The elites: Scourges of society. Wait… what?
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.
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.
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.”