Queer Identity & Popular Culture
May 7, 2014
Media Project Paper
Media Project: Attack on Titan and Queer Media
For decades, the queer community has existed within the shadows and dark alleyways of society. This was because of the preferences and behaviors of the members. According to society, the queer community didn’t deserve to be acknowledged or represented in public. As a result of this, the queer community has fought back, claiming their right to be seen and viewed as people. Throughout the course, I’ve learned so much about what being gay means and the ways in which queer identity can be represented. Based on this semester alone, I can say without a doubt that queer identity is diverse, limitless, and new identities are being created today. In today’s world of popular culture, the queer community has been welcomed into the homes of Americans everywhere. The media has played a significant role in how the queer community and identity has been portrayed. Compared to the way gay men and women used to be portrayed within the media lens, today’s media has helped change the way people view gay people. When it comes to the media, there isn’t a limit to the queer media that can be found online. The media allows the queer community to express themselves through words, art, and blogs. From the Internet to television, queer media can be found everywhere. One just has to know where to look. Tumblr is a microblogging website that allows users to post content in the form of pictures, videos, artwork, and other content. Users, if they don’t want people to know who they are, can post what they want anonymously. There are blogs about cooking, political, art, travel, video games and technology, and lots of other blogs that would interest just about anyone. As a member of the website myself, I have managed to find and follow blogs that cater to my interests. Two of these interests happen to be anime and manga, so I follow a lot of blogs about these subjects in particular. During my time on these blogs, I noticed that each of them had fan-made artwork and stories about “Attack on Titan”, a manga that I am a huge fan of. But the stories and artwork all deal with some of the characters as couples. I also noticed that all of the couples are only with the male characters. When it comes to queer space on the Tumblr, there isn’t a limit to where people can post things nor is there a limit to what you can post. “Attack on Titan” is just one of many forms of media that have been given a queer narrative on Tumblr.
Before I jump into my project observations, I’d like to give a general overview of what “Attack on Titan” is about. The manga focuses on Eren Jaeger, his foster sister Mikasa Ackermann, and their friend, Armin Arlert. They live in a post-apocalyptic world where they must live inside of gigantic walls in order to survive. On the other side of these walls are the Titans, giant creatures who devour humans for pleasure rather than sustenance. With their population low, humans struggle to survive within the walls. After a section of the wall is breached, thousands of people are killed, including Eren’s mother. Eren, Mikasa, and Armin are left to take care of and watch out for each other. They join the military, training in order to fight back against the Titans and rescue humankind from their impending extinction.
The manga, from what I have observed, is completely devoid of any sexual content. What I mean is that the characters are not sexually involved with each other at all. The only thing that exists throughout the manga is the overlying theme of survival. However, this doesn’t stop fans of the highly popular manga and anime from making up stories of their own. As I said before, Tumblr is one of the main social media sites fans use to promote their desired pairings. The all-male pairings are as follows: Jean Kirstein and Marco Bott, Eren Jaeger and Levi Rivaille. Jean and Marco are always paired together because fans want to have them be more than just the close friends they were in the manga. These are the most common pair-ups, but I’ve also seen fans pair up characters such as Levi and Erwin, Armin and Eren, and even Jean and Armin. But the first two mentioned are the couples I’ve seen most often.
The fans create almost anything with the couples and post it onto Tumblr: fanfiction excerpts, artwork, manga that was drawn by themselves, pictures, short stories, and other things. I noticed that with each post, the characters were taken out of the original context and plot. Instead of killing Titans and fighting to survive, they are put into “domestic” settings with “domestic” plots. The couples are either married with children (fan-made stories don’t have to make sense, as I’ve observed), living in modern times, and participating in sexual acts with each other. Some fans also made posts where the characters were in skimpy outfits such as bunny costumes and dominatrix clothing. In short, most of the fan-made material I saw depicted the characters having sex and behaving differently compared to the manga. After spending a considerable amount of time on the website, I can say without a doubt that Tumblr is indeed a queer space that allows people to post many different queer narratives including “Attack on Titan”. Lipton’s reading could be applied to how the characters from the manga are being recreated by fans.
In Mark Lipton’s reading, “Queer Readings of Popular Culture: Searching to Out the Subtext”, Lipton talks about queer youth and their interpretation and manipulation of popular culture. He also talks about queer reading practices and how young people use these methods to interact with popular culture. Lipton argues that queer youth interact with popular culture and the media around them in order to discover who they are in terms of identity.
Further on in the reading, Lipton talks about queer youth recreating media texts: television shows, music, books, poetry, movies, and comic books (Lipton 167). He talks about his recreation of the Archie comics as well as his queer recreation of Jarhead (Lipton 164-166). He states, “The practice of queer identity production occurs in three important ways. Some directly sought to alter the intended meaning of a text as a result of their personal agendas- to bend interpretation from a heteronormative reading. These readers could find homosocial/sexual content present in almost any text. A second group of youth engaged in more specific practices of negotiation- with a specific text, a specific character, like my experience with Jughead. It seems these readers use both conscious and unconscious processes to fabricate an imagined text, a queer world, as a result of their (often isolated) sexuality” (Lipton 168). He goes on to talk about queer youth creating fantasy spaces as places of safety and acceptance among each other. In these spaces, queer youth can rewrite popular culture and media texts anyway they desire.
Tumblr, based off of Lipton’s reading, could definitely be called a queer space because of the way in which “Attack on Titan” is recreated by the fans. I’ve observed nothing but acceptance towards these fantasy stories and fantasy couples. My observations of the social media website Tumblr as well as the queer recreations of “Attack on Titan” has provided me with a better understanding of what a queer space is. Tumblr is just one of many spaces in which people, not just members of the queer community, can unite and recreate media texts with alternative narratives. “Attack on Titan” is just one of thousands of pop culture aspects being given a queer narrative by fans all over the world.
In conclusion, my observation of Tumblr as a queer space resulted in significant findings. In terms of media texts being given queer narratives, “Attack on Titan” was a clear example of that. Fans of “Attack on Titan” used male characters from the manga in a series of queer narratives. I can only assume that fans had a strong desire to see the characters in this way specifically. The characters were put into couples based on the fan’s individual desires and preferences. I’d like to add that “Attack on Titan” wasn’t the only media text that was given a queer narrative. On a slight side note, it is one of many texts that are given queer narratives by the fans. As the media industry continues to change, queer media continues to gain bigger ground in terms of representation and recognition. From social media sites to television, queer media is becoming increasingly popular. And as it continues to gain popularity and acceptance, the ways in which queer media is presented to us continues to change. I’m not sure how queer media will be in the future. But whatever it becomes, I hope society accepts it.
Tumblr usernames of people who posted (in order of pictures):