A few weeks ago I saw a post on GroupThink where someone made a post complaining about a "BookBro" being disappointed by the quality of fiction that's being put out now and especially the type of fiction that's being taught in schools. Unfortunately that post seems to have been removed but it was a pretty interesting post. In fact, it's this kind of thing I more or less live for. Trying to counter-act the elitism that exists in academic circles towards many aspects of fiction (genre fiction, multi-media, etc) is one of the reasons why I wanted to be a teacher in the first place, perhaps even the reason.
Two years ago - September/October 2012 - I spent most of my days sitting at home staring at the ceiling, or at the TV, or the computer, or outside, or into a book during my chemotherapy. I watched a lot of TV, and wasted a lot of time on websites, but I also read a lot of books. Most of the books I read reflected both my general mood and my TV viewing habits (also reflecting my general mood) - young adult novels, often serving as adaptation fodder for Disney Channel and Nickelodeon. As I was laying sick and weakened, I felt as if my entire psyche had trouble stomaching certain stuff - CSI, Criminal Minds and other gritty and gory procedural were ruled out and for the first time since well before I even aged out of the intended demographic I was watching Nickelodeon and Disney Channel Original Movies, classics like Halloweentown and High School Musical along with YAL adaptations like Geek Charming. Reading the original material these movies were derived from soon lead to The Hunger Games and The Fault In Our Stars. The experience, especially the reading experience, was very therapeutic but it was no replacement for human interaction. I started to wonder if maybe I could bring my experiences into the classroom and start up a serious conversation of the power of books, using not only the classics but the type of modern, contemporary, still-new-enough-to-apply-to-copyright-law novels that kids were actually reading today.
After my chemo I re-enrolled in school to get my teaching license, and immediately I took a course in children's literature, a course that turned out to be one of the most influential and important courses I've ever taken. In fact, perhaps only second to a course I took exactly a year after my chemotherapy and a year ago - September/October 2013 - the Young Adult Literature Course. My thoughts and theories on the therapeutic power of fiction especially towards teens and pre-teens, were pretty much confirmed, and for that matter beyond just strict application to their intended demographics. As the slogan emblazoned on the YAL shelves of my local library says, "go ahead and read them - we won't judge you. In fact, we've read them all too!"
At the same time, I encountered for the first time exposure to fierce academic resistance to "popular fiction." It stems from a number of misguided assumptions - that somehow the ability of the human mind to produce great works has been "dumbed down" to the point where I honestly believe many of these people would equate even great contemporary YAL works to Idiocracy (itself a pretty good cultural work as it turns out, now that I've finally seen it and if I may say). I'm being completely serious - many academics see the "problem novel" structure being far too teen-centric, too self-centered and lacking empathy or characters capable of teaching empathy, and ultimately just a few notches above seeing someone being continuously kicked in the crotch or 90 minutes of a man's bare ass occasionally interrupted by farting noises.
The academic stonewalling of genre fiction and YAL was severely hurting its valid discussion. Obviously discussing the classics such as The Odyssey and Dickens' collective works is important, but what's lost when applying the same lessons as values to work just two years old? Some very good books you've likely never heard of if you aren't a YAL fanatic - Paper Towns, Eleanor and Park, and Dead End in Norvelt. Great literature doesn't stop at the end of the 18th century, or even at the end of the Civil Rights Movement.
That's how I interpret the core of the #EducateAnime movement. Just as with written fiction of all genres and time periods, great fiction isn't confined by borders along media formats. Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagan is, seriously, one of the best things I've ever seen and there's legitimate lessons to be learned from its viewing. Same with Neon Genesis Evangelion. Or Eureka 7. Or Ghost in the Shell, itself highly influenced by great cyberpunk fiction as well as J.D. Sallinger's Catcher in the Rye (most [in]famously with "The Laughing Man"). Or even Western cartoons - I would honestly judge The Legend of Korra's Books 3 and 4 to so far be as great as the freshman seasons of both Fargo and True Detective, and I friggin' love Fargo and True Detective (before Book 3 I'd judge either show to be the best of this television season). But it's highly unlikely any of the shows I just mentioned will get mainstream academic recognition because, ewww, they're, like, cartoons and stuff! Hell, motion television period is still struggling to be taken seriously in academic circles.
Discussion can change that. Just as discussion around the water cooler/coffee machine/Twitter/whatever has turned The Walking Dead, Breaking Bad and Mad Men into mainstream phenomenons, discussion can help out anime. And Young Adult Literature. And anything else for that matter.
Discussion like #EducateAnime is one of the things that will eventually break Gamergate. Ironically, Gamergate is ultimately going to be responsible for its own demise as it's gotten the discussion about women, feminism and gaming really going, perhaps unlike any other industrial or cultural force in gaming previously. A movement like #EducateAnime applied to gaming, and feminism regarding gaming (or vice versa) will bring those issues to the forefront of the gamer culture.
Discussion is pretty useful in the automotive industry too. It's what enthusiast culture ultimately revolves around. Cars and Coffee, local small scale auto shows, even Pebble Beach Concurs and LeMons are all fertile discussion grounds about our favorite cars. But beyond just that, discussion has a powerful preservation force and even collectively changing people's minds about certain rides. How did the second generation Camaro/Firebird go from American Muscle to Redneck Lawn Ornament back to respected performance car? Or the Miata becoming the answer to everything? Or, even arguably, bringing the FoST and FiST to our shores after such a long absence since the last FoSVT? It's because enthusiasts like us kept the conversation roaring on places like Jalopnik, OppoLock and hundreds and thousands of forums across cyberspace, at local classic car meets and talking the ears off suited executives at the big industrial car salons.
So if there's anything to learn from #EducateAnime, it's that discussion is one of the most powerful tools we humans have at our disposal. It can change the world, and it can ensure that our cultural treasures remain preserved for as long as we endure, no matter what other people think.