Is it culturally insensitive for Western culture to adopt the word “manga?”
By Brittney MacDonald, Staff Writer
We are experiencing a shift in popular culture—what I would call an expansion into a more worldly view. More specifically, we as a society have become interested in the nerdy aspects of other foreign geek subcultures. This has been most prevalent in the Japanese “otaku” subculture, which is dominated by manga and anime, highly stylized Japanese graphic novels, comic books, and animated cartoons, which feature characters with large eyes as their most defining trait. Recently I have noticed a backlash against this, as well as accusations of “appropriation.” Well, in the famous words of Inigo Montoya in The Princess Bride: “You keep using that word. I don’t think you know what it means.”
This backlash has been focussed almost exclusively on L’Oréal’s Miss Manga Mascara.
I can imagine the process a marketing executive went through when they were asked to brand the new L’Oreal mascara, which is meant to define lashes rather than just elongate them. In my head I imagine it going something like this: googling “big eyes” resulted in hundreds and hundreds of pages of suggested manga, both in English and Japanese.
I blame hipsters for this newfound popularity of manga. Regular Western comic books became too mainstream (damn you Robert Downey Jr. and your impish good looks!), so they had to go to manga in order to be pretentious. It backfired though. People became fond of the manga aesthetic, and even began categorizing it in a new genre: North American manga. For examples see Twilight, the Dark-Hunter series, and Empowered.
So because manga isn’t a Western advent, people say this process becomes “appropriation,” because it’s stealing the concept from another culture. Ignoring for now the fact that it’s impossible to steal a concept, that accusation is also a bit hypocritical. Think back to all the makeup you’ve owned, anything with “rouge” or “stiletto” in the title is now appropriation of French or Italian culture. For that matter, your Celtic knot-design tramp stamp is appropriating my culture and turning it slutty, so I’m doubly offended!
Now I’m not Japanese, so whether or not this use of Japanese terms to sell makeup is offensive or not, I don’t know (though I suspect it isn’t). However, I do know how to use a dictionary. True, cultural appropriation is a legitimate concern and it can be negative, especially when used in ways that are derogatory. But that is not what’s going on here. The adoption of a word or term from a minority into mainstream culture is acculturation, and it happens anytime cultures interact with one another for an extended period of time. People from different cultures begin adopting terms or words from one another in order to better communicate ideas.
The use of the manga style by North American artists might be appropriation, but you’d have to run around and check with each one of them individually to see if they have any Japanese ancestry or not before you accuse. But that just might make you a racist.