While the new Ghost in the Shell (as far as I can tell? I mean I’ve only seen the trailers and have no wish to see the film) is set in future Japan (no?): It’s obviously a lot more incongruous to have Scarlett Johansson doing her thing with a backdrop of non-speaking asian people in the background. I mean: I kinda almost feel bad for the people who made it – to give them the benefit of the doubt: they wanted to try and place the film closer to its roots and yet (because of their dumb casting choice) ended up making a hash out it.
Like: I wonder what the reaction would have been if they’d set it in future America?
2. Who made it
The Departed was made by Martin Scorsese who well yeah: is one of the best directors in the world or whatever. Which means that everything he touches turns to art. While like we’ve already said: Ghost in the Shell was directed by the same guy that did Snow White and the Huntsman (*embarrassed cough in an empty theater*). Like: I’m not saying that means that The Departed is good and the new Ghost in the Shell is bad (altho it certainly seems like it LOL). I mean: having Scorsese on board gives things their own prestige you know? I mean: if there’s one thing I think I’ve learned recently it’s that people aren’t really that good at critically engaging with something on a deeper level yadda yadda etc. But they are really good at judging things on surface appearances. The new Ghost in the Shell is bad because she’s not an asian. But The Departed is good because it has Martin Scorsese’s name at the start (and also Oscars – Oscars are good right?).
Like: I’ve been toying with the idea of what would have happened if the new Ghost in the Shell film had been made with a different director (but still starred Scarlett Johansson). Like: Ghost in the Shell directed by David Cronenberg. Ghost in the Shell directed by Takeshi Kitano. Ghost in the Shell directed by Jordan Peele. Ghost in the Shell directed by Kathryn Bigelow. I mean shit – I would pay good money to go and see all of those. So you know: maybe that’s part of it? The thing is to have smart creative interesting people doing smart creative interesting things. Like: among it’s many other evils (hatred / ignorance): bigotry is stupidity and not being able to think more than 2cms. There is a part of me that feels bad for giving Rupert Sanders such a kicking: but from what little I know of him – he just kinda seems like a guy that’s not very good at thinking (maybe if he was he’d would have set his film in America instead?).
3. What it’s based on
Personally I think that this is what it’s all about. And let me try and flesh out my reference to “nerd / geek fandom” from before.
I mean: this is obvious – but The Departed is based upon a Crime/Thriller film thing. I mean: yeah it’s a trilogy. But (as far as I know) that’s it. I mean: in terms of the fandom people like the actors and the directors and that’s about it. You know: it’s the people who made it and that’s about it. I mean: I doubt even fans of the film would remember that the names of the main characters.
But Ghost in the Shell is different. Obviously. Because Ghost in the Shell is a property. There’s the manga (of course). There’s the 1995 film. There’s the 2004 sequel. There’s computer games. There’s two TV shows. There’s a 2015 movie called Ghost in the Shell: The New Movie.
I mean: you know: there’s a lot of stuff.
But even without that stuff: I mean the comic and especially the 1995 film put Ghost in the Shell in an important place in the nerd / geek fandom headspace (and yeah: obviously – I run the Barbican Comic Forum you know: so I would consider myself as being a part of the group of whatever: even if I do spend most of my time being a hectic LOL).
Like: I don’t think it’s a coincidence that it seems to be people in the whole superhero / sci-fi / fantasy / fandom / whatever you want to call it / sphere who pay the most attention to the (what should I call it that’s not going to get me spanked?) erm – identity of it’s characters: Motoko Kusanagi, Johnny Storm, Mary Jane Watson etc. In that: it seems to cause proper distress when the “essentials” are changed. Like: back in the early days of the Barbican Comic Forum I remember having a very interesting conversation about the idea of Idris Elba being the thingie guy from Thor (LOL I don’t remember the character name because who cares? It’s Thor. But the guy guarding the bridge or whatever): which brought us round to the idea of Idris Elba playing Superman.
Now – I thought this was a great idea. I mean: I’m not the biggest Idris Elba fan in the world (because I mostly don’t think much of actors). But shit – just in terms of the statement and what it would mean (especially especially if no one in the film even mentioned it). But in terms of who I was talking to – the idea got a lot of pushback. “That’s not Superman.” “Superman doesn’t look like that.” “Why don’t they just invent a new superhero” etc.
Like: I’m not saying this to judge and to wag my finger and say they’re wrong. But only to point out that when you start to mess with characters that have been imprinted in people’s minds at an impressionable age (basically: when you’re a teenager): then you start to trigger people’s deep seated responses.
I mean: I realise it’s a little out of the superhero / sci-fi / fantasy area – but see also: James Bond.
And well yeah: I think that part of that is (of course) capitalism. And a culture where the important thing is the character (which is owned by the corporation) as opposed to the people who make it (who can be replaced) and the mindset that produces in the people who consume it. Like: they should have cast an asian because that’s how I understand and consume and like and want my Ghost in the Shell. Same thing with Superman being a white guy with black hair.
I don’t want to co-opt this entire conversation so I’ll prob pipe down after this, but also I’m ill so it’s this or bingeing Netflix atm ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
I agree with plenty of what you’re saying, Joel, especially in terms of clinging to character, but you’ve also done the thing where a vital aspect of white supremacy gets ignored or goes unseen.
In this case, it’s not just that white supremacy means nothing but white faces in our media and the creative teams behind them. It means also that there is a difference between re-envisioning a character created as white, as a character of colour instead (e.g. Zendaya and Michael B Jordan, or Idris Elba as James Bond etc) and insisting that characters stick to their original ethnicity.
Why? Because white characters and white creators are the norm. They push out all other representations. So, no, it’s not at all the same (in our current system) to turn a “white” character “into” a character of colour vs whitewashing a character of colour. Marginalised people, including POC, have limited representation and visibility is actively kept down. It is a struggle to be represented or to create our own representation.
People in positions of privilege (mostly white and cis people, but also abled people, and people of middle or upper class backgrounds) hold societal power – including in our media. So they have plenty of images of themselves AND they are the majority of our creators. In our diverse but unfair society, we’re working towards a more accurate and interesting display of characters/heritages/identities/storylines in our media too. Of course characters based solely on identity are dull – but it’s not boring to be able to represent identity alongside other narratives (and also explore struggles with identity, especially when dealing with superhero comics and the like aimed at young people who, whether we like it or not, are marginalised and bullied and oppressed and maybe want to feel like they’re not incorrect human beings just because they’re not in positions of privilege.)
The Departed might be “based off” a foreign film, but that’s not the same as rebooting/remaking it. Hollywood has a big problem (creatively, sometimes ethically) with just revamping existing films, especially foreign films, but essentially (as far as I’m aware) The Departed isn’t using the same characters, just the same concept, right? And sure, why the hell couldn’t some of its new characters be POC, or queer, or disabled? Is Boston just entirely made up of cis white straight abled men? (Maybe tbf.)
Setting it in America isn’t an excuse as we can see with the new American Death Note – featuring white main characters “because it’s American!!!1” completely ignoring the fact that Asian Americans make up over 5% of the population – so why not feature Japanese Americans in your story about Japanese characters? This is not their primary characteristic. Death Note is not solely about being Japanese, but right now, there’s only a benefit in upholding this part of the narrative.
Frankly, whenever anyone is like “BUT ALL CHARACTERS SHOULD INTERCHANGE IDENTITY NO MATTER WHAT BECAUSE IT DOESN’T MATTER”, it’s super ignorant, and if it really doesn’t matter, then why is it only ever a problem to increase representation of marginalised people? Why is it never a problem amongst these people that the vast majority of our characters (and creators) are white or end up whitewashed in western media?
I saw a tweet the other day that sums this up quite well: white characters are judged on their individuality whilst characters representing marginalised populations and identities must suddenly represent all of us. We immediately fixate on the identity of a non-white/cis/abled/straight character because we don’t have enough of them. This goes for people on all sides of this argument.
It is important to me right now to have characters – and creators – that reflect myself, my friends, and strangers on London streets (i.e. lots of different types of people, different experiences, backgrounds, struggles, and goals.) I think that also makes art interesting. That’s creativity. But the only way to get to the point where a character’s (or creator’s) identity isn’t the first thing we focus on (unless that’s the point of the story which, as I mentioned in my last response, is also part of an interesting and dynamic world) is to have lots of diversity in our media. And a good first step towards that is to cut out the whitewashing.
A good simultaneous step is to realise that historically, all our characters are really fucking white. Using comics as a specific example, thisalso means that comics’ most identifiable, iconic, and important characters are all white. These are the titles that have lasted the longest, that have the longest history, and the most stories. This is what makes up our pop culture. Spiderman, Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, the X-Men, all of the Avengers. I could go on.
And that’s why it matters when we get a black Mary Jane Watson, or a Latinx Batman, or a Pacific Islander Aquaman. It matters because we don’t have any of this stuff already, and the stuff we do get (Ms Marvel, Miles Morales) is Othered, and still new. It carries less weight. Even Miles Morales (i.e. Spiderman) is always called Miles Morales instead of Spiderman bc we have to make it clear, HE IS THE BROWN SPIDERMAN. Not the real Spiderman, who is a white boy called Peter Parker.
Anyway, I quite like Idris Elba and he’s literally the only thing that would get me to watch the Fuckboy with Gadgets That Everyone Makes Excuses For Just Because He’s Part of our Pop Culture even though He’s A Misogynistic Murdering Creep
(And also, thank you, Nana, for your words. They mean a lot. Sunshine is good for the exhaustion. ️ )
Zainabb, the sunshine was an excellent remedy ️
Joel – I’d like you to take a minute to read your first two paragraphs and ask yourself what message they convey.
After Zainabb’s detailed and informative responses you wrote:
“Oops. Sorry. I’ve been drafting the below all day. And it doesn’t really answer any of the things that Zainabb wrote (and actually probably makes it worse) but whatever – here’s another log for the fire.
(Will try and write something to reply to what people have written so far soon: because well yeah – lots of cool people have been saying lots of good stuff: but at the moment I’m still stuck at the stage where I’m just trying to get down my own thoughts and feelings – sorry / not sorry). ”
Note the use of” but whatever” and “sorry not sorry”. I understand that you’re the monitor and it’s part of your role to encourage conversation. I don’t feel like you’re just playing devil’s advocate in this case. Every opinion is allowed, although not every opinion needs to be validated.
That said, the use of whatever or Sorry/not sorry for me would have been the signals that you’re out to push your opinion without giving any serious thought to alternate perspectives. I am sure you don’t mean it to be (benefit of the doubt) but they make you come across as dismissive to me. It’s exactly that kind of response that would stop me from engaging. As was pointed out – it can be very tiring having to justify why the system needs to tweaked. I would suggest if you truly want people (like me) to engage you avoid such language whatever your true thoughts and intentions are. You may not always get a “Zainabb” (I’m using your name as a stand in for someone who despite the emotional labour involved, keeps on working. Hope you don’t mind.)
I’ll stop here because… Reasons.
I look forward to your response to Zainabb’s reply. No pressure
Given how sensitive this stuff evidently is, wanted to ask my partner about it, who is Japanese. Funnily enough, she didn’t care at all about the casting decisions on Ghost in the Shell. I think the reason why is that she largely consumes Japanese culture, even when living in London, and doesn’t lack for entertainment that is ‘representative’. She thinks of herself as Japanese, and has few expectations about what Anglo-American culture should be like. Which leads me to the thought that this is more of a problem for people who feel caught between cultures who cannot find a sense of belonging in any one of them.I say ‘people’ but actually I’m talking about myself. English is technically my second language, and for a period between starting primary school and my early teens I did feel like I was out of sync with the identities available to me. I’m lucky in that it was relatively easy for me to sync / sink into the dominant culture as I grew older, and so no longer feel on the edge of it looking in.
I do think there is a limit to how much we can rid ourselves of this phenomenon, to be honest. Outside London and perhaps a few other cities, the U.K. isn’t a multicultural society, and the culture that is made and consumed here will reflect that. I guess where the priorities are for addressing that sense of loss or lack of belonging is a) to make the avenues towards assimilation easier (e.g. anti-discrimination law, affirmative action) and b) to promote a version of national identity that is self-confident enough to be open and welcoming of the world beyond its borders.
Scarlett Johansson is playing a Japanese woman whose brain was put in a white body in Ghost in the Shell. That’s how they chose to adapt the story and excuse her whiteness. It’s explicitly white supremacist. There’s really nothing more to discuss there.
also sounded a bit strange to me.
Yes they are all fictional characters, but would you put a Black Man in for Batman or Superman?
How about a Black James Bond or Dr Who. They are all fictional!!!
Take care, all the very best
Hi Ray, all,
It sounds like you’re asking a rhetorical question here, but I’m not sure what the expected answer is. (Three exclamation marks after ‘they are all fictional’ makes it sound like that settles the debate once and for all for you, unless I’m misreading your punctuation.) A coloured/non-caucasian Batman, Superman, Bond or Doctor Who all sound like reasonable choices to me. (Worth mentioning Miles Morales here? I don’t know much about him, but I gather the character was very popular, and the stories successful.)
I don’t know if I’m addressing your point in saying this, but I don’t think casting a non-caucasian in a traditionally caucasian role is the same as doing it the other way round. Obviously at one level it is, but it’s not possible to ignore the power imbalance. When 90-odd% of major characters are white-by-default, then swapping one out for a coloured person isn’t “erasure” in the same way as swapping out one of the very few non-white lead characters for a white person is.
As a white dude, I’m already well-over-represented in the mainstream media, and can shrug and move on if one of “my” representations is co-opted in the interests of planetary harmony. (Actually, I’ll be cheering it on, even if the film/comic/book isn’t much good, because I’m a big fan of planetary harmony, and of taking a few creative “risks”.) And just to be clear, I’m not daft enough to suggest that casting decisions in blockbuster movies will make or break planetary harmony on their own, but every little action (or inaction) contributes one way or the other, there’s no sitting on the fence and “just making the best piece of art you can”. And when you’ve got a megaphone the size of a blockbuster movie, there’s a certain responsibility to the world to getting it right.
I can’t directly experience the effect of being under-represented by the media and then seeing an opportunity to represent me getting passed over for lazy/commercial/otherwise crap reasons, but I can imagine that it sucks. And as far as I can see, the casting of Scarlett Johansson and Tilda Swinton in GitS and Dr. Strange were lazy commercial decisions. Nothing against either actress, and I thought Tilda Swinton turned in a decent performance in Dr Strange (haven’t seen GitS, so no comment), but they could have done better.
Whatever, it just isn’t symmetrical. If that’s the gist of your argument, then let’s go and find a better argument.
Finally, getting it right doesn’t need to make the end result worse (the hypothetical “worthy film about gay multicultural librarians” or whatever it was reared it’s head earlier in this thread). There are plenty of movies made with rubbish ideas and/or execution – in fact, I’d say it was the norm – and adding a bit of representation and diversity, if done smartly, could just be one small part of addressing that. Or entirely unrelated to whether the story flops or not.
My $0.02. or Yen, or rupees or currency of your choice. 🙂 In peace, love and understanding,
Barbican Comic Forum
Mostly replying to Ray:
I’d argue that those are all possible, especially Bond and The Doctor. The thing about fictional characters is that they eventually hit a point where certain things about them are understood, no matter what their current canon version is like. Not sure what I mean? Read on…
Here’s my list of the things that make James Bond who he is:
- “Bond, James Bond”
- secret agent for MI6 whose boss is codenamed M
- dry martini, shaken not stirred
- licence to kill
- 007 codename
Now, arguably, you can remove some of these and still have Bond. (Quite apart from anything else, he’s rarely been played by English actors and the martini was added for the films). But I think if you take too many of these away, you lose the essence of the character and end up with a more generic spy type.
Could you do a black Bond? Easily. None of those things are tied to race. Could you do a female Bond? I think so, although I think this could be more problematic, especially to a studio (fetishisation of lesbianism/problems with women being violent or suffering violence/awkward tropes about masculine women).
Let’s try Superman:
- super strong (inc. muscular physique) and invulnerable
- ice breath
- truth, justice and the American way
- faster than a speeding bullet
- ‘is it a bird, is it a plane, no it’s Superman’
- x-ray vision
- laser vision
- red, blue and yellow colours + Superman S
- tight-fitting costume with cape and underwear on the outside
- orphan from Krypton, raised by the Kents in Smallville
- Kryptonite hurts him (and is probably green)
- secretly Clark Kent, a mild-mannered, glasses-wearing reporter for the Daily Planet in Metropolis
- Lois, Jimmy and Perry (I’d argue other supporting characters are less iconic. Maybe add Lex Luthor)
After that, you get to his appearance including that S curl, his dark hair, square jaw and so on. Maybe some other stuff like the Fortress of Solitude. There are probably more things iconic to the character because he’s more clearly defined than Bond. Again, I don’t see too many markers of race in there. And, again, if you take too much of this away, you have a Superman-like hero.
Now my opinion of The Major (N.B. I haven’t seen the live-action film, so this is based on the manga, GitS, GitS 2, SAC seasons one and two and Solid State Society. Arguably the first film has the greatest reach and cultural impact of all, so I’ve stuck to stuff in there):
- a cyborg
- works for Japanese government (specifically Section 9)
- interested in philosophy, especially mind/body dichotomy (ghosts/shells etc.)
- expert hacker
- invisibility camouflage
- skimpy outfits and purple hair
and GitS as a setting more generally
- robots and AI
- Batou, Togusa and the Chief
- cyberpunky (built-up city environments, big corporations, government espionage, large rich/poor divide)
- cool multi-legged tanks (esp. the tachikoma)
- futuristic Tokyo setting
Now, I’d argue she’s a less iconic character to Western audiences because anime/manga is relatively niche here and she’s much newer than either Bond or Superman. But there are some things in there that are tied directly to Japan. Sure, I guess she could be white, but the setting definitely leans to there being more nationalism and less freedom of movement in the future, not more integration. Could you do GitS in the countryside or set it in the present? No. Could you do it somewhere other than Japan? Maybe… A lot of the thinking that went into the setting is tied to Japan’s technological rise in the 70s and 80s. This is the same reason behind Neuromancer being set in Japan. Arguably the Japan of the present with Abenomics has a less bright future…
For me personally, it comes down to the fact that there are loads of white characters everywhere. If you’re a white woman and want a super cool assassin played by Scarlett Johansson to identify with, have you tried the Avengers films? (I appreciate this is reductive because she’s 1) not the main character and 2) less powerful).
I agree with you, Dave, that there’s a power imbalance because of representation, privilege etc. For them to cast a non-Asian actor and then come up with a lazy reason why annoys me (unless the film explores the Major’s questions of identity through the lens of self-schema vs. how others see her, adding an extra layer to the ghost/shell stuff. In which case, that’s interesting, if still problematic).
That is it, you are not going to see a Black Bat Man, or Superman/Bond/Dr. Who.
It wouldn’t bother me at all, as long as the story made sense.
I didn’t object to the ‘Ancient One’ being a Scots Woman. No more than Nick Fury
being Black – but it needs to makes sense. If its done just to keep certain people happy.
That is wrong. For instance with reggae music, you get a lot of people who like UB40
but they are not reggae fans.
Barbican Comic Forum
Really fascinating perspectives, ideas and opinions shared on this and I’ve learned a lot from them, so thank you v much.
I was just wondering if anyone saw the film itself and wanted to share what they liked and didn’t like about it? I generally try to avoid reviews but I’m curious as to what people who saw it thought of it (sorry if I missed this is in previous comments)
Characters being fictional don’t liberate them from the social dynamics of the societies that produce them. Black Batman? Sure, yeah I’ve written pretty extensively about Nighthawk for LDNGN in the past. Black Bond? Let’s rewind to the media fracas when Idris Elba’s name came up.
Anyway, it’s impertinent. What’s pertinent, since we’re probably never going to discuss the manga, is unpacking the idea of a white actress playing a Japanese woman whose brain was put in an artificial caucasian body. A conceit established to give a presumed white audience a foothold in an ersatz orientalist fictional world because the producers assume said audience won’t pay money to see a Japanese (-American) actress in a lead role.
So Well. Every time I speak to someone about Ghost in the Shell I end up saying something different.
Like: not just here on these emails: but also speaking to my friends and random passersby.
Someone will say: well: why are these people getting all het up? Diversity or whatever isn’t that important. And I’ll go: well no but. And then someone will say: anyone of any race should be able to play whatever and I’ll go: well no but. And someone will say: they should have cast an asian and i’ll go: well not but. etc and so on.
I know that some people think I’m a contrarian (at best) or a troll (at worst): but I would never just say something outrageous or mean just for the sake of it. Instead – well – let me put it like this: mostly I’m just trying to work out how the world works / what people think and the reasons why.
I don’t know how many people know this: but I studied Philosophy at university and the way they taught us to write essays was to state a position (Person A says X is bad) and explain the reasons for it. Then to take the opposite point of view (Person B says that actually X is good) and to explain the reasons for that. Then to go back to Person A and explain why they would think Person B is wrong when they said actually X is good. Then back to Person B as to what they would say in return to Person A and so on and so forth. Like a tennis ball bouncing from one side of the court to the other.
And yeah ok: I’ll admit it. That way of thinking about things affected my brain and wormed it’s way into how I think about things to this very day. Trying to understand a point of view and then flipping it over and seeing what’s wrong with it. And then flipping it over again. And again. And again.
Which basically means that every time someone says something – I feel like there’s something they’ve missed (including myself LOL).
Can’t tell if that’s good or bad.
Like: yeah – the supremacy of straight white Chris guys has all sorts of negative effects in how we all see each other and ourselves: but also looking for salvation through mainstream probably isn’t the best idea in the world: but you know – I’ve already said all that…
There’s a part of me that would like to jump over / swim past Nana’s email calling me out (if that’s the right way to phrase it?): because – gosh – I’m not exactly sure what I’m supposed to say in reply? Like: the idea that I’m “out to push [my] opinion without giving any serious thought to alternate perspectives” is on the one hand kinda true / on other hand completely ridiculous (LOL – no offense Nana).
Are you guys into Ursula K. Le Guin? Because if you’re not: well you should be. (Yeah yeah: ok she doesn’t do comics but even tho her books don’t have any pictures they’re still pretty cool).
The other day I was reading a thing she wrote about how listening and talking is kinda like amoebas having sex:
Then amoeba A and amoeba B exchange genetic “information,” that is, they literally give each other inner bits of their bodies, via a channel or bridge which is made out of outer bits of their bodies. They hang out for quite a while sending bits of themselves back and forth, mutually responding each to the other.
This is very similar to how people unite themselves and give each other parts of themselves — inner parts, mental not bodily parts—when they talk and listen. (You can see why I use amoeba sex not human sex as my analogy: in human hetero sex, the bits only go one way. Human hetero sex is more like a lecture than a conversation. Amoeba sex is truly mutual because amoebas have no gender and no hierarchy. I have no opinion on whether amoeba sex or human sex is more fun. We might have the edge, because we have nerve endings, but who knows?)
Two amoebas having sex, or two people talking, form a community of two. People are also able to form communities of many, through sending and receiving bits of ourselves and others back and forth continually — through, in other words, talking and listening. Talking and listening are ultimately the same thing.
I mean: yeah – she’s talking about talking in real life as opposed to via email: but I think it’s kinda the same thing. When we communicate we share ourselves and that’s when all the good stuff happens.
I’ll admit that I take a pretty gung-ho approach to writing LGNN stuff. I just type down the stuff that comes into my head and then send it out without bothering to re-read it first (which should hopefully explain the typos / bits that don’t make sense). And you know – I’ve been chatting about comics over email in this format since May 2014 (and have covered a lot of books). And yeah ok: maybe that means that I’ve become complacent and am too ready to assume that anyone who reads the stuff that I write knows that I’m coming from a place of curiosity (why this? why that? what do you think of this? what do you think of that?) as opposed to (god forbid) somewhere hostile and critical. Yeah – I’ll disagree with the stuff that people write but I try not to get personal or mean (fingers crossed): because well – that’s dumb. And that just means that our amoebas aren’t in the mood anymore.
I think that everything I write is about trying to solicit other people’s point of view. I mean: god – alternative perspective are my milk and honey. To take something that people only see one way and then to try and see it another. Which is how we’ve gone from: Oh. Scarlett Johansson is a film. To: they should have cast an asian. To: why should they? To: because reasons. To: well – where do these reasons come from? And what are the effect of these reasons?
And well yeah: maybe in course of this I have somehow positioned myself in the role of “The Man” which well ok – fine. If that’s how you guys want it. But I don’t think that’s what I am?
But yeah; I mean – I’m trying my best to answer what you’ve said Nana. But gosh – I’ve got to admit it’s kinda emotionally draining (boo hoo poor me I know). When there’s a whole bunch of other stuff that I’d prefer to say (mostly namely: James Bond is such a white guy. I mean: his whole thing is serving Queen and Country and going around the world and killing foreign people: the problem isn’t should he be played by a POC the problem is why is everyone so in love with the fantasy of imperial state-sanctioned violence?): but also yeah (LOL) I feel like this proves my other point: that our time is limited and we should spend it wisely and I feel like in the choice between trying to explain myself or just ignoring what you said: it’s better to try and explain?
And also: well – the other important thing is that I know you! And I know Zainabb! Like: I’ve met you both in person and done proper in real life talking at the (plug) Barbican Comic Forum! And obviously yeah – talking in person is always better and more fun (and you can say more words): but – well yeah: I would have hoped that some of the good will generated from that would carry through on to here so that it was more than obvious that when I said “whatever” and “sorry / not sorry” that it wasn’t in a “I don’t respect anyone opinions apart from my own and you can all just go to hell” and was more in a sub-Scott Pilgrim “dude” kinda way (yes yes I hate myself too LOL).
But maybe I doth protest too much and I’m secretly harbouring lots of unrighteous thoughts and opinions? (Oops: but then also – I know it’s true that everyone is racist and sexist and etc: because that’s how ideology works – it seeps to everything and all you can do is try to be aware of your bias and fight against it). And you know: there’s a conflicting thought doing on in my head as I’m writing all this which is when Zainabb said that she didn’t want to make this thread “all about her” and I’m worried that now I’m making this all about me. And well (ha) actually – I guess I’m half and half about that: because yeah – I in no way wish to dominate the conversation and I want to leave room for everyone to write what they feel like but then also: I think that the way to get to the “amoeba sex” is for everyone to make things about themselves a bit. You know: to speak about their own lives and experiences and how it’s affected the way they think about things and see things. Like: this pisses me off because of this thing that happened to me or maybe the reverse even: this makes me happy because of whatever. Altho – fuck – of course that makes it hard to keep speaking because I don’t think anyone here wants to say anything that hurts anyone else (myself very much included): but maybe there’s a way to walk that line? To have lots of people from different walks of life to speak to each other and everyone making themselves heard? (That’s the dream anyway).
Like: shoot I know this is a lot of words and I hope you don’t feel like I’m piling on to you Nana. And you know: like I said I could have just ignored what you said – but that would have felt rude. So well yeah – there you go. I hope that maybe helps to explain where I’m coming from? Also: there is a part of me that thinks this is all very funny seeing how (obviously obviously obviously) Zainabb is more than capable of taking care of herself: but then maybe that’s a conversation for another day?
Maybe this is point that mention that I watched Ghost in the Shell (1995) last night and thought it was super-boring? (Like: shoot – I felt this the first time when I watched it when I was like 14 or whatever: but the whole thing feels like it’s an extended pilot for a TV show? I guess that’s why they made Stand Alone Complex?).
But yeah – trying to pick up on the thread Emma started all the way back when: I mean – pretty much the only interesting thing about the film was how it approached gender and I don’t think it’s any sort of coincidence that The Matrix is so closely wedded to it when (sorry if this is old news to anyone) but The Matrix works really well as a transgender metaphor.
And oh – just before I sign out: Abidali – I think if anyone reads what people have read so far and then go off to see the ScarJo in the Shell then they might have been missing the point slightly? LOL
(Altho saying that: I’m sure I’ll probably end up watching it someday: there is no escape from The Matrix etc).
Also: well hey – good work everyone who’s contributed so far. I think this has all been cool and it feels like I’m learning stuff so thank you thank you.
I’ll keep this as brief as possible because I’ve said everything I wanted to say. I did feel it would be impolite not to acknowledge Joel’s responses.
I not unfamiliar with philosophy and appreciate the “question everything” approach. I will say that as a human being and a philosopher, I’m sure you sometimes have an actual opinion on an issue. It would be strange if you were constantly flipping from one viewpoint to the other on everything.
I also appreciate your role as a facilitator of conversation but if you never give your own opinion I think the discussion will be poorer for it. We’ve met in person and I like to think that if the conversation had been had face-to-face it would not have been fundamentally different (aside from you being able to tell from my demeanor that I am not upset or angry). Let me be clear that I never implied you’re a bad person if you did hold those views (in my eyes good and bad are relative), but even the nicest, best person can be oblivious at times, and let’s be honest, it’s easy to not see things from a perspective that you don’t have to. My only goal was to mention something that you may not have noticed (or maybe you had).
I don’t feel like you’re “piling on” me and appreciate you taking the time to comment further…you could easily have decided not to and that would have been fine too. Maybe I’m a snowflake…my critique (if you want to call it that) of your previous contribution was of the manner in which it was written. I pointed it out, but had no expectation of whether or not it would register, or lead to any changes.