Oh, dear, Pokemon?!?

You know, when I was admitted into the School of International Service, I did not imagine I’d be blogging about some of my favorite entertainment.  Did I blog about soccer yet? Oh, yes I did. Best. Class. Ever.  Now I just need to find a way to blog about hip-hop or dance music.  Seriously though, it is very informative to look at these things from a different perspective as a class in International Communication forces you to do. After all, as International Relations scholar Martha Finmore says, “in thesocial world, everything is related to everything else” which is true as I continue to be impressed by how far reaching communication as an academic area reaches, and that is also true of the topic of today’s post which is Japanese animation, known as anime.

Lead character from ‘Ghost in Shell’ anime I cringed in dismay in a class discussion today when in talking about anime, another student used Pokemon, and worse, Power Rangers, as examples.  Probably this sounds like something conceited to say, but I feel compelled to give a more complete picture of anime!   As soon as the word anime was mentioned in class, I knew I’d have to blog about this.  You see, anime is not just “cartoons” .  Even though it’s animated, many of the themes, tone, etc. , are for a mature audience.  Still, I wonder, isPokemon what pops up in peoples head when they think of anime?  It is certainly not representative of anime overall.  This makes me realize that probably the dominant imagery associated with other cultural labels such as for example ‘American culture’, ‘hip-hop’, ‘middle america’, ‘africans’, ‘bollywood’, etc might often be just flat out wrong, but I’ll leave exploring that for another day.
For me (in my opinion), anime is a deeply rewarding and complex form of entertainment because of the sheer diversity within it.  And  yes, I’ll concede openly out that much of the anime around, and much of the anime that I watch, is not particularly insightful, and is simplistic and just about a good time (but not likePokemon). There’s haunting animated films such as the Grave of the Fireflies that are as sad and powerful as Schindlers List.  Or the now classic 1995 epic, Ghost in the Shell, which is arguably one of the anime’s that Professor Hayden might have been referring to when he mentioned that elements of anime actually influenced The Matrix (by the way James Cameron , Director of Avatar and Titanic, describes Ghost in Shell as a “stunning piece of speculative fiction”).  I mean there’s lots of goodanimes with philosophical and psychological undertones that’d make one’s head spin. In terms of communications theory, the  discussion came up as an example of a subaltern/contra-flow.  In his article, Mapping Global Media Flow and Contra-Flow,Daya Thussu describes this as new  networks of media flows originating outside of the west.  He points out that, “Japanese animation, film, publishing and music business was worth $140 billion in 2003, with animation, including manga (comics), anime(animation), films, videos and merchandising products brining gin $26 billion.”  Thussu is actually impressed enough by the imprint of anime that he singles it out as the only non-Western genre with a global presence, going as far as elevating it above a contra-flow to the level of a dominant global flow.
Indeed $140 billion is quite a large amount for non-western media and it would be even more impressive if one added video games into the mix, which Thussu doesn’t mention.   Anime elements feature heavily in video-games, and some of the highest selling video game franchises in the world like Final Fantasy and Street Fighter have ‘animeish’ influences—actually video games is really another area in which the Japanese have imported culture so to speak. Lastly, as a student of communication, one cool aspect of anime is that there is A LOT of releases which covers information, information overload, artificial intelligence, and their use by conventional authority structures.   I’ll end this with a trailer of one such anime, a nice movie that I watched recently called ‘Summer Wars’.  I found it interesting because of it’s highlighting of the differences between Gesellchaft and Gemeinschaft, and also because I like their portrayal of a society dependent on culture.  Will facebook be like that in 20 years?
This post also appears at another student group blog that I’m a part of.

For history buffs, policy wonks, and sci-fi geeks

Early in her book Information Revolution and World Politics Elizabeth Hanson, professor of political science at the University of Connecticut, gives an interesting account on the origins of the information revolution.   She argues that the information revolution has been going on since the printed press.  In addition to talking about the printed press she focuses on the development and changes brought by television, telegraph, radio and the telephone.  Her description of the early days of the information revolution had my imagination travelling thousands of years into the past, and wondering what thousands of years into the future would be like.

If you read Hanson’s account of the various technologies, and then also consider the introduction of ‘writing’ itself as a logical marker to precede the printed press, you can see that successful technologies are reaching a level of high acceptance and usage at increasingly faster rates following their introduction.  The space between introduction of significant information and communication technologies is also reducing.  See ‘writing’ was started about 4-6000 BC, then the printed press in the 17th century, then came the telephone/telegraph in the 19th century, television in the mid-20th century, etc.  Then if you look at the internet today, it is still very young–just roughly 15 years old in it’s current form, yet look how far reaching it is already!

This raises an interesting question of what happens when this trend is projected into the future.  Hanson says that once realities created by technologies are in operation, new technologies emerge in turn to overcome existing limitations.  Furthermore, Paul Zane Pilzner, an economist who has served as an Advisor in two administrations, has argued that advances in technology are determined by the speed in which information is exchanged.   If information is getting shared at increasingly faster rates, and technologies are having increasingly more immediate impacts, theoretically one should reach a point of infinite technology achievement and yet how is that physically possible?

I’m somewhat of a sci-fi type,  so for me this makes for a fascinating exploration of concepts such as Moores Law  and the Technological Singularity.  Basically, Moores Law predicts regular doubling of the capacity circuit based technology over predictable timespans, whereas the idea of a Technological Singularity, refers to hypothetical future time that is hard to predict because technological advancements happen instantly, creating some sort of superintelligence–I mean delightfuly geek territory here.

Now if that’s not your thing, there is a more practical policy side to this.  If technologies are getting more frequent, and information sharing is increasing exponentially, then there is the likelihood that laws and regulations will lag behind.  This is something I thought about as Hanson mentioned that the telephone was hampered in Europe by “government policies and political obstacles to cooperation across boundaries”. So far, at least the period through Hanson’s account, there has been time for adaptation and development of norms.  But will that always be the true if instead of significant information and communication technologies being introduced every couple of hundred, or even every fifty or so years, they are being introduced every couple of years?   It will be interesting to see what happens over our lifetimes, and how governments and international organizations evolve as a result.

[Crossposted at a shared-student blog at which I am a contributor.]