Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Varied and Intriguing, Attractive, Profound, and Full of Charm

Why do I love shoujo manga so much? I think part of the reason is that shoujo manga is the only form of narrative I've ever encountered that seems to be particularly directed towards an audience with my tastes, an audience, that is, eager to focus on the story's nominal villain and actively preferring to accept as lead love interest characters from whom, one presumes, we would run screaming were we ever to encounter them in real life - an audience, in short, that loves to sympathize with the devil (sometimes quite literally).

Long before I ever discovered shoujo manga, when I was first exploring my odd attraction to evil, guess which devil I sympathized with? As a teenager, particularly when I was around fourteen or fifteen, I was pretty darn obsessed with Mick Jagger. I even based one of the novels I wrote in high school around a character whom I explicitly conceived of as Mick Jagger (despite it taking place in a fantasy setting, he was the lead singer in a traveling rock band). And, even at the time, I was well-aware of that interest and attraction as at least somewhat drawing on his menacing, somewhat evil reputation. This was a man who sung songs from the point of view of the devil and songs about violent revolution, as well as a guy famous for his presence at a homicide and poor treatment of women. All very appealing to my tastes (for whatever reason it is that I have these bizarre-but-apparently-quite-common-among-Japanese-teenagers tastes to begin with).

But, at the same time, there was also another side to Mick Jagger that I was aware of even as a teenager. As wild as his image in the 60s seemed to have been, I read books (in particular, this one red book about the British Invasion, a treasury of information, that I later convinced my brother to steal from the school library. Alas, I don't remember its name and don't have it readily to hand. It was a really amazing book; it's where I first learned that the Beatles wanted to make a movie version of The Lord of the Rings with John Lennon as Gollum, and EVERYBODY needs to know that.) and articles talking about his other identity, as a middle-class economics student, polite and softly-spoken, with a real head for business.

You might think that this would be something of a turn-off, given the qualities that had attracted me to Mick in the first place. But, in fact, I found that this two-sidedness made him all the more fascinating. It was intriguing to think of him not as a diabolical, satanic figure, but as a business-savvy guy who created the diabolical, satanic image in order to make money. In a way, that was even more evil than my first image of Mick, because it was manipulative and deceitful. As I mentioned earlier, "I always like to think about people who are pretending to be other people; it's one of my favorite topics." Combine this with my fascination with evil people, and you'll see that I find manipulation to be an ideal topic!

I've been thinking of all this in part because someone put a Rolling Stones CD in our car, which makes me think nostalgically of my long-dissipated obsession, but also because I'm in the middle of reading Newsweek's series about how Obama won the presidential election (start here). This may seem like a weird topic jump, but bear with me. The articles focus a lot on Obama's "no drama" qualities, and his general nature as a cool, controlled character. I was particularly intrigued by the description of the aftermath of his big speech on race. Obama obviously cared a lot about the speech - he basically wrote it himself and spent days working on it. But, at the same time: "When he walked backstage at the Constitution museum, he found everyone in tears—his wife, his friends and his hardened campaign aides. Only Obama seemed cool and detached. The speech was "solid," he said, as his entourage, tough guys like Axelrod and former deputy attorney general Eric Holder, choked up."

Obviously, Obama does not have a publicly "evil" image. In fact, he draws on the exact opposite idea - he is a symbol of aspiration, of hope. People talk about how he inspires them to be better, to dream of a better America. And I certainly don't think Obama is actually evil (although I don't actually think Mick Jagger is evil, either). But I have to admit that, even now, I still find the concept of a controlled, unemotional person who is capable of inspiring huge passion in others - someone who uses his own image to manipulate others into having a certain response - to be hugely attractive. I'm not obsessed with Obama like I was with Mick, but I do see a kinship there. I'm not sure if I'd want to be friends with someone who seemed so completely unemotional; I might find it offputting or even a bit frightening. But I really like having this figure in public life; it makes him seem so intriguing. In reality, I hope that Obama is "varied and intriguing, attractive, profound, and full of charm" because he is authentically good, or at least (because that seems like a tall order) authentically decent. But as far as the aesthetic interest of Obama goes, I can't help but think of him as fictionally evil ;-).

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