Lolicon and the Problem With Misrepresentation

Icon-MOECNN ran an article pretty recently about the recent ban on the possession of child pornography in Japan, and how the anime and manga industries have managed to escape such a ban, despite the existence of lolicon manga.

You can read the article and watch the video they produced here. All in all, however, the entire thing is less of a news article, more of a moral outrage piece.

The CNN story raises a number of issues regarding the representation of anime and manga to the mainstream. While some fans might argue that it’s unreasonable to expect the mainstream to understand the nuances of the Japanese animation and comics industry, that’s really far from the actual issue. The fact is, CNN misrepresented anime and manga in their piece, whether on-purpose to make a moral outrage story and get pageviews, or on accident by nature of simply being misinformed. Hanlon’s Razor says that we should “never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity,” so it’s perfectly reasonable to suggest that the authors of that story were simply misinformed.

From the CNN video. A reporter holds up what we're meant to believe is a pornographic manga depicting children.
From the CNN video. A reporter holds up what we’re meant to believe is a pornographic manga depicting children.

That, however, brings up a new point. If we accept that the journalists at CNN were simply misinformed, how and why did they decide that investigating further simply wasn’t worth the trouble? Whether by malice or simple incompetence, CNN lied to its readers.

Dolls Fall
The uncensored cover to the manga the article claimed to be porn. It’s not porn, and there’s nothing on the cover that warrants it being censored.

All that said, precisely what value does reporting on an issue like the continued legality of lolicon in Japan provide to anyone, besides giving CNN more pageviews from people who don’t know any better? What effect will this have on the industry? What is accomplished by running another “look how weird and creepy Japan is, guys!” story? This is just another clickbait, and worse, the readers are actively being lied to.

This is another dumb outrage story just like RapeLay, except instead of the story being “disgusting videogames about rape from Japan” it’s “disgusting comics about kids being raped from Japan!” Its entire angle was to push a narrative about political lobbying preventing a kind of harmful child pornography from being banned in Japan, when the real narrative is about artists fighting so their art isn’t censored.

But that’s the thing about art: It’s a word subjectively applied to things, depending chiefly on whether the person applying the word likes them or not. To the people writing the CNN article, lolicon evidently doesn’t count as a legitimate form of artistic expression. This sentiment unfortunately rings true throughout various circles in the anime fandom, leading people to compare lolicon to actual child pornography and perpetuating a perception of people who enjoy that media as actual pedophiles.

This should be an issue the fandom can stand together on, to fight against efforts to perceive the medium we all enjoy as nothing but porn but, unsurprisingly, some people still insist on polarizing and deflecting, simply because they don’t like lolicon.

Here’s the bottom line: Misrepresentation hurts us all. There will be people who want the whole story, who will endeavour to get all sides of the story they can, and bless those people, because it’s not hard to get the whole story about anime. Many, however, will get the wrong idea about anime and it will stay with them. In some ways, we’re still reeling from the “animated snuff film misogynist crap” that was Legend of the Overfiend, and the perception of anime as tentacle rape porn that grew out of that OVA’s release in the US.

We can’t control what the anime industry puts out. Though some of us might be mad that so much ecchi and pornographic material comes out of the anime and manga industry, not even CNN will be able to change that aspect of anime and manga. The best we can do is give people the opportunity to understand that this stuff that we love isn’t child porn, and to do that, we cannot let the perception that this anything produced in this medium is child porn go unopposed.


Stay frosty.


19 thoughts on “Lolicon and the Problem With Misrepresentation”

  1. Very well said. Couldn’t have said it better myself. But one thing I must comment on, and forgive me if I sound stupid saying this, but maybe it wasn’t too bad that they censored that Dolls Fall cover. Yes, it wasn’t pornographic, but it was pretty suggestive and bloody. But perhaps that wasn’t the issue. They were leading people to believe it was loli porn when that was not the case. Plus, they went so far as to call Love Hina, of all things, child porn. I may be wrong, but aren’t the characters in that series over 18? I’ve only read very little of the manga, and I’ve never seen the anime, so I don’t know. Just trying to make sure.

    1. Perhaps, but my thing with the cover is that there was nothing there that needed to be censored, yet they pretended that there was. It’s not porn. The girls are fully-clothed, in fact. Nothing about it is all that sexual. There’s some blood, but when’s the last time there was outrage about blood in media?

      As for Love Hina, the characters run from 13 (Shinobu) up to 20 (Mitsune), so some of the characters are questionable, but what’s hilarious is that Love Hina has been on the shelves of major American bookstores for years and nobody’s had anything to say about it.

      1. I guess that makes sense. It’s just that I did feel it was slightly suggestive because of the way the girls are hugging each other, and one of the girl’s skirts was so short, you can see a little bit of her buttocks. And, even though I never read said manga, I’m assuming that here, the characters are underage. But even so, that’s not anything bad. I just figured it might be because I know that censorship standards here in America are different than in Japan.

        That is indeed hilarious. Just about everything I’ve seen from Akamatsu has teenage girls in suggestive situations, yet nobody seems to have a problem with it. It’s very strange indeed…

    2. None of the main characters in Love Hina are children. The youngest you have are Shinobu and Kaolla Su who are around the Middle School, High School age range, But none of them are children. But even if they were, it doesn’t matter because they’re fucking drawings and no one’s getting hurt.

      I said this before on VZ’s blog before, but this is just sensationalist bullshit made by the news to scare people. I also now have a lovely fear of co-workers and aquatints from class ostracizing me for my hobbies. Thanks for that CNN.

      1. I see. If that’s the case, that makes CNN look even MORE ridiculous that I thought.

        I don’t think that would be the case. I mean, when I was in high school, I didn’t talk much about my interest in loli. And most people that I did talk to about loli were perfectly accepting of it. I would suggest that if you’re worried about what those people would think, it’s for the best if you don’t bring it up unless you know you can trust them.

        1. Well, yes and no. Not telling everyone about one’s interest in loli is one thing, but I think what Niwa’s getting at is that articles like this perpetuate a perception that anime and manga, on a whole, are rife with child porn, and that can certainly cause people to want to ostracize people who are into anime and manga.

        2. I appreciate the sentiments. Honestly, I guess I’m just more frustrated that I can’t really talk about my hobbies in public without fear of rejection. News articles like this don’t help at all.

          1. That’s why you gotta find people that you trust. Perhaps it can be an anime club, perhaps it can be with fellow classmates who are also into anime and manga. You just gotta find the right people. I’ve actually found that some people I’ve met IRL are more accepting of my tastes than some people on the internet are.

          2. If it makes you feel better, I’ve learned not to even talk about my stamp collecting hobby in public. Doing so let people label me as a loner, obsessive paper hoarder, OCD, and the ever-popular “weirdo”.

            No matter what you do, or what hobby you engage in, there will always be people who are willing (if not eager) to belittle you for it. All you can do is ignore them (well, until we get those pesky laws against guillotines repealed, that is).

  2. I don’t expect most news outlets to get the nuances of things like anime/manga right, but I do expect them to be held accountable for spreading falsehoods and creating a moral panic. The incompetence of this story is striking. They could have easily found more foul things if they just took an extra five minutes to look around, but no, they exhibit a non-pornographic title under false pretense. I would say I’m surprised, but I no longer expect to get anything resembling journalistic integrity from the news.

    “The media machine knows what to do
    It knows how to feed the poison to you”
    – Poison Godmachine, Nevermore

    1. It’s all an exercise in “how little work can we do and still make this nothing into a story?” They didn’t do the research and, more egregiously, they expected their reader base to not do any research of their own. They played their readers like fools and ran off scot-free with a while bunch of pageviews from people who don’t know any better and rely on the news to tell them what’s up.

      Now we may very well have a bunch of people convinced that most manga is CP, all because they were lied to and didn’t know it.

      1. With all due respect, I must point out that this is NOT an exercise on CNN’s part of “how little work can we do”, etc. While Hanlon’s Razor is useful in preventing a premature conclusion of malice, at some point you also have to take into account Goldfinger’s Law: “Once is happenstance; twice is coincidence; three times is enemy action.”

        This story was done, with much work involved, precisely to paint anime and manga with the brush of child porn. Deliberately, and with malice aforethought. That is the message they sent, and it is always the message they send. They know it is a lie, or at best only a slither of the truth — and they don’t care. Truth-telling is not the activity they are engaged in.

        This story about anime was like that, and the one before that, and the one before that. The next one will be, too. You can debate on the reasons why they might wish to be doing this, but please stop giving them the “benefit of the doubt”, when they so manifestly do not deserve such doubt. Instead, please acknowledge that they are deliberately doing this.

  3. Regarding this point:

    This sentiment unfortunately rings true throughout various circles in the anime fandom, leading people to compare lolicon to actual child pornography and perpetuating a perception of people who enjoy that media as actual pedophiles.

    let me make the (probably unpopular) observation that it is quite likely a substantial fraction of loli eromanga readers and consumers of similar content are in fact pedophiles, in the sense that they have a (more than incidental, but not necessarily exclusive) sexual interest in prepubescent or early pubescent children. Estimates of the incidence of pedophilia in the general population vary wildly and obtaining them poses serious methodological problems, but a commonly cited figure is around 1% of the adult male population, which is much larger than the readership of a magazine like Comic LO in Japan, so I wouldn’t be surprised if many LO readers were pedophiles. The editorial board seems to think so as well, going by their regular semi-serious jokes along the lines of “YES lolita NO touch”.

    And that’s not a problem per se. In the linked article, you grossly conflate pedophilia with child sexual abuse, which is a pretty big blunder from someone who prides themself with drawing a clear line between fantasy and reality (in fact, it’s worse than that: not only are the overwhelming majority of pedophiles no child rapists, we know that child sexual abuse offenders are predominantly not pedophiles but so-called situational offenders). I know, the word “pedophile” is often used in popular discussion as a synonym for “untermensch that should be put to death, but not before experiencing the joys of prison rape”. If you’re going to write intelligently about those issues, though, you can’t afford to stoop down to that level.

    1. You make some very good points here.

      To clarify, replacing “pedophiles” with “child sexual abusers” would be more accurate to what I was trying to say, as that’s really what a lot of these people mean when they use the term “pedophile.” A lot of people don’t say what they mean, and I got caught up in that, so I do apologize for getting that wrong.

      You’re right on-point, though. Pedophilia by itself isn’t a problem. Nobody picks and chooses what they’re into sexually, and as long as it harms no one, anything and everything should be fair game. That not every harmless sexual preference is fair game, and that simply having a specific unpopular one (Regardless of the fact that it isn’t anybody else’s business to know about it) will result in societal ostracism bothers me deeply.

      1. I think that could lead to an interesting discussion. Personally, I don’t feel sexuality is as black and white as some people out there would lead you to believe. I don’t think that the whole notion of “If I find this sexually attractive in a fantasy, it automatically means I find said thing equally attractive in reality.” Despite what some people might say, I have nothing against non-offending pedophiles. Because, it’s as you say, having a sexual attraction alone doesn’t automatically make one a bad person or a predator. But I think it could lead to some interesting discussions about how complex sexuality can truly be.

    2. I have no dog in this ‘fight’ as I prefer my anime girls to have some curves. However, I’ll respond to this anyway since mt-i was nice enough to take time out to do so in kind. Pardon any mistakes, it’s quite early. 🙂

      I’m sure gaining an accurate number on such a thing would be difficult. Random anonymous surveys would be completely useless and there are numerous ethical problems with usage of confidential psychological records. So for the sake of discussion, I’ll just take your percentage and run with it. I don’t read Comic LO (see above), but I know a few people that do, and their fantasy fetish does not seem to correlate with their everyday urges. Granted, they could be lying or hiding their actual desires from public scrutiny and understandably so. I can only speak in regards to my experiences with the American fans, which, obviously, are an even smaller quotient than their Japanese counterparts.

      I think you hit the proverbial nail on the head. The word itself triggers thoughts of criminal behavior and pathology. Whether to blame this on media sensationalism, crime-related television programming, or general societal uneasiness around taboo subject matter is a discussion on its own. But is it really possible to have discourse on this topic while numerous parties use differing definitions to illustrate their perspectives?

    3. But you’d still be grouping everyone enjoying lolicon as pedophiles, which in turn would label all of them as having a sexual interest in real children as well, whether you’re successful in making the public understand about the attraction/action difference or not.

      A small, yet sizable portion of people into lolicon are being sexually aroused by it without imagining themselves as being part of the fantasy, or being with a real child. There are abstract qualities in virtual child porn able to attract non-pedophiles, qualities that real child porn in almost every case doesn’t possess. If you’re interested in an explanation I’d be willing to write a follow up post, since this one is getting to long as it is. There’s also people who are into many forms of drawn porn, including virtual child porn. A major characteristic of pedophilia is that the subject has a predominant attraction to children or child like characters, at least if we go by the current definition in the DSM-IV. Cherry picking based on contemporary morals which qualities of a person we use to define them by while omitting other equally developed aspects of their personality intentionally paints them in the worst possible picture in the eye of society.

      However, what I would support is the idea of accepting the fact that lolicon is in fact a form of child pornography. Why? Because in most cases we don’t differentiate real and fictional porn of the same genre just because one or the other has a bad connotation. Lesbian porn is lesbian porn, real, drawn, written or whatever. It is commonly understood that it involves at least two females engaging in sexual acts. BDSM porn is BDSM porn. If the term ‘child porn’ lost its stigma of being universally bad if people would actually had to think about the reason and which form of child porn is being talked about, those words would eventually loose their power to instantly and universally evoke irrational emotional responses, which those who typically wield it to manipulate public opinion love it so for. I realize that the game can be played both ways, and that this is what CNN did by using ‘child porn’ to connect what emotions are typically elicited by this to lolicon, but IMO that is something we can use to our advantage. Rather than trying to defend a genre of porn/art by pushing the use of a synonym to describe it and in the process making yourself look like you had something to hide, you’d ignore and flank this rhetorical move by attacking and dismantling your opponents argument.

      But that’s just me.

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