Tuesday, June 18, 2013
The Man of Steel and The Masked Rider
Many Western scholars (e.g. Dennet, 1992) claim that we identify with the voice of conscience, the words in our head. One guy (Lacan, 2007) points out, that we also need to identify with our images of our face and body, that give a centre, place, or covering (Baudrillard, 1995), for our thoughts. He also says that identifying with our body image alone is impossible because we'd need to carry a mirror all the time. Language, on the other hand, provides a view on the self from the point of view of another, the Other (Lacan, 2007), the super-ego (Freud, 1913), an impartial observer (Smith, 1812), generalised other (Mead, 1967) or the super addressee (Bakhtin, 1986) of our thoughts. Lacan also claims that we can not identify with our self-images because we have many body images, an arm, our nose, our face in the mirror, a face from years ago. Our body images are a mishmash or human omlette (hommellette).
Recent research has shown however that humans have the ability to see themselves from an external perspective at a neuronal level (Blanke & Metzinger, 2009; Iacoboni, 2009; Metzinger, 2009). This ability to simulate seeing oneself without a mirror is found to be especially strong in East Asians (Heine, Takemoto, Moskalenko, Lasaleta, & Henrich, 2008; Wu & Keysar, 2007). The ability to see oneself is argued to be enhanced by performing fixed poses or kata (Zeami, 1984; Butler, 1993).
I theorise, therefore, that the Japanese identify with their body images, rather than their internal voice. Further, that just as Western body images provide a place for thoughts to take place, language or symbols even symbolic gestures - which are above all reiterable (Butler, 1993): repeatable, enduring in time - provides cohesion to the Japanese imago-self by giving a sort of temporal core that links the aforementioned scrap-book, or omelette, of body-images together.
Now onto superheroes. I theories that they are myths for the development of the self.
The quintessential Western superhero, Superman is someone that spends a lot of his time thinking to himself. His words, as his true identify, fly. He has two fathers. He converses with the memory of his astral father that endowed him with super powers. Superman is a hard-boiled, self narrator. His super suit, the image he presents us, is merely a cover for this true identity.
Many Japanese heroes however transform in front of people with great aplomb. Not for them the telephone box, some of them even transform on stage (Shinkenja). The requirement that heroes transform is universal since they deal with the genesis of the self, but only in the West is transformation required to hide a secret identity. Japanese super heroes use super-symbols (an amulet from a Shrine in Mirror Man; a beta capsule in Ultraman, medals, cards, characters written in the air, or rings in Kamen Rider; a seal in Mitokoumon, and lots of kata or poses: see second video above) which allows them to transform into their super form. Japanese heroes have suits too, or rather and in many ways they are their suits, especially in Kamen Rider (and a more extreme degree in Gundam and Evangelion).
These two genres of superhero, Western and Japanese illustrate the genesis of the self formed of language and image. Superman is his thoughts. His suit or image is merely a covering that allows him to be his true identity. Kamen Rider's super heroism resides in his suit. His symbols are an externally derived catalyst that allows him to transform, and pull his suit together.
Finally this brings me to a further aspect of Japanese superheroes. After they transform (Henshin) They often combine (especially in the Power Rangers series), which illustrates I believe two things: the cohension of various self images or "hommelette", and the combination of various self views, the generalising of the visual other. Gattai.
Upon this analysis, Iron Man is a cross-over hero for Americans and Japanese.
Thanks to James Ewing, to whom his post is dedicated, for drawing my attention to Mirror Man, one of the first transforming Japanese superheroes, which provides the link between symbolic transformation, Lacan, and the Japanese Shinto religion. Shinto shrines are sacred mirrors or places that dispense signs (amulets/omamori), Christian churches are houses of sacred language that dispense "the body".
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Zeami. (1984). On the art of the nō drama: the major treatises of Zeami ; translated by J. Thomas Rimer, Yamazaki Masakazu. Princeton, N.J: Princeton University Press.
This blog represents the opinions of the author, Timothy Takemoto, and not the opinions of his employer.