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This week’s reading, “Humanities Approaches to Graphical Display” by Drucker really struck a chord in me. Coming from a humanities background (I am a Philosophy major also looking to create my own major), taking this class has been a challenge for me as I adapt my arguably more hermeneutical approach to processing information to the framework of the class.
This challenge manifested itself also as I was picking a topic for my final project on Subcultures. I was interested in the psychology behind Otaku Culture, which describes an obsessive consumerist culture dominated by manga and anime fans- but how was I to translate this information in data form? I was unsure of how numbers, statistics and figures possibly represent the depth of thought and complexity portrayed in interpretations of Otaku Culture.
Reading Drucker, however, attuned me to the idea of approaching information as “capta” rather than “data”. Noting the “etymological roots of the terms data and capta” could, in her view, “make the distinction between constructivist and realist approaches clear”. The idea of “capta” would appeal to the need for a humanistic, rather than robotic approach to handling and classifying information. This, in turn, would acknowledge the “partial, and constitutive character of knowledge production, and recognize that knowledge is constructed, rather than given as a natural representation of pre-existing fact”.
However, upon reading reviews of Japanese philosopher Azuma Hiroki’s book Otaku: Japan’s Database Animals, it was interestingly noted that Otaku funnels the works they worship into a kind of character-based slavery, as opposed to the narrative-based freedom that we expect forms of entertainment and escapism to offer us. In other words, Azuma’s approach seems to refute the need for “capta” and interpretive autonomy in light of consumer/ desire driven markets. Just as Drucker acknowledges that “realist approaches depend above all upon an idea that phenomena are observer-independent and can be characterized as data”, Azuma concedes to this by mentioning that “it is only the surface outer layer of otaku culture that is covered in simulacra”, and that underlying all of that is a database or factory for creation. He further argues that scrutiny to this database yields that beneath the “chaotic inundation of simulacra”, anime and mange character constructions become “ordered” and “understandable”. In the picture above, we see how different female characters in anime and manga may be classified, effectively breaking down the person’s story and reducing it to a set of interchangeable characteristics. What is perhaps more unfortunate is that these stereotypes double up as rules/ guidelines for “simulacra to be successful”.
The prospect of anime culture standing behind a veil of originality and at its simplest being no more than a convoluted system of mixing and matching features from a fixed and limited database is heartbreaking- and while I am hesitant to too readily accept his view, I am also excited to read Azuma’s primary text further. I look forward to how his analyses will better inform the outcome of my final project.
Primary source: Hiroki Azuma, Otaku: Japan’s Database Animals