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Gabriella Lukács' Scripted Affects, Branded Selves is a study on Japanese live-action “trendy dramas” from the 1990s which emphasize media personalities and product placement over narrative content. In looking at the logic of consumption that underlies these dramas and the public personas of the actors and actresses that star in them, we see a remarkable similarity to otaku consumption in Azuma's Database Model.
The similarity is most striking when we look at the role of actors and actresses in trendy dramas, or rather, the role of tarento. As “amateur professionals,” tarento are recruited and cast less for their acting ability and more on the intangible commodity of their public image.
This tarento system emerged in the late 1980s-1990s, when the focus of Japanese dramas moved away from stories and characters and towards tarento’s star power (83). A tarento’s stage personality follows them across TV shows, movies, commercials, and public appearances much like how the moe elements of fictional characters follow them across anime, manga, and video games.
When discussing trendy dramas, fans “slip between calling the drama's fictive characters by their real names,” between “fictitious and real personas they do not readily separate from one another” (77). In a sense, the character is the tarento and the tarento is the character. The enjoyment of consumers comes not from originality or a connection with larger social narratives, but from emotional affect and Database-level consumption.
Lukács gives the example of Makiko Esumi's role in the unsuccessful drama Single Lives. Many fans criticized the serious, story-driven Single Lives, not because of the story, characters, or production, but simply because the felt that Makiko Esumi's character was not suited to her tarento image. Fans commented that she is best suited to “laughter,” rather than serious roles (76). This image of laughter and light-heartedness makes up what we might call Esumi’s “affective elements.”
Consumers do not value Esumi simply because of her acting ability, but also for her association with certain affective elements. When Esumi’s character in Single Lives acted outside of these affective elements, it robbed consumers of their source of enjoyment.
Consumers of trendy dramas are not interested in Grand Narratives (real or fictional) or in creative, original stories. They are interested in a form of moe, in affective bonds formed with the public personas of tarento instead of those of animated characters. They are not interested in the narrative of the story or how ties into greater social concerns, but in how the characters make them “feel.”
Lukács could just as easily have been describing Visual Novels when she says trendy dramas “seldom offer unequivocal ideological messages other than encouraging individuals to live self-centered and self-fulfilling lives” (41). The value consumers of both Visual Novels and Trendy Dramas seek are two-fold: the emotional resonance of the story and direct enjoyment of affective elements on the Database level. In both cases, we see the breakdown of signification, the breakdown of Grand Narratives from which smaller narratives draw meaning.
This is significant because, as mentioned, Azuma's goal was to come to a better understanding of Japanese culture as a whole by looking at the otaku subculture. This overlap in consumption patterns between those who self-identify as otaku and those who do not indicates that the Database Consumption model could be sed to analyze media and media consumers outside of the otaku demographic. While the term “moe element” might not be appropriate to use outside of the otaku subculture, “affective element” works surprisingly well.
Next: [DC007] Database Consumption Summary