by Nomad (Buy Dapper Dan Haircream) Otto
I was originally going to write something pointing a finger at the virgin/mother/whore trichotomy you find in a lot of work, even those things written by women. Then I realized that I don’t really have anything to SAY about it, other than “look, it’s this weird thing. You may now shower me with gifts.” On the other hand, when I was thinking about this topic, something else occurred to me, and that’s that the father figure in…. basically every show I’ve seen in a good, long while is either absent (either physically, as in, they’re not around, or emotionally, as in, you occasionally see them, but they have no real influence over the lives of their progeny) or bad (sleezy, corrupt, manipulative, or otherwise a jackass). Especially considering that Japan is a very male-dominate society, and that anime/manga is a very male-dominated hobby, you’d expect that an important relation in the lives of the characters would be the bond between fathers and sons. This post is designed to look at the issue, both from the literary standpoint and the social standpoint, and, then, will degenerate into crushing irrelevance. Join me for it, won’t you?
So, since this isn’t going to be focused on the specific missing father roles, I’m going to focus instead on reasons for the lack of fatherhood, of which I see three. First, the lack of available fathers could be a reaction to the actual condition of society over there. Second, it could be the case that the absence of father figures is being used to make a literary point/make it easier to write plots that make sense. Third, it could be that the problem is primary psychological, with the trait being a function of being young and male, a state which is true of most manga authors etc. Let’s examine each theory in turn.
The theory of absent fathers corresponding to an actual social condition at first seems very attractive, because the traditional salaryman work ethic pretty much minimizes the amount of contact the fathers have with their children. If you leave at the crack of dawn, and stay at work or out drinking until late at night, your interaction with your beloved progeny is likely to be extremely minimal. This will naturally be reflected in the mind-scape of children, who become adults, who write books, comics, and shows, none of which have the presence of a strong father figure. Moreover, since the ethic of the salaryman pervades the culture, fathers who AREN’T gone all the time do so because of personal failing, or, rather, they may be perceived as being failures because they can’t fit into the salaryman system.
The problem with this idea, at least in my mind, is that even salarymen have days off. Regardless of how little influence they have, they have at least SOME place in the minds of their children. But we don’t see salarymen fathers. We don’t, in general, see fathers that place work above their children. We don’t see fathers who appear only from time to time. We see NO fathers. So, either the extent of the salaryman deprivations on normal (from the perspective of an upper-middle-class westerner) family life are much larger than I’d expect, or, there might be another explanation for what’s going on.
Maybe the reason for the absent fathers is narrative, rather than sociological. The lack of strong male characters other than, you know, the main character, allows writers to force the lamest of milquetoast protagonists to become heroes. Also, many of the shows that I watch are coming of age stories, in which a boy needs to become a man, something that becomes more difficult to accomplish if there are already men, at least, reasonable sorts of men who might be trusted to do things, on the scene. If this explanation were correct, I would need to get out my old-man cane and rantin’ stick to talk about the sins of Lazy Writing, and invoke the phrase, “just because it’s easy doesn’t mean that you should do it,” along with, perhaps a little of the old “art exists to mirror life.”
I don’t think that this is the case, at least completely. I think that a lot of the properties which are based on visual novels, or have a strong component of relationship issues, do exclude other strong male characters, because it makes it harder to identify with the lead, who, frequently, is something of a cipher. Moreover, in many stories, the characters are not supposed to be the people you’d turn to in a crisis, and, so eliminating the father figures allows for the second rank of folks to take center stage, that is, children, women, etc. On the other hand, a lot of stories would be markedly improved by the existence of another male character, and, moreover, many stories substitute surrogate father figures in place of dad himself. Why the need for surrogates? After all, everyone HAS a father, so, why the need to create a father figure while, at the same time, removing the father himself?
To use my customary lack of anything resembling tact, Daddy issues! At least, that’s one way of looking at it. The Freud Dude, as Keanu Reeves once said in the best acting job of his carreer, theorized that young men grow up hating their fathers and loving their mothers. While I don’t think that most authors want to re-create the story of oedipus Rex, there might be something going on with the need for surrogate fathers. After all, one’s own father can be a threatening figure, as well as a helpful figure, as he not only is a source of support, but also a source of condemnation and discipline. Moreover, the choice of one’s family is outside of one’s control- many people end up with family that are a continued source of annoyance. On the other hand, a father-replacement has the potential for all of the benefits of a traditional father figure: he can provide support, guidence, and even discipline, occasionally, without the whole: “he’s your father, reguardless of how you feel about him.” A surrogate father is a father you can select, and can if he proves unsuitable for the role, walk away (of course, in general, you won’t HAVE to walk away). A surrogate father is a father over whom you have some control, but, as a surrogote, he can only fufill his role if the real thing is unable, or unwilling, to serve. Thus, it’s an easy step, and one that may not be even thought about a great deal, to get rid of the figure that threatens the power of the hero, by eliminating or marginalizing him, and to introduce his replacement.
I’m just saying. I mean, I’m probably wrong, but it’s interesting to think about, innit? Anyway, I’ve got a hundred pages of paper to get read. Laters!