Oral Presentation Session
Reviewed by: Society for East Asian Anthropology
Of interest to: Practicing and Applied Anthropologists, Teachers of Anthropology in Community Colleges, Students
Primary Theme: Labor
Secondary Theme: The Visual
Social encounters with and through characters have become a common phenomenon in postindustrial Japan’s media ecology. Beyond simply communicating messages or displaying aesthetic identities, characters embody affective social interactions within themed “third spaces” existing outside the mundane realms of family, school, and work. The rise of online communities and the digital economy, with the increasing demand for emotion work, have increasingly propelled characters into the lives of Japanese consumers beyond the realm of geek “otaku subcultures.” Human and non-human agents—actors, robots, animated concepts, idols, and more— embody characters that exist as social media persona, cosplayers, historical theme park roles, avatars, touristic guides, and service staff at “concept” cafés and bars. Consumers pay for the extraordinary experience of interacting with someone or something “in-character”—the co-creation of scripted intimacy that nevertheless feels liberating—and enter diffuse fan communities maintaining these alternate social worlds. As these communities evolve, so do their collective memories of characters and relationship to the agents that embody them. Oscillating between celebration and critique, fans may scrutinize the character-performer and their own participation in the alternate world.
Pushing beyond analyses of cultural representation, the papers in this panel reveal anthropological interconnections among character, performer, observer, and technology that are grounded in the lives of people, institutions, and capital involved in the business of “third spaces.” They ask: How can an anthropology of character performance enable scholars to explore the intersections of affective labor, gender, and postindustrial economies? What are the cultural, technological, and economic conditions that allow characters and alternate worlds to thrive in and around contemporary Japan, and how does this fit in with networked and industrialized societies at large? With the rise of networked media technologies, how can “animation”—“the projection of qualities perceived as human…outside of the self, and into the sensory environment”—be adopted as a paradigm to understand social interactions more complex than just “performance” (Silvio, 2010)? How do some of these themed spaces intentionally and unintentionally present alternate “as if” critiques that allow their participants to resist or temporarily experience relief from a system of socioeconomic norms?