A Fetish for Death

Everywhere I go I find a poet has been there before me.” Sigmund Freud

I dwell in possibility…” Emily Dickinson

Psychoanalytical criticism began with the work of Austrian neurologist Sigmund Freud. Freud was born in 1856 and began practicing and seeing patients in 1885; from his experience with patients, mostly female he wrote the work that revolutionized the way we see the human psyche and subconscious. In 1900, Freud published The Interpretation of Dreams a compilation of deep analysis of the dreams of his psychiatric patients and an examination of the unruly subconscious of these women.

Emily Dickinson’s work titled for the sake of this analysis “I heard a Fly buzz- when I died” is a complex work that under the broad lens of psychoanalytic criticism can be easily described as the work of an author desperately seeking to control her own subconscious and expel aspects of her neurotic psyche. This will be achieved in three key steps, firstly in analyzing Emily Dickinson herself, and then to analyze the work as a whole, lastly would be to understand both concerns of the fetish and its relation to the tripartite psyche of the author.
One of the major aspects of psychoanalytical criticism is the divided psyche, which is separated into three distinct areas. The first aspect of this is the id, the aspect that embodies “erotic primal urges” (Abcarian 1138) and immaturity, including aggression and desire. The second is the superego, this is considered to be the conscience of the individual, and this provides guilt and “struggles to control the id” (Abcarian 1138). The last of this is the ego, this aspect is the self; “ego” being the Latin word for “I”, the ego strives to balance the struggle of the id and superego and represents reason and logic. The ego strives to balance desire and responsibility. Classic psychoanalytic criticism “reads works as though they were the recorded dreams of patients; interpreted the life histories of authors as keys to the works; or analyzed characters as though like real people they have a set of repressed childhood memories” ( Bain 119) .

Freud, through the lens of psychoanalytical criticism also brought about a new concern with the fetish. A fetish can be an innocent attachment to a certain item, person, or place. Freud turned the fetish into an aspect of sexual and social deviance. Under this scope, the fetish is not just an attachment, it is a neurosis. Neurosis acts almost glitch in the psyche. It can be as simple as a slight obsession with someone relatively innocent or something as significance of a obsessive compulsion but is always a defective function of the subconscious in the Freudian model.

According to Freud, all writers are neurotic; these hidden neuroses riddle the works of poets and novelist. In the Freudian world, each step, each word, every aspect of the human experience is full of hidden whims of the subconscious slipping out from the psyche to the natural world. Even Freud himself is attributed to saying “Sometimes a cigar, is just a cigar.”

Emily Dickinson was born one of three children in 1830 to a wealthy family in Amherst, Massachusetts. She spent most of her life in her parent’s home, unmarried. She led a reclusive life, wearing on only white and refusing to see visitors. She spent less than a year studying at the Mount Holyoke Female Seminary which from there she promptly returned home. She communicated to the outside world mostly through letters and wrote extensively in the years she spent at home.

She had one trip to Washington D.C. while her father was serving a term in Congress; there she met a married man, Reverend Charles Wadsworth. Dickinson considered Wadsworth to be her “dearest earthly friend” (Abcarian 1149) in 1862, Wadsworth moved to San Francisco, California and Dickinson experienced another burst of creative potential. It was also during this time that Dickinson began “literary correspondence” (Abcarian 1149) with critic T.W. Higginson. Many of her greatest known works were written during the time until her death.

Emily Dickinson died of typhoid fever in 1886 at the time of her death, Dickinson asked that all of her countless bound journals filled with poetry to be burned. Her work was published posthumously by her sister Lavinia found the large amount of work done by her sister. Lavinia then did as requested by her sister and burned most of the work but then did her best during the remainder of her life to ensure that the poems were published.

Dickinson’s writing can be difficult to manage; none of her works are officially titled. Several critics and authors have come up with elaborate numbering systems and methods taking the first line or key words of her poems to act as titles for the dozens of pieces of individual written pieces we have in our literary collections today. This can easily be considered as neurosis within many deeper neuroses.

The inability to claim her work through the intimate relationship of titling may be hidden insecurity or fear of her work. Dickinson’s mental status can be a bit difficult; as said in the quote from her above, dwelling in a land of possibility is either a strong indication of her creativity or a deep psychological issue that could either be schizophrenia, depressive or dissociative disorder. Both of these disorders in modern psychology are considered to be repressive aspects and in Freudian terms would be strong neuroses of the id and superego. These can result in prolific creativity in the arts to help cope with deeper issues around the subject.

Emily Dickinson lived a reclusive life. She barely left her parents’ home in her lifetime and during those years she spent a great deal of time writing hundreds of poems ranging in subject matter from birds to death. Dickinson’s relationship with her parents could be described as mostly normal considering her lifestyle as a hermit, locked away in her room. Her refusal to leave her room could be a strong anxiety such as agoraphobia or simply social rejection and an intentional cloistering of herself to focus on her writing work.

Her selective choices in wearing white, a color that symbolizes purity could be a hidden neurosis from her childhood and more likely an aspect of her id doing its best to make its presence know in the levels of her hidden psyche. There is a possibility of repressed memories from her childhood that seem to leak out into her poetry.

Dickinson’s work also lacks titling; that can be an aspect of a neurosis with deeper neuroses. The danger of this step is not having the live subject. Emily Dickinson died years before Freud’s work had be published and the likelihood of her being psychoanalyzed properly even if their time periods had coincided would be very unlikely. Dickinson would have never left the safety of her home, nor is it confirmed that she had a deep psychological problem; since she would not have seen a problem with herself she would not be likely to receive treatment.

Analysis of the work including a consideration of the tripartite psyche involves first the specifically odd meter of the work. The work is heavily dashed, creating rigid pauses during both visual analysis and aural analysis. Certain words as capitalized that normally would not be in any other work, such as “Fly” and “Stillness”. The tone of the poem is melancholic; death is not usually a subject in which joy is associated with.

The Fly in this work is not our narrator but acts almost like the oppressive superego, this lingering figure that does not affect the scene as a whole but provides a source of contemplation. The fly does not stop at the time of the narrator’s passing, an event normally regarded with great respect. In this case the narrator acts almost as both the ego, representing the self as Emily Dickinson and the id, representing the desire to want this moment of her life to be noticed more.

Dickinson’s had an odd fascination with death and morbidity throughout most of her life and many of her works revolve around the subject of death or dying. The tone of these works range from a quiet acceptance to a reverent happiness. Dickinson could have been said to have a fetish for death and morbidity. Fetish is not exactly a negative term; it is simply an affinity for an item. Most humans fear death as a subject and that reflects in our attitudes and writings when we encounter someone who is not afraid of the subject we mark this as social deviance. The fetish only became an aspect of social deviance through Freudian critique. Dickinson’s fetish for morbidity can be explained as either a strong acceptance of her own mortality or an even stronger fear of the subject that is expressed through poetry as a coping mechanism.

Sigmund Freud believed that all writers are neurotic, that deep within each line and word was a hidden defect of the subconscious, an imbalance or imperfection. Aristotle coined the term “catharsis” or healing, this is a more acceptable of an explanation than the neurosis of the Freudian model. A writer does write at times due to a defect or an issue that cannot be discussed in public. Emily Dickinson’s work “I heard a Fly buzz- when I died” can be described as a marked example of writing to help solve either a slight mental defect or to help assist healing of a profound fear.

Works Cited

Abcarian, Richard, and Maravin Klotz. Literature, the Human Experience: Reading and Writing. Boston: Bedford/St Martin’s, 2006. Print.

Bain, Carl E., Jerome Beaty, and J. Paul Hunter. The Norton Introduction to Literature. New York: Norton, 1986. Print.

Dickinson, Emily. “I heard a Fly buzz- when I died” Literature, the Human Experience: Reading and Writing. Ed. Richard Abcarian and Maravin Klotz. Boston: Bedford/St Martin’s, 2006. Print.

Freud, Sigmund. Ed.Rivkin, Julie. The Interpretation of Dreams Malden, Mass. u.a.: Blackwell, 2008. Print.

 

Nothing Exhausts Like a Microaggression

_Women are systematically degraded by receiving the trivial attentions which men think it manly to pay to the sex, when, in fact, men are insultingly supporting their own superiority._ Mary Wollstonecraft.png

You’re so pretty for a black girl.
You’re so well-spoken, I’m impressed.
You went to college? Amazing. Were you the first one in your family to do so?
Your hair is so straight! Is it like that naturally?
Did you grow up with both parents?
I only date black girls.
Those are just a few microaggressions and all things I’ve heard before in some form or fashion and all of them make my eyes roll so loudly that you may just be able to hear it from wherever you call home, dear reader.
Let’s talk about microaggressions.
A microaggression is a seemingly innocuous comment usually hurled at people of color that to the deliverer of the comment (typically a white person) does not seem problematic but to the person of color is either mildly or highly offensive.
The problem with microaggressions is that due to its mostly harmless appearing nature, it’s difficult to challenge them or call someone out on their statement. It doesn’t sound racist and overreacting is a surefire way to to essentially confirm many of the stereotypes attached to people of color (being sensitive, overreacting, being dramatic).
So today we’re going to go over a few microaggressions and we’re gonna discuss why they are problematic and how to respond to them if you encounter them in the wild!


You’re Pretty for a Black Girl/I’ve Never Dated a Black Girl/I Only Date Black Girls
Welcome to the beautiful world of exoticism, my friend. There’s nothing like a qualified compliment. I hear this one a lot from mostly white men and they mean well, they really do. But short of a little extra melanin, I’m not too far off from a white girl. I like comic books, video games, anime, costumes, I bake, I go through a book a week: none of those things have anything to do with race. Now, if it’s a statement about how “hood” one may be, well, that’s a whole different bag of troublesome. I’d also like to point out much of the irony in these sorts of statement. I as a black biological female who mostly dates white guys am frequently called a racist for it. But if a white man dates black women because of how “hot” they are, he just likes something different. And if a black man dates white women because black women are too “mean” or too “dramatic”, he just wants to avoid crazy. Thus proving that the patriarchy knows no bounds.
You’re So Well-Spoken./Did You Go to School?
Apparently, it’s a surprise that a black girl can read. Apparently, it’s still a surprise in 2018. Dear reader, if only you knew how my eyes do roll when I’m told that I’m well-spoken, intelligent or smarter than expected. I’ve been told I talk “white” which unless you have synesthesia, shouldn’t be a thing. I’m fortunate that I was always a curious kid. I’m lucky that I was able to go to college and finish school with a degree and I’m even more fortunate that I get to work in a field I love and studied for. I’m aware of all of my brothers and sisters regardless of race that are not able to do what I did: but a thinly veiled statement about how surprised you are because I am black and educated happens to be tiresome.
Did You Grow Up With Both Parents?
No. I did not. I was raised by my aunts and other family members. But Death was the factor that separated my family not a “deadbeat dad” or the American prison system. I’m aware of the stigma that any people of color have strained relationships with families: realistically, that’s a very universal thing. Sometimes families are not nuclear. And sometimes that’s okay. I am so lucky my aunts raised me after I lost my dad and I know plenty of well-adjusted people who happened to be missing a parent or two due to a myriad of reasons. I am not the person I am just because I’m a member of the Bruce Wayne Orphan Club and it’s never an excuse for anyone alive on this planet.
Is That What Your Hair Looks Like Naturally?/ Your Hair is So Pretty! Can I Touch It?
Nope, it sure is not. I get relaxers because I was told from a young age that I couldn’t be too black and I needed relaxers to fit a certain hegemony. I’ve been getting relaxers since I was 7 and now I’m somewhat dysphoric about my hair. I do not feel attractive or good when I have too much new-growth. Also, never try and touch a black woman’s hair or anyone’s hair without their explicit consent. If I had a dollar for every well-intended person who thought it appropriate to touch my hair…well, I wouldn’t have a day job. I feel even more for my brothers and sisters who go natural. Hell, even at times I’m tempted to touch Amber’s hair but I would never because most black women have hair full of secrets. Now, you are allowed to compliment my hair! I spend plenty of time and money on it for it to be seen. However asking if this is what it looks like naturally is naive. Also, please do not ask if it’s real or not…we’ve made excellent advances in weave technology for a reason.
Where Is Your Family From?
My family is from Texas and Alabama and I have family all across this great nation, even on up in Yankee territory. Oh, you meant like which part of Africa? Good question! You see, there’s a problem when a person is not considered a whole person for over 100 years and continued systemic racism suppresses any data or information about them: it’s hard to find records. Now, I can get a DNA test and find out based on genetics and such but I personally have very little interest in where in the Motherland I came from. That being said, I do have a DNA Kit in the trunk. Who knows, maybe I’ll use it.

Do You Celebrate Kwanzaa?
No, my family has been Catholic and/or Christian for decades. My Father was Baptist and ended up at an anti-science fundamentalist Church in North Texas that wouldn’t let me read Harry Potter or play Pokemon as a kid and Mom was born, married and buried Catholic. I’m a lapsed Catholic but a Catholic at that. And while yes, I am black, I celebrate Christmas like any other Christian and I eat an entire Advent Calendar on Christmas Eve like any other bad Catholic.

You Have a White Name!/You Don’t Have an Ethnic Name.

No, you are right. I do not and that was very intentional. And the idea that a black woman should have a more “ethnic” name is troubling for a startling list of reasons. I was given my name because it fits me and my family. There have been plenty of studies that confirm what many black men and women knew forever: having names that are too ethnic does sometimes stifle you as far as opportunities go. It shouldn’t, but it does. Also, feel free to ask where my last name came from: the answer is slavery.


Microaggressions suck for an enumeration of reasons, mostly because they maintain a certain level of exoticism to people of color that we thought was lost in the Victorian era. It calls back to a day when people of color were spectacles and were described lushly while simultaneously being enslaved and mistreated. There’s plenty of blatant and labored discussion of how beautiful many slave owners found their slaves: but not beautiful enough to consider a full legal human until 1865. And they don’t just happen in Tinder conversations: they happen at work, on the bus, at the bus stop, in coffee shops, in bars, in Ubers and more. And while it may be petty to clock a microaggression, handling such things with grace is at times difficult.
And sure, there will be plenty who say I’m being too sensitive and that microaggressions aren’t real and that they were invented by libertard beta cucks or by militant feminists (which is a thing!) but rest assured, microaggressions are real, happen often and they do wear on the soul.

The New Normal

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” ― Margaret Mead.png

In 2016, a long-brewing storm began to stir to life.

In 2017, that storm broke ground.

In 2018, we are still in the process of coping with this deluge.


That storm that I did my best to analogize is the #MeToo movement and the wave of individuals stating that they have been sexually harassed or assaulted by people in power or celebrities.

Now, I’m not here to talk about the movement itself; I’m here to talk about its effects as someone who has been at the end of more sexual harassment than I like admitting.

Today, we’re here to talk about the storm and what it means for all of us left in its wake.

But there’s one thing that needs to be said immediately before we can go any further. 

Sexual harassment isn’t new.

This is not something that started last year, 10 years ago, or even 100 years ago. For as long as there has been the patriarchy, there has been forms of harassment. There are old rituals that were for “fertility” that now would essentially just be bride-kidnapping. Look at Lupercalia. Men in wolf skins run round and whip each other and women for the sake of fertility. Well, if a man in a wolf skin came anywhere near me now, despite me being a Classics student, I would absolutely call the police.

And as societies change, our attitudes on courting rituals changed. There is not a universal definition of rape and while many places agree loosely on what consent, there are always a few that seem to have less strict definitions on the act. Even though, universally, most understand the difference between “No” and “Yes”. 

Let’s start with what many will agree was the canary in the coal mine for all of this: Bill Cosby. Cosby was America’s black dad. He was non-threatening, intelligent and funny in a family sort of way. He seemed wholesome. He seemed like a good person.  He seemed non-threatening. We were all very wrong. Women recently began to claim that Cosby drugged and assaulted them. But many did not believe these women, there are still people that don’t believe these women despite Cosby being on trial now for his crimes. How could America’s chill black dad be a monster? Turns out, he could be a monster pretty easily and now most who read the news regularly enough know that he’s a monster and don’t question such a fast. And now we are left with this hollow shell of a reminder that someone once beloved is now nothing short of a villain.

Because let’s not mince words, one man’s flattery is another woman’s sexual harassment and that brings us back to #MeToo and the continued predation that directors, writers and producers have used to manipulate and control their actors both male and female. The stories are tragic, heartbreaking and exhausting and all of them are believable.

So what do we do now that this is our new normal?

I’d like to present an example near and dear to my heart: Quentin Tarantino.

Tarantino is…eccentric and he’s actually one of my favorite directors of all time and the creator of some of the finest films this generation has seen in my humble opinion. In a scene in Inglorious Basterds he is shown choking one of his actresses with his own bare hands because he was the only one who could do it just right. He famously berated and endangered Uma Thurman during the filming of both Kill Bill movies (some of my favorite films of all time). And even though we knew that he was a tough director and had less than ideal interactions with actresses: he was an artist. Hell, in a past life I praised him for that scene in Inglorious Basterds. It takes vision to realize that only your hands look good choking the life out of an actress.

But after Uma Thurman came out and provided a much needed humanizing voice about the actual horror that happened behind the camera. Suddenly, many of these scenes that were once praised are now tainted under a new darker lens.

And honestly, that can be said about many directors. Stanley Kubrick terrorized more than one actress during the filming of his excellent filmography. Alfred Hitchcock terrorized several of his actresses while he was making moves that would change cinema forever. But in their day, and in books, articles and interviews: that was just what it took to get the scene and they were visionaries for it. And that doesn’t even include all the microaggressions producers and directors have used to get the scene just right.

And 10, 20, 30 or more years ago: that was fine.

It was perfectly acceptable for such behavior.

One problem: it isn’t now.

So where do we go from here?

I’m not being cynical at all by saying it’s exhausting living in a world where suddenly everyone you looked up to is a monster. That is not said to minimize the allegations, they are all very valid, but as we judge older social mores by current views: how will we continue to move forward as lovers of media and hell, just as folks who lover conversation?

I’m not one that often enjoys hearing that the world is too politically correct now. To me, that’s an excuse often used by men who are out of touch and need a convenient line after they’ve said something repugnant.

I’m happy we are now in an era where a woman or man who screams “harassment” is listened to. I’m happy we are now in an era where a woman or man of color can say that they have experienced hardships because of their race. I am thrilled that LGBTQIA folks can candidly discuss the issues they face with great dignity daily.

I’m concerned that we will only continue to look on the actions of the past with harsher scrutiny. But that concern is tempered with hope. I do worry that some more nuanced things are lost in the conversation. I do worry that we may just one day become too politically correct.

But this is where we are now. Daily, more and more people come out against those who are famous and not so famous. Daily, we make steps in the right direction. Sure, sometimes those steps mean we stumble. But every single damn day we move forward so that one day, a little cosplayer will never have to face the harassment I did. We are reaching towards a day that an actress will never be preyed upon for the sake of advancing her career. We are quickly approaching that day.

And I welcome it.

 

Harassment vs. Compliments

“I'd rather take coffee than compliments just now.” ― Louisa May Alcott, Little Women.png

There’s a bus driver on my route almost every week day. He greets me when I’m at my least human and can only manage to grumble at him like Grendel does through his novel and makes sure I arrive safely downtown. And as I skitter off the bus, he says to me:

“Have a good day, mija.”

Now many of you who stuck around for my series last year on sexual harassment, you may think I bristle at such attention. Not at all. I accept his comments every day and do my best to be gracious despite my at times hellish commute.

So that makes for an interesting question that I feel shouldn’t need to be asked: but hey if we all answered questions like that, we’d never find out that salted caramel is a delicious option and that red wine and cola is a sin. With today’s current…climate, let’s call it, let’s have a candid discussion about what constitutes harassment and what is just a person being nice.

Now, here’s where this topic gets messy. It is highly subjective and highly personal.

Let’s try two scenarios. Picture yourself in them. Or you can picture me in them. Either is fine.


Scenario 1: You are waiting for your stop while on the bus. A man stares at you. He smiles. It’s somewhat unnerving, but it is a smile. You do not return his advances and once you reach your stop, he follows you. It is not his stop. He gets off abruptly. He rushes to reach you. He finally catches up to you and says: “Hey, beautiful.” you do return his greeting but flatly. His next statement is more intense: “You wanna be my girl?” this time, you flat out reject him. He continues following you for a few more paces down the sidewalk and you duck into a local coffee shop to avoid being cornered by him.

Scenario 2: You are sitting at a local cafe. You are at a table alone. A man offers to join you. You turn him down at first but upon further inspection, you notice that he is reading one of your favorite authors. You invite him to join you. You talk. He is forward but not in a way that bothers you. He says more than one forward thing, in fact, but none of them are irksome. He asks for your number and you accept his offer.


These two scenarios are probably a little more clear but now let’s let the lines blur some.

And we’ll go back to our mostly friendly bus driver.

Scenario 1: A bus driver you routinely see greets you in a friendly way and calls you a non-offensive diminutive name as you leave the bus.

Scenario 2: A man on a local park bench regularly calls you a diminutive name as you pass by.


This one is tricky because realistically, what makes the bus driver situation passable is the fact that the bus driver is in an authority position. He means well wish I hop off the bus or nearly run into a stop sign. In that instance, I’m a young (not too young) woman in a big city that he sees regularly.  The man on the bench? That’s another story. Even though he may not mean any harm, I don’t exactly enjoy hearing “Hey, baby.” from a random park vagrant.


Let’s take the conversation down one more level. Here’s a phrase and I want you to imagine it in as possibilities as you can.

That’s a nice dress. You look good in it.

I know  the default voice in my head that read that was not as a kind compliment but as a catcall. But I’m also aware that it can mean many different things on different days. If I’m feeling that dress, even if it’s a forward statement: I may be more receptive. If you happen to catch me on the more likely occasion of me wishing to blend into the background of my bus seat: then I may not be as kind to such a statement, though I’ll almost never be outwardly cold to anyone who “means well” (My resting bitch face and deeper voice for a lady do that just fine for me.).


And that’s what makes this whole discussion so strained. It’s highly subjective. The difference between a harmless instance of flirting, someone trying to genuinely connect and a catcall are sometimes as simple as how I am feeling on that particular day. And I know that’s frustrating for men to hear. Rest assured, the same can be said about female to female interactions. I’m if anything more put off by a woman calling me by a diminutive at times while I’ve also been clocked more than once for casually calling a woman “doll” and “hun” almost out of reflex because despite my views I am Southern as hell.

And in this somewhat muddy environment, it’s difficult to know when someone is being too sensitive or when someone has gone too far.

But here’s where I take an issue and here’s the whole point of this.

It shouldn’t have to be like this at all.

If I’m at a bar and have no issue with a person laying it on thick, that’s acceptable. If I am put off by someone trying way too hard at Travis Park, that is also perfectly acceptable.

Now what can possibly help the conservation is a base level of acceptance that a human’s feelings are most of the time valid. I do not owe any person an explanation as to why I am okay with one instance versus another. And as long as I am mostly kind, not breaking any laws and mostly tactful: my annoyance at one act versus another is valid, fair and my own.

I get rightfully annoyed when any human tells me I should smile more. You should hear the story of me telling my Uncle exactly how I felt on the matter. (If you ask nicely, I may tell it in the comments.)

And there’s plenty to be said about it being a bit generational as well. Older folks do tend to think they are just being nice. Many of the times I’ve been called something diminutive or told something that I find questionable: it’s by someone older. Back in their day, when the dinosaurs roamed, it was perfectly fine to tell a woman that she should wear makeup; she’d be prettier if she did. Back in their day, it was fine to call any woman you see by a pet name. Back in their day, it was fine for an older woman to demand a younger lady wear heels or to cover up their shoulders.

That was back in their day.

I’m from a cusp generation here in the South. As I was younger, many of those behaviors were still perfectly acceptable in North Texas. My great-grandma regularly commented on how nice it was that I wasn’t too dark. That was a compliment to her. My mom’s old Air Force office lady friends would often make comments on my weight as a small one. That was perfectly sound advice. Another great-grandma was very concerned over the fact that by 17, I was not marriage. By her standards, I was at risk of dying alone.
As I grew older, I found myself annoyed with such comments from men and women but accepted it as part and parcel of existence on this planet. I started cosplaying which meant that I grew to accept sexual harassment as a natural part of being a biological female in costume. It wasn’t until much later and in empowering younger cosplayers and fans that I had to stand up for myself because it made no sense for me to preach a higher standard of self-confidence to my kouhai than I believed in for myself.

The generation after me likely will have very different views on what is a compliment, what harassment is and what it means for someone to be aggressive or a potential assailant.  And in this current political climate where it seems as every single person you have ever looked up to is likely a garbage human (I firmly believe most of the allegations that have come out against most reported garbage humans.).

Next time, we’ll discuss this new higher standard more in depth.

 

Make Anime Weird Again

_This place has only three exits, sir_ Madness, and Death._ — René Daumal (A Night of Serious Drinking) (1).png

Late last year, during one of Carlos and I’s famous hours long Skype calls, we ended up having a pretty profound discussion. You see, as two longtime anime fans, we were both a little exhausted by the recent trends in fandom. Shows like Yuri On Ice and Attack on Titan have brought muggles into our fair community. And while Carlos and I lamented the glory days of anime being strange and exclusive, a brilliant little anime strolled into my queue and actually at Carlos’ recommendation.

I want to talk about Pop Team Epic and making anime weird again.

But first, I want to talk about anime, the surreal and the strange. One of my favorite animes of all time is FLCL. It’s at its core a coming of age story but also features penis allegory robots, a giant steam-powered alien iron that wants to smooth out the wrinkles of human thought and a woman with pink hair on a Vespa who goes around hitting people with a guitar. Anime at its core has always been a little weird. And that can be said about animation in general, but anime’s weirdness is oftentimes a huge barrier to entry for many casual fans. Even excellent animes like Cowboy Bebop and FullMetal Alchemist have very strange parts to them and I’m empathetic to newcomers who are put off by some of the cultural eccentricities of Japanese popular culture.

This is probably going to sound a lot like fan-gating to those in the know and, yes, it is a form of that. When people who are not well-versed in anime critique and comment on anime, you get fresh hot takes like “Anime has a representation problem.” and “why are none of these women wearing pants?” True, holding anime and manga to a higher standard is important. I can be a feminist and struggle with poorly written female characters while also admitting that culturally Japan is very different than the U.S. in 2018.  I came into anime as a little one and struggled a great deal as a fan in the early 2000s when it wasn’t cool to be an otaku. I built anime clubs, made friends, cosplayed and went to conventions to find people who were like me. And popular animes that bring in casual fans can at times muddy the waters. There’s nothing like seeing someone who teased you in high school over a Naruto t-shirt back in the day suddenly saying that love JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure. And while that may be somewhat immature to say, I’ve never said claimed to be a perfect human being.

Which brings us to Pop Team Epic. The show centers around two main characters: Pipimi and Popuko and they are surprisingly expressive considering their minimalist designs. The show is now an animated version of the popular 4-Koma webcomic and it follows many of the comic’s best gags and jokes. It’s a weird one and it’s hilariously referential and meta. There are gags that barely count as gags. Each episode is mirrored with male and female voice actors playing two teenage girls. There are crappy segments (intentionally bad ones) in the middle of each episode and there are jokes. So many jokes. And many of them are at the expense of other popular anime, video games and fan trends. Popuko many times calls fans “haters” and it’s actually quite interesting to see. I’m not normally one for self-aware humor and non-sequitur gags but for some reason, it all works for me in Pop Team Epic. And it probably is one of the best mines for reaction gifs that I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing in a while. Did I mention that the soundtrack is surprisingly good?

I love how unapproachable this anime is. You have to really love comics, really love anime and really love video games to catch all the references and hell, I don’t get all the references. And the humor is often dry and doesn’t go anywhere. The animation is crappy at times, but it’s intentional and the voice acting is strange and strained. The comments about how awful the show can be is rarely lost on me and if you are looking for consistent payoff for jokes, look elsewhere.

And there are plenty times where I’ll end an episode of Pop Team Epic and have no idea what just happened. It’s strange that I’d be so attached to a show like this considering that other shows with humor like that (think Rick and Morty) are not usually shows I enjoy or overly meta shows (continue to think Rick and Morty).

Watching Pop Team Epic reminds me a lot of how many people felt watching Luke Cage over on Netflix. Many said that Luke Cage was unapproachable and “too black” and to anyone who said that (mostly casual white comic book fans), you are right. He is unapproachable and too black. That’s how his character is meant to be. The same can be said for Pop Team Epic. Anyone who says “This anime makes no sense, is poorly animated and is weird.”; congratulations, you are right. It is poorly animated, makes no sense and is weird and if you cannot appreciate it for what it is, then maybe you should try something a little more mainstream. There’s nothing wrong with that. I still love plenty of mainstream animes. And that’s not to say that Pop Team Epic is some secret handshake between the “OG” otakus, there are plenty of long-time anime fans who are put off by the series and basically any actual criticism lobbed at the show is probably understandable.

But you know what? It is also nice to have something that makes anime feel intimate again. There’s something nice about having an anime that is too weird, too good and too strange to live. It’s nice having something that not everyone understands and feeling like some strange unicorn again.

Just for once, it’s nice to feel like anime is special, rare and unique again.