Superman vs. Mazinger - Perspectives on Silly

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Superman vs. Mazinger - Perspectives on Silly

Post by Tachyon » Sat Mar 07, 2009 2:56 am

Hello, everyone. I want to write a post for GearsBlog that discusses attitudes on both sides of the Pacific towards sci-fi/fantasy. Specifically how people can't see eye-to-eye on what is "cool" and what is "silly." It occurred to me that my insight on this issue is probably quite limited. I'd like this post to start a thread where we can all weigh in on how things that are staples of sci-fi/fantasy on one side of the Pacific look silly and ridiculous on the other side.

In my experience, I've noticed that a lot of westerners roll their eyes and laugh cynically when giant robots or giant monsters are mentioned. Yet these are staples of fiction in Japan. I've talked to countless people who are major geeks when it comes to sci-fi/fantasy stories. Movies, comics, novels - whatever. They love 'em all. Then I mention Godzilla or Gundam and they immediately frown at me and make it clear they will not waste any of their time discussing something "stupid."

In Japan there are few stories in any format that would qualify as superhero stories in the west. In the English speaking world superhero stories are a big thing. Spiderman, Superman and Batman movies are major entertainment franchises. When they hit the theater people line up to see them. The Japanese are usually too polite to say as much but, from the time I spent over there, I get the impression that the Japanese think superhero stories are pretty darn silly. Flashy, skin-tight suits? Isn't that both childish and kind of... gross? Bending steel girders with one's bare hands and flying through the air? Isn't that too far-fetched? These are the kinds of things I would expect to hear from Japanese people.

I have several thoughts on this. First, I think sci-fi/fantasy fans should learn to be polite. When someone discusses stories they like we shouldn't rain on their parade. I don't like DC Comic's Green Lantern but when my friend in town starts talking about how much he loves them I listen politely and don't say anything negative. Sci-fi/fantasy fans, of all people, should be in the very best position to understand that there's nothing wrong with different tastes and different points of view. If the super robots of Go Nagai's manga are silly then what about the Incredible Hulk or Iron Man? I'm asking people to think a little before they write off an entire genre.

Second, I think certain concepts simply "stick" in certain cultures. A person could argue that a nation's or region's culture makes it more receptive to some ideas than to others (and I wouldn't argue against them) but I think the concepts that appear on the pop cultural scene early gain traction and, in a word, settle in. Giant robots and monsters appeared on the fiction scene decades ago in Japan and settled in nicely. Super heroes, ultra spies and others appeared in North America and the UK. People who grow up seeing certain concepts in their fiction tend to think in those terms and write the same kinds of stories when it's their turn. In short, when people grow up surrounded by super hero stories, they have a hard time seeing them as ridiculous. The Japanese, likewise, grow up surrounded by giant robot stories and think of them as more or less "natural" when they encounter them.

That's my attempt to kick off what I hope will be an interesting and enlightening coversation. What do all of you think? Am I way off? Did I leave something out? Let me hear your point of view.
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