The bias in anime – Social representation of elitism

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The elites: Scourges of society. Wait… what?

Before you think I am writing about how there is elitism among anime fans, I assure you not, because you can read the posts here, here, here and here. There is no place for me to talk about it.

This topic actually came about after watching Kaichou wa Maid-sama, and I noticed a trend in anime that I never bothered with. I realize that the elites in most anime is portrayed as either malicious or evil, as though they can do no good. Of course, Kaichou wa Maid-sama is a light and fluffy series that simply provides this stereotype. Yet, if we take step back, this is a very common stereotype in which elites are derided when the main characters are the elite (in the case of Special A) or scourges (when the enemies of the main characters are elite characters). Why is there such a strong and biased representation of elitism in the anime we watch?

Before we go on with a discussion, it is always good to operationalize what we define as elitism.

Elitism is the belief or attitude that those individuals who are considered members of the elite — a select group of people with outstanding personal abilities, intellect, wealth, specialized training or experience, or other distinctive attributes — are those whose views on a matter are to be taken the most seriously or carry the most weight; whose views and/or actions are mostly likely to be constructive to society as a whole; or whose extraordinary skills, abilities or wisdom render them especially fit to govern.

To look at it superficially, a spin-off from the typical storyline of good vs evil is the feel-good story of a rag-to-riches story. The typical story runs like this. It is where a poor child, despite all the oppression that the rich society imposes on this child, continues to move ahead and push through the boundaries against the evil elite. The elite can do no right, which makes you think why they are the elite in the first place if they have almost no redeeming abilities. Eventually, the boy manages to break free from the clutches of the elite, and becomes a strong leader for the masses.

Sorry for the digression here as we return to the title proper. It is similar in anime, particularly in comedy and school life anime. Elitism, as an issue, is always used for comedic effort, and stank a lot in terms of stereotypes. It annoys me, and apparently, RV too. Let me quote her comment in the blog post on Kaichou wa Maid-sama Episode 7.

For the record, most of us are tired of the usual ‘elite schools are bad, elite schools are arrogant’ anvilicious messages. Show some originality, Maid-sama.

However, I cannot help but feel that there’s something deeper underlying the situation. As I thought about the target audience of anime, it makes perfect sense. Who is the target audience? Are there office workers who are slogging off every little bit of energy they have left everyday? Are these viewers unemployed workers who cannot secure a job? Are these viewers students who cannot socialize in the mainstream, and feels hatred for the social elite? Are these viewers hikikomori which are social recluses? These are all possible audiences for anime. They are all likely to represent the lower or middle class citizen, albeit in a country where there is a lower income gap between the rich and the poor compared to the world. Is that an expected reflection of society in a warped manner?

Yet, is that an accurate portrayal of the social norms happening in our society? Perhaps, it is but it seems almost like we are pandering to the masses by rubbishing the effort of these elites (be it students or whatever) and demonizing them for simplifying things. I feel that the animation companies and particularly the mangaka/source artist probably is trying to reinforce this social norm onto viewers and readers of their products. Under the hilarious facade of comedy anime, the subliminal message sent through to our youth is worrying.

I am extremely disturbed.

Reverse Vampire:

Ok, Impz and I have a talk a moment ago about phones until he told me to get my opinions on elitism. Back to being relevant, I’m still quite puzzled on how the education system is like in Japan. I heard that rich students go to elite schools (Even if they fail EVERY. SINGLE. SUBJECT. I was first puzzled with the education system while watching Maria Holic when our dear lesbian heroine fail all her papers in a prestigious Catholic school. Yes. She FAILED every single one of them. Wonder what the principal of the school took when s/he gets high.)

Before we move on, Secondary School = High School. We’re not Americans, people.

If you’re poor and still managed to attend an elite school (For Singaporeans, you know the schools; RI, Nanyang Girls, Raffles Girls, Hwa Chong Institution, Dunman High School etc.), you’re still considered as elite too. Being rich and elite might be associated together, since you can be academically elite without being rich.

Don’t get this wrong; my country (Singapore, to be specific) view any student’s examination results MUCH more important than your financial background before being posted to another school. The lower your scores, chances are you will enter a mediocre school. The higher your scores, there are higher chances of you entering a renowned school. That’s how some other countries’ education system works too, I guess. Do take note that I came from a neighborhood school. Don’t get this wrong, it doesn’t mean I’m incapable of getting good grades. Oh the secondary school memories…

The representation of elitism in anime goes far beyond school-based anime. Even fantasy-oriented, military-oriented and sci-fi-oriented did show signs of elitism, sometimes the villains are portrayed as elite, rich and powerful.

So could anyone recommend me any anime series which depicts realism in Japan’s education system? Or some other anime series not portraying elites as corrupted or evil? Most of the school-based anime I’ve watched in my entire life aren’t realistic enough, so I just want to expose myself in the realities of other countries’ school systems.

But to respond Impz’s comments above, I have this hunch that a number of anime series are sending this underlying message to children that ‘If you are rich, you can do anything you want. Even getting away with trouble and law-defying crimes. If you are poor, too bad. Life’s unfair anyway.’ Is this a message you want your kids to abide to when they grow up and be misers for the rest of their adult lives?

Well, I have been doing a little research about Japan society. It’s quite a no brainer that living in Japan is costly, especially when expenses are high (Since probably very few people wants to make babies all because of living expenses and its bleak society. It’s the same in Singapore with their low birth rate of 8.82 out of 1000. Last taken in 2009.. Note that the birth rate ranks dip lower and lower every year.) I think the birth rate’s a little higher for Japan than Singapore’s dreaded birth rate, based on my textbooks. Perhaps of this impression, maybe many mangaka take elitism as either some sort of desired want or a painful sore in the eye.

Well, viewers, tell us what you think. We like to hear you out and this may be some food for thought.

Crusader

My suspicion is that if you are watching anime more likely than not you probably do or will have to work for a living, hence I guess the need for authors of creative works to ingratiate themselves to the lowly plebeians that form a large part of their market, because oil sheik rich people have different interests than the common folk sans World Cup and Apple Products. Besides it’s easy to hate on the nebulous elite who run this world to the ground and having been in the company of some tea party enthusiasts the “elite” are a favored kind of whipping boy because poor folks like to feel morally and at times physically superior to those poncy elites who have all the money and all the power, or at least so we like to think.

I don’t find it worrying because there is a natural tendency to hate on those who have it better than ourselves, I think a lot of it stems from jealousy or at least a feeling of indignation that their only saving grace was having been born into wealth and power. It’s also why we have tabloids about celebrities and I for one confess to taking particular joy at celebrities ruining their lives and killing their careers. Also rappers tend to be a comedic lot especially when you see what they spend their money on. At this moment while Justin Bleiber has peaked in his teens I would be lying if I said that I wasn’t eagerly awaiting his demise. Also if you defeat these supposed elite doesn’t that then make one super elite?

I think for the most part shoujo has more plebeians going out to make it big since it’s much more relate-able to identify with characters of modest income since it makes that journey to achieve one’s dreams all the more rewarding (kind of like a retelling of Cinderella only the ugly step sisters and ugly step mom have been replaced by elite students since the evil one can’t be the hot shoujo Dad or HAWT single Mom). Even if the average shoujo heroine has regrettably never heard of Master Asia, his query, “What is the meaning of victory if one hasn’t suffered?” holds true at least for the plot. Outside of shoujo I can think of a few instances where rich elite people weren’t irredeemable, Mugi-can from K-On, Chikane from Kannazuki no Miko, Alphard from Canaan, Roger Smith from Big O, Spoor from Crest of the Stars, Bruce Wayne aka Batman, Tony Stark aka Iron Man, etc. Besides if you live in a democracy your probably inclined to think having an elite is utter bullshit and undemocratic, but for me at least their is one elite I will tolerate and venerate, and that would be the elite Special Forces of these United States.

If you really have very little going for you it is much easier to blame others for your own failings even if they had nothing to do with why you failed. People less well off will have at least a bit of hostility towards the rich elite, hence why it was the poor dirt farmers who rallied to the banner of Godless Communism (and these days to Godless SOCIALISM) and made it happen instead of the workers who were less numerous and a little better off in the places where they decided to go two steps forward and one step back, and then changed their tune to ” Some will get rich first.”

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34 Comments

  1. Posted May 19, 2010 at 3:31 am | Permalink

    I see a different thing going on, which doesn’t invalidate anything you say here as far as I’m concerned.

    David vs. Goliath

    There exists a cult of the underdog in our cultures. We sympathize with David, which is contextually at a disadvantage in his conflict. Contextually. We know how that story ended, and we know who we rooted for.

    In the stories involving elites, the device used to create the perceived power disparity is social layers, which involve wealth, privilege, and status. Denying these to the protagonist makes her sympathetic almost automatically; there’s little work left to do.

    However, the real contest involves powers and abilities and almost always the protagonist exceeds those of her antagonists. The antagonists may have access to external resources, but the resources that count in the reckoning of the contest are internal ones; if not in the narrative per se, but in the hearts and minds of the viewers.

    The construction of these narratives is a rigged fight. There is no Goliath, or, there are only giants involved in the main conflict (the other ‘authentic’ Davids are those protected by or championed by the protagonist).

    • Posted May 19, 2010 at 4:37 am | Permalink

      Gotta agree with ghostlightning here, but for an entirely different reason here.

      While there’s this cult of the underdog thing happening in Asia and elsewhere, in Japan, it’s particularly prevalent, and it’s not because people love to root for the underdog.

      When we’re considering that this is anime we’re talking about, and that most of it’s viewers TODAY are the so-called “losers” of society, the “David vs Goliath” metanarrative is being used not to bolster will or give hope (as in the old days of super robot anime when children were watching), but to milk money out of the viewership. Give them a little false hope, and they’ll come running, wallets open and bank accounts ready, to people who seemingly “understand” their plight.

      It’s very easy for them to get caught up in the fantasy worlds of anime and manga (and eroge, lol), when your reality is bleak. Heck, that’s why Japan has a bloody high amount of alcoholics, smokers and the like. It’s why Kotick has so much money, he can afford to sue the pants off the former Infinity Ward devs for trying to make off with the CoD IP when he didn’t pay them their bonuses. (since WoW makes so much money.)

      Addiction happens when people don’t, refuse to, or cannot see a way out of their troubles. But I’m probably simplifying the situation.

      • Impz
        Posted May 19, 2010 at 5:08 am | Permalink

        I think there is a proverb that has the meaning that when someone loses complete hope, he or she seeks for something to blame. I do not think most people are that extreme, but there is always a class divide among the elite and the common folk. It’s apparent in Singapore, and perhaps in many countries where the rich, smart and affluent will never meet anyone that is poor and lack education. They cannot understand you, just as you cannot understand their world.

        Sadly, I think what you say has some truth in it. I sincerely wish that is not the full truth.

    • Impz
      Posted May 19, 2010 at 4:59 am | Permalink

      @Ghosty: Yes, I think it totally reinforces what I said. What I feel though is that it can be seen as a form of lazy writing or plot lines (who doesn’t like the typical David vs Goliath type of story). However, I feel that the issue might be much deeper than what it was. As I quote RV’s comment,

      ‘If you are rich, you can do anything you want. Even getting away with trouble and law-defying crimes. If you are poor, too bad. Life’s unfair anyway.’

      That is the underlying thing that disturbs me a lot. The cult of the underdog also showcases the parallels, the hated elite. That concerns me and the message that it sends out.

  2. Posted May 19, 2010 at 4:02 am | Permalink

    Hmm…

    I watched lots of Asian dramas. I think this is an Asian trend. I noticed that the rich are those who take advantage of the poor. Its always the less fortunate who is always oppressed and triumphs in the end.

  3. d3v
    Posted May 19, 2010 at 4:59 am | Permalink

    Having gone to a exclusive Chinese Catholic Asian (the elite trifecta in parts of Asia) boys high school, I can say that this seems to be an Asian thing. I recall always feeling a sense of separation from students from other, lower class schools and I’m sure they did as well. Considering that they’re a larger demographic, it’s pretty easy to see why they’re pandered too, sadly.

    • Impz
      Posted May 19, 2010 at 5:05 am | Permalink

      You know what disturbs me? I was somewhat considered to be an elite in university because I did well enough to be on the Dean’s list. Before the commencement of the second year of my studies, no one knew who I was. I was a low profile student and no one really knew who I was simply because I kept to a few close buddies that had the same interests as I am.

      After that, I had people gossiping behind me, saying that I am arrogant, stuck up and that I possess an elite mentality. Worst of all, some of my friends are seen as sticking to me so that they can improve their grades. It was a completely sad situation, and I really see how anime reinforces and provides another outlet to present the ugly side of life. Yes, you can say that it is all cool for the underdog to prevail, but why must there be a good vs evil? Why must there be a bad side? It’s too cheap a plot to always do that in series, because you are sending a very bad message to the target group, the youths, who are watching this.

      Does it mean doing well in studies is supposed to be wrong? Why are people criticizing someone who works hard (some people are adamant that I do not study at all), did well in his exams, and being happy about it? If we translate that to Kaichou wa Maid-sama or any other anime/drama that portrays elites in a negative manner, you can see how scary the subliminal message is.

      • Kherubim
        Posted May 19, 2010 at 6:17 am | Permalink

        Impz, you may have heard of the saying “The nail that sticks out gets hammered down”.

        There is some form of a caste system operating in Singapore schools, perhaps consciously or unconsciously perpetuated by parents, educators and even the students themselves. I have heard some nasty stories about the caste system from some of my friends who went to these elite schools with GEP students, and even though my friends are intelligent, articulate and have since become successful professionals in their own right, they were made to feel like retards by their teachers in comparison to those “Scions of Heaven, Children of the GEP”. There are probably better sources for you to hunt down cases of this elitism than my own anecdotal, unverified stories.

        In the case of the Japanese education system, it might be that these elite schools are feeders to elite universities, and getting into these basically turns one into a “Made Man” for life, since these colleges have an old boy network of corporate head honchos and politicians making the hiring decisions. I would almost compare it to that piece of paper at 18 years old in Singapore determining your fate (or CEP) the same way, but then there are probably better sources for research in that direction too…

        • d3v
          Posted May 20, 2010 at 12:15 am | Permalink

          It’s not just in Singapore, over here in the Philippines. You’re future can be pretty much determined by which schools you go to, from high school, all the way to college. Most students in the top “elite” colleges are usually also from “elite” high schools. It’s to the point where going to a certain school is like entering an elite club that open doors that you wouldn’t be able to enter otherwise. Another sad fact is that the schools themselves seem to promote/perpetuate this culture, especially since it tends to guarantee that alot of student will try to enroll just to be a part of that club.

          • Impz
            Posted May 20, 2010 at 8:25 am | Permalink

            In Singapore, they are trying to move further away from this elite system but it is so ingrained in society that it is impossible. Even in comedy drama series made by the local media companies, the elite is often seen as snooty, picky and the common folk dislikes them. They often have weird hobbies or personalities, and is always portrayed as either evil or warped. Why?

            I am sure that anyone else in other developed countries will give me a similar scenario. However, why must we present that status quo. Are the common people so insecure of themselves that they have to boost their ego by subjecting these supposed elite to a certain degrading stereotype?

      • Posted May 19, 2010 at 7:27 am | Permalink

        …Impz being arrogant. I cannot imagine it, much less see it. He’s just about the nicest guy I’ve ever met.

        Now, personally, I do interact with elites and half the time, they’re actually nice people (Special Forces inclusive, even though people would love to beg to differ.) I rarely have issues with my bosses and there’s only one elite I know of with an elitist mentality and well, I don’t go near his little corner of the Internet.

        To me, it’s less of your achievements and more of your character and attitude you adopt that defines a man.

        To put it crudely, I don’t give two shits about what you have done in the past, but how you behave in front of people that makes me see who you really are. You could be from RI or ITE, A Commando or a footslogging clerk, but if you act like a dick to everyone you know, you’re fortunate I don’t go ballistic on your ass.

  4. Posted May 19, 2010 at 6:30 am | Permalink

    I would probably disagree with a lot of people on this particular arc of the story in saying this is just about an elitism. At the base of the story is an economic argument; Misa’s family is poor, so she has to go to a cheap school and work at a maid café to support them. After Usui’s confession in the last episode, the writer’s decided to generate a conflict.

    The rich-versus-poor bias in storytelling isn’t something unique to anime, it’s just a cultural thing. The modern form is just a lot of what ghostlightning said above.

  5. Posted May 19, 2010 at 7:20 am | Permalink

    @ Crusader: I think you forgot Tomoyo from CCS. She’s quite a good friend to Sakura despite being an elite.

    Well, sometimes it’s your fault that these mistakes are allowed to seep in. No one’s perfect in this world.
    Developed Asian nations such as Singapore and Japan’s divorce rates are higher than marriage rates (Just go to any search engine, you’ll see what I mean), it’s a competitive world after all. And women would only want to get married in their 30s and give birth later. Worse, they want their child to be an elite, since no one wants to be left behind being weak and being called a ‘loser’ by others. That is what’s happening in our world.

    But I’m not trying to say those who can’t catch up are doomed in the future. Keep moving on, who knows what kind of good surprises you’ll face in a couple of years’ time.

    • Posted May 19, 2010 at 7:42 am | Permalink

      RV: That’s the problem regarding people nowadays. It’s either the siren call of materialism or the need for image. Inside all of us is a void that cannot be filled by mere human things.

      The problem here is that people want to feel significant. If one can find a path to significance, then they’ll work at it without realizing that it either could have been the wrong path or when they finally do get there, they then realize that it was not worth the effort.

      And before I wax philosophical and/or religious, here’s a sobering thought: Elite, poor, or somewhere in between, you’re going to die anyway. There’s no use in worrying in such things since you WILL die someday.

  6. Mel
    Posted May 19, 2010 at 7:21 am | Permalink

    Oh man thanks. For me elites are these guys who excel in studies and posses the ability to lead / create the future not just be in the future.
    So well, I am part of this elite and I don`t mind because creation is much more rewarding than witnessing.
    I was born with my abilities, I didn`t steal them from any other person. Just treat everybody as human beings.
    I never cared about grades, I never tried to reach the A+ in school because there was no benefit in it. I just made sure, I`ll be able to choose the path I want to take.
    We actually tend to not talk about grades and we don`t have any rankings in school nor universities where grades are mapped to students. Actually this is strictly forbidden since grades are a private business.

    Here comes the German way: kids until 6 go playing the whole day, then they visit 4 years an elementary school. After that they are distributed to the three (or more) different German school types. One of them leads directly to university in 8 (old: 9) years with a specific teaching schedule.
    But: pupils coming from more practice oriented school types (6 years long) are allowed more or less to change to this special school or to visit special 2-3 years school which will give them the right to attend university as well.
    (PISA says, the early partitioning is the reason for the flaws in our system.)
    The ability to switch is connected to grades but also to the wish of the student and the opinions of the teachers, since grades cannot reflect the whole person.
    Over 90% (?) of German schools are public (= free), co-ed schools.
    If you are able to get the graduation for university, just enter one ^^. As long as the seats are not restricted locally or in the whole state like in medicine, pharmacy, .. you can choose your university freely, pay probably a very small fee and your university fun begins.
    If you are poor you`ll get money from the state to pay for your living (since you don`t need special tuition fees) but then you need to finish your studies in around 4,5 years. They don`t ask about your grades but about your financial background. You need to pay back that money but that is ok.
    Oh and when you fail a year in school too often, you will get transfered to the more practical schools etc (but you should be able to choose the specific school). But that can be quite complex, so i`ve got no clue about that.

    So well yeah, I was on a public school, which gave me permission for university and now I am on a public university. ( We have only small and really minor private universities in Germany) Graduates from my university are able to enter these Ivy League Colleges as PhD students quite frequently and it seems, they can hold their head quite high.
    So grades, money, terrifying entrance exams, cram schools even for the best? You can do without it.
    I won`t say. our system is the best. I do understand that other countries just don`t have the money to use some sort of that system so I am quite happy to live here since I hate senseless exams.
    Hm I can go on and on here :).
    In short: the whole school system in anime etc, not only this elitist school thing is something alien to me.

    Disrespecting a part of your society is the sign that you need to work on communication and their integration (not assimilation).

  7. Posted May 19, 2010 at 7:52 am | Permalink

    You most definately do have a point, but don’t you think you’re all taking this matter a little bit too seriously? Maid-sama is just a fun series full of fluff – nothing more than that really. The connection it has with the societal problems you are discussing are not impossible to see, but concerning the discussion of the anime itself… I don’t know… somewhat irrelevant?

    Still, enjoyed the read ^_^. Wish my english vocabulary was that big and colorful.
    Ciao, Sunagan

    • Impz
      Posted May 20, 2010 at 8:21 am | Permalink

      Not really. The whole point that a comedy series, which is filled with fun and fluff, manages to reinforce the stereotype just makes it even more sinister. The fact is that it has gone in so much in the conscious mind of the viewer that it is accepted to be a norm. That is what I am disturbed about. Why must they be always portrayed that way, serious or funny or whatever format it is. The fact that the presentation of elites in all mediums is so consistent must clearly sound out something really wrong with the value system of our media.

  8. Hana
    Posted May 19, 2010 at 8:30 am | Permalink

    So many sayings and quotes came to mind as I read this, but two in particular from the same source: ‘Really, if the lower orders don’t set us a good example, what on earth is the use of them?’; and ‘Never speak disrespectfully of Society… Only people who can’t get into it do that’ (Wilde). The first is a parody, but in the second one ‘Society’ can easily be swapped for ‘the elite’ and still makes sense in light of the possible subliminal message that people are picking up from most anime. The need for void-filling material things, jealousy, and the cult of the underdog/lazy storytelling are all likely reasons for this elite-hating, and I’ll add one more: the cult of the expert.

    Since manga/anime originates from certain developed East Asian countries that I have never been to, I’ll take other’s word for it that these countries have long had and still have endemic caste-systems that influence every layer of society, not least of all education. Neither am I an expert of German or Scandinavian models, but as with indeed the above, I’ve heard good things about these two. However we, as inhabitants of developed, TV-watching nations in general, seem to have developed a taste for an ‘expert’ figure to look to for guidance. Whether it’s celebrities (who may or may no longer be placed on a pedestal) or some other famous or knowledgeable figure, there are very few (for example) news, sports or reality TV shows that do not include an intimidating panel of ‘experts’ or ‘judges’ etc. to hash out and force their (elitist) viewpoints and judgments upon the rest of us folk. Us folk being the ones who wish to join said experts one day, or be even better than them. Specifically, in the entertainment genre, shows such as The Apprentice, American Idol, The X-factor, Dragons’ Den, and others in which ‘ordinary’ seek the praise of such elites and (via lucrative contracts) join them.

    Now re: anime shows, particularly shoujo/ school life, not only is there a desire to match or best such elite students/ members of society in general, but there is also the need to be recognized and valued as deserving of the successes and luxuries usually enjoyed by a select few, the elite. The same desire we see reflected in the other shows we watch. So I guess what I’m saying is that even though the-elite-are-all-evil-even-the-ones-who-worked-hard-to-get-there viewpoint message may exist in anime such as Maid-sama, perhaps it’s merely a reflection of another type of complicated need we have as social beings: to be perceived as both ‘normal’/’ordinary’ (good?) and ‘elite’ (not necessarily bad, but *insert appropriate alternative*?) or potential elite. And so the purpose of this perceived elite? Perhaps it is just ‘to set us a good example’, whether that example is seen as worth following, hating or ignoring by the rest of us.

  9. Matt
    Posted May 19, 2010 at 9:00 am | Permalink

    I might be commenting a little bit late to this convo, but ill add some two cents.

    Great article, I like the subject matter for sure and it brings up some good discussion.

    Elitism is interesting when it comes to the school system, but I think it has an important function. These schools need to exist, because there is enough of a world class consciousness that separates people into the various levels. There are always very strict gatekeepers to moving up. Let’s face it, the American dream is dead, rags to riches simply doesnt happen because there are so many people who are willing to stand in your way to beat you down. It is an old boys club for the most part, but there are a few ways in. Being Canadian and seeing the professional sports, they function as a social class adjuster that creates the illusion of little class barriers. Someone goes out and can play football really really good, they get drafted and make millions of dollars, the team doesnt care if they can do math or read, so long as they know the plays and can make the plays, but I digress, these people, usually from minorities or rough starters are able to leap over the hard working academic person, based on a trivial trait that causes success. Now that player and his family will live a better life, get a better education and stay in a higher class, all because of a golden arm, or leg etc.

    However, because of the way academic schools run, they function similar to sports for the academic-minded person. The elite schools will get you out with accreditation. They realize that their students more often then not are from rich families where failure and short coming don’t exist, so they are pumped out. This works as an advantage for lower class families, for if they can, they save like mad and get their offspring into a higher class school. This gets them two things, they are able to get the certificate from a better respected institution, but they also get to rub shoulders and meet rich people and make connections, for most of us know, it is who you know and not what you know.

    I find it interesting that the people who are drawing these anime demonize the rich and their institutions so much, because their existence lets the smart commoner be able to jump the line and get a bit ahead. The rich people need to reinforce their social standing, it would be expected of them to be crass and hating on the lower classes, for their position make them products of envy and makes them a goal to try and achieve. Friction would be natural, so the way they depict these characters do not bother me because the righteous persons who use their power and position for good are few and far between.

  10. iamTN
    Posted May 19, 2010 at 10:14 am | Permalink

    I think there are two main reasons why “elites” are shown as the bad guys. First is that almost all stories that are set in society has the positive message of making it a better place. Main character’s goal seems to all boil down to that. The generally accepted view is that the “elite” are the ones that have the most control, so if the world (or there part of the world) isn’t doing so well it’s their fault. Therefore they are the bad guys.

    The second reason is rather simple. A penny-less bad guy is too complicated, and don’t serve well as a simple disposable character that make the main characters look good. It’s easier to have some random rich snob be the target, no one will want to explore the snob’s backstory. Most people will just assume it’s yet another spoiled brat without a second thought.

    • Impz
      Posted May 20, 2010 at 8:25 am | Permalink

      You just opened my eyes. I totally agree with you :D

  11. maha
    Posted May 19, 2010 at 11:25 am | Permalink

    So I assume we are all Hayate no Gotoku fans here

  12. WhoBeMe
    Posted May 19, 2010 at 11:58 am | Permalink

    Unfortunately, I can only really think of one anime that didn’t depict elites as evil … and that’s Special A. Yea, they had their own building, they were the smartest, richest .. blah blah … but they didn’t go rubbing it in people’s faces or act totally stuck up. In fact, they kinda tried to stay off the radar, I think. Even in their inner circle, they were all friends and had fun.

    But, on the subject of elite … would Arakawa Under the Bridge count, even tho it’s not a school anime? Yea, Recruit’s an elite and thinks he’s the best at whatever he does, but he isn’t exactly evil, and it’s actually portrayed in a humorous way, as is to make fun of people who think that way about themselves.

    But, I think the presence of elites is just an out dated staple in anime. It’s like hot spring episodes. Animes just gotta have those, which gets boring after a while. For example, Mayoi Neko Overrun had a hot spring episode, and I nearly fell asleep it was so boring. Even Working is gonna have a hot spring episode, which initially irks me that even this anime has to have one of those …. but Working is actually funny as hell, so it’ll work, I hope. I doubt it’s gonna be about pointless fan service, and more about comedy.

    Anyway, I just think of it as a stale idea for anime/manga. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t.

    • Impz
      Posted May 19, 2010 at 6:12 pm | Permalink

      I think that as a story plot/idea, it is becoming very very stale to the point that it just grates on me whenever I see it. You see, the Arawaka under the bridge simply reinforces my point in which is assumed once again that elites are pompous and they are deserving to be made fun of. The show sadly annoys me so much despite the possible comedy levels that I dropped it after three episodes. He just grates on my nerves way WAY too much for my liking.

      Ya, Special A is truly an ironic example imho. ~_~

  13. Posted May 19, 2010 at 4:17 pm | Permalink

    I agree with iamTN and just want to add that I have been to just about every different type of school where I live (in Canada) and several different private schools (not free) and I do find that the private school students are the more elite and more mean ones of the bunch. This is, I admit, quite the generalization, but in many ways, it is true. I also don’t think it’s completely their fault. These people were brought up told that they were the best and many have the means to actually be the best. And sometimes, they like to flaunt. At the same time, I find that it’s not just the private school students that add to this image, but even others antagonize them, thinking “They think they’re too good to go to a free public school?”

    • Impz
      Posted May 19, 2010 at 6:02 pm | Permalink

      I don’t know. I find it sad that people’s misconceptions can hurt people, particularly due to the fact that this is a topic that is close to my heart. I have to admit that I never liked the notion of elites, and I was brought up to understand that there is a negative connotation with the term “elite”. Yet, when I found myself in that position, I never consider myself superior or anything. Sure, I am happy I did well, but it’s nothing to be truly proud of. Nonetheless, I was backstabbed by people and badmouthed by others that I refuse to help people in order to keep my grades up. mean, I even gave my personal and meticulous handwritten notes that I prepare for every exam to people who asked for a photocopy and I think 90% of people wouldn’t give those notes to anyone.

      Still, people at the lower end of the spectrum hopes to look for something or someone to victimize. They try to deliberately find something bad, even if it is a single occurence to make themselves better. Sure, these anime did not intentionally try to send a message, but it is the unintentional message in anime that is the most disturbing. When did such a social norm flow so naturally into our consciousness?

  14. Posted May 19, 2010 at 9:25 pm | Permalink

    I honestly don’t think this is an anime-only phenomenon at all. It is a very, very common storytelling element used around the world. Watch any Hollywood movie about a high school kid, and there will inevitably be an ‘elite’ person/group acting like jerks (in American movies, this usually means rich high school quarterback rather than rich guy in good school) and treating the main character like dirt.

    Watch any non-high school movie, and you’ll still see rich people acting like jerks.

    Read the news and you’ll hear all the time about right people acting like jerks and getting their kids into Harvard thanks to legacy rules.

    In fact ‘popularism’, has been a favorite tactic in democractic societies for centuries. Pitting the masses against the so called uncaring elite has been an effective way for people to gain power forever.

    Conversely pay particular attention to Japan as a special case even within this world-wide phenomenon. Watch virtually any J-Drama and you’ll see elites abusing the system, elites doing bad things to the common person, and elites getting away with anything they want. Japan is probably one of the worst societies for such abuses, because of the conformist nature of the society and the strict hierarchical nature of the society. You are not supposed to question those above you, and if you happen to be one of those ‘above’ you are elevated to special status. They say power corrupts, and when you’re given so much power even when you are only minorly a level above someone else, the entire system gets twisted.

    So really, I don’t think this is an anime phenomenon at all. I don’t really even think it’s a Japan-only thing either, except that it’s probably worse there than most places, but then again that just be my perception of it all from watching too much anime/J-drama.

    • Impz
      Posted May 20, 2010 at 8:18 am | Permalink

      Nope. I don’t think it is an anime exclusive phenomenon. However, this frog in the well (aka me), don’t really watch much drama or anything else other than anime (not much anime too) can only comment on anime. That is also why I am writing in an anime blog.

      I think the conformist and patriarchal society in Japan makes it hard for social movement across classes, and there is a clear anger over the elite. I do not know how they perceive such people, but if the media reflects it in such a way even in humor, I shudder to think about what exactly the sentiments of the common folk thinks.

      However, I am still left with a burning question. Why the elite = jerk co-relation. Is it simply a convenient story tool, a subliminal message or something even deeper and personal?

  15. Posted May 19, 2010 at 10:32 pm | Permalink

    Building on what you said in the first part of this entry, Impz, in that it’s a fan-pandering move by the producers of anime series and mangaka to their target audience. The very title of ‘elite’ suggests that out of all of us in this great big world, there can only be a few of ‘them,’ which leaves the rest of ‘us,’ the masses. It plays not only into our insecurity about not being able to be elite, but also into our already established misconceptions about what the life of an elite is actually like. It’s sad, but just like moe, fanservice, or any other fan-pandering move, it’s there.

    Kaichou wa Maid-sama! a good example not only for the recent addition of the ‘evil elite school student council’ but also Misaki herself. She’s considered an elite in her own school because she gets good grades, is the Student Council President, and the fact that no one knows about her poor home life. Until Usui came along, there were very few people who didn’t display either hero-worship, or compete revulsion towards Misaki (the two attitudes that we see most commonly displayed towards elite characters). In fact, aside from Usui, the only characters who treat Misaki as a normal human being are her fellow Maid Cafe workers, who are all more easily related to this anime’s target audience.

    I’d cite the Ouran High School Host Club manga, as a piece that starts off by mocking elites, but actually reveals a lot more about its individual characters among the jokes to the point where the audience is able to completely empathize with them, despite the fact that they are technically still elites at an elite school.

    • d3v
      Posted May 20, 2010 at 12:44 am | Permalink

      Series like Ouran High School Host Club and also Maria Sama Ga Miteru seem to take a different approach in that the elite are instead presented in a highly idealized manner where they seem to live in some sort of fantasy world (especially so in the latter). The advantage here is that the whole “elite” status of the characters is more often than not simply pushed to the background and the series can then focus on developing the characters instead. It’s can come to the point where you don’t care that the students are taking a class trip to freakin’ Italy and are instead more interested in the characters.

      On the opposite end of the spectrum, you have something like GTO which pretty much criticizes the system of elites but at the same time humanizes the students. If the students do appear to be elite jerks, it’s usually just a reaction to the evils that can come from the system and they usually just need Onizuka to bright slap them into realizing the error of their ways.

  16. ReddyRedWolf
    Posted May 21, 2010 at 6:15 am | Permalink

    Well in my time there are different sort of elites. There’s the studious elites. the sports elites and the social elites. Having spent 12 years in Philippine Catholic private school there is an atmosphere among the student body to conform and give-in to peer pressure.

    Though math was my weak point everything else was A’s. Plus I can emulate different English accents that make people blink during discussions and debates, especially history and social studies. (Blame Peter and Jane books and TV at two years old.)

    It is problematic for those around you if you are study elite and an introvert. Your interests and their interests don’t match and they can’t connect. Also being independent minded one does not aim to please others, which is the point of clicks and groups, but to get the job done with personal satisfaction.

    On leadership , everybody looks at you to do everything. It’s a punishment for being too smart or a smart mouth. Ever been consecutively elected as class president? I have and I’m always in charge of the delinquents…uggh.

    As for elites in anime one must realize the nature of current Japanese school culture. For example expatriates shown in anime. They are shown as superior to non-expatriate Japanese students. That attitude was not always the case. Japan has always been somewhat isolationist that children that grew up or educated out of the country were treated unfairly and considered inferior. But as Japan became more and more international having a necessity for English speakers they recognized expatriates as a valuable resource. Thus the education system became biased towards them. Which is why today there is a mentality if you are an expatriate educated abroad it is expected you are smarter. That isn’t the case always if you think about it.

    Also in Asia , among them Japan, it is a dog eat dog to get into prestigious universities. We don’t use SATs. It’s quite like a board exam actually.

    • d3v
      Posted May 22, 2010 at 1:07 am | Permalink

      Ahh, University entrance exams. I remember them taking so much of my time during my final year of high school back in the day. Rushing back and forth between review classes and fulfilling other requirements (I remember having to write essays for some schools), I recall having barely enough time to do anything else.

  17. Cynn
    Posted May 22, 2010 at 3:24 am | Permalink

    Hmm… and I’ve been thinking.

    What if this elite=jerk idealism is due to the never-ending pattern of how most of us perceive society, especially those with deep pockets? Surely we would watch dramas, sitcoms, soaps and well, anime, and wouldn’t bat an eyelid if the storyline consisted of the same hogwash. We dream of attaining that special something, and seeing someone else with all the ‘special somethings’ makes us irate and irrationally jealous. Hence, we concoct stories about ‘them’ being evil and whatnot just to soothe our blistered egos.

    Then again, some of us could have inherited that perception from our own parents, or whoever was responsible for our upbringing. I’m sure you’ve heard of your dad complaining about how ‘that jerk stole my promotion’ or ‘my boss is such an asshole’ on one of his bad days at work. When somebody snatches that golden ticket to getting one of those ‘special somethings’, we automatically assume that that person is going to have an easier life: he’s gonna get the car, the girl, the job, the plastic surgery to get the looks… and thus, we perceive of that person in a negative way. Now compare this on a bigger scale: what the victim of retrenchment would rant about Donald Trump who has it all. Indeed, we vilify the elite so that we, the underdogs, can boast about ‘how hard it was to make it through. But we did it!’

    And since something like this probably existed since the beginning of civilization, add thousands of years to reinforce this perception and Voila! you have an elite=jerk correlation on your hands. It’s not a subliminal message. Neither is it really a convenient story tool(though it probably contributes about… 20% or so to the story?). It’s just a social norm that we take for granted.

    Until you, Impz, caught it sneaking in your sub-conscious.

  18. Chan
    Posted May 28, 2010 at 5:27 am | Permalink

    I don’t why I missed this post, its pretty interesting.

    Though I do have to say that in New York City the only way to get into the elite schools is not through money by doing well on the High School entrance exams. If you do badly on these exams you won’t be able be accepted by these schools regardless of your financial background. Then even after that your placement depends wholly on your grades. Schools that are just a shy away from being elite schools first fill the seats based on grades, those with the highest grades get accepted first, after that it depends on where you live. After that though you could say that considering the curriculum that these two kinds of students will take when they are in High School are so different that they might as well be in a different schools. Though New York City schools will also sometimes put a student with a low grade into an elite honor student class in order to force that student to work harder, then they put them back into their regular courses.

    Though for an example of the elite being showed in a positive light I’d have to point to every single CLAMP work ever created. They pretty much show elites in a positive light.

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