Censorship, sexuality, and the concept of indecency – Thoughts around Shimoneta

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Shimoneta, or Shimoneta to Iu Gainen ga Shonzai Shinai Taikutsu na Sekai, or A Boring World Where the Concept of Dirty Jokes Doesn’t Exist, was one of the few series from the past anime season to really grab my attention. While it on the surface seemed to be no more than another show bound to fall into the pool of mediocrity, by my own and a lot of other people’s big surprise this turned out to be one of the best gems of 2015 thus far. It was a show that truly came out of nowhere with its childish yet satirical content and spot-on social commentary, and turned into the highlight of my week for the past three months that it aired. In fact, I enjoyed it so much that I decided to write about it after its conclusion.

So what is Shimoneta about? The show takes place in a future Japan in which, as the title evidently tells, the concept of dirty jokes doesn’t exist. Due to the “Law for Public Order and Morals in Healthy Child-Raising”, coarse language as well as all other forms of perverted actions have been banned in the country for more than a decade. In this society, average high school student and our protagonist Tanukichi Okuma enrolls to Japan’s leading elite public morals school in order to reunite with his role model and big love, as well as the school’s student council president, Anna Nishikinomiya. It doesn’t take long though until he gets wrapped up in the schemes of student council member Ayame Kajou’s alter-ego Blue Snow, a terrorist who through her Anti-Societal Organization (SOX) sets out to expose all the wonderful dirtiness of the world to society and liberate it from its oppression. At hand, this may sound like an utterly ridiculous plot line, and it kind of is. Although one will see that there’s much more depth to the matter than what first meets the eye through a pretty simple understanding, which is that Shimoneta gets its point across by following two major rules: simplification and exaggeration. In a general sense, this show is a statement on censorship and the ridiculousness of banning certain words and actions for their “indecency” (or even seeing them as indecent to begin with). The brilliance of Shimoneta lies in that it tackles these themes by turning them up to maximum, but also boiling them down to an almost child-level of understanding. That way, the commentary at hand becomes as loud and clear as day.

As one might guess from the premise, the sex jokes are all over this thing, making it contain not just a lot of explicit content, but of the highly immature kind (that being said, the show is not for everyone). As far as mere comedic value goes this would actually have been enough for me, as I do have kind of a sweet tooth for shamelessly immature poop-comedy; I love Space Dandy, I love Beavis & Butthead and I love Filthy Frank. Although in my opinion this type of comedy is at its best when successfully combined with more serious topics, as these topics then become ridiculed through the work’s overall childish attitude. The main reason to why I liked The Interview so much was because of its shifting blend between political satire and penis jokes, and the general tone that came with that.

This is something that Shimoneta not only embodies, but in my opinion perfects by combining the penis jokes and the satire into one singular entity. Ayame, or Blue Snow (let’s stick to calling her Ayame from now on), stands up against society’s censorship through her terrorist acts by doing the exact thing that the authorities so strongly opposes against: she spreads indecency. As a result of this all the dirty jokes and nudity become part of the show’s political statement; every time Ayame pulls out a dirty word, hand gesture or porn magazine, it is an act of liberation.

So what is it that Ayame so passionately rebels against? What factors can be drawn from this extreme anti-perversion future society of Shimoneta? Well there were two major things that I got out of it; firstly that censorship makes people stupid, and secondly that this type of society ultimately leads to a lot of conflicting dilemmas, paradoxes and contradictions within its own morals. To get a deeper sense of this, let’s begin with looking at Anna’s character. Born and raised by her strict parents – both two influential political leaders largely responsible for enforcing the public morality laws – Anna Nishikinomiya starts off as the “ideal” citizen; she is as pure and innocent as one possibly can be, completely safe and unaware of all the perverseness of the world. It is here worth highlighting the word “unaware”, because what Anna’s personality essentially boils down to is ignorance; ignorance about sex, and all its components and surrounding elements. As such, she is the prime example on what this level of extreme censorship ultimately does to people: it makes them stupid, as they’re completely cut away from the realities of the world (and in this case realities about themselves as well). This also becomes incredibly ironic – if not even more problematic and contradictory – with the fact that Anna is the leader of the student council; a group set out to protect the school from all perverse activities. As is brilliantly showcased in episode 2 – in which Anna hangs up a picture in the student council office of a woman licking a mushroom that’s between her breasts, but she herself only reacting upon it as a pretty image – she can’t even identify a perverse phenomenon when it’s right in front of her, so how could she possibly do her job correctly? This consequently creates an even bigger paradoxical dilemma; if the world was filled with “ideal” citizens such as Anna, then nobody would even have a clue of what it is that’s being censored from them, so how can they then tell if it’s indecent when it actually hits them?

Later on we see an even more elaborate practice of this paradox in the form of Anna’s unexpected character development. After having been accidentally kissed by Tanukichi at the end of episode 3, Anna is suddenly introduced to the wonders of sexual activity, and by episode 4 her whole personality takes a 180°. She becomes like transformed into a yandere-type lunatic, constantly on the hunt for more of what triggered her newly discovered hormones – in other words Tanukichi’s body. At first, I was kind of disappointed that this change didn’t give Anna some sort of identity crisis in correlation with her idealistic persona, but then I realized how perfect sense it made in context to her aforementioned lack of sexual knowledge not to have such a crisis. As is highly evident even from her first attempted rape on Tanukichi, she doesn’t even see any distinction between her sexual desires and what she merely thinks of as “pure” and “right”. What essentially is lust, she speaks of as ”love”:

I am so sorry. I have never felt this way before. […] I have no idea how to act. This feeling must be love! The purest and rightest feeling in the world.

It becomes even more evident when Ayame suddenly walks into the room:

Oh my goodness! My best friend has walked in on me nurturing my love! Why do I feel so embarrassed by it? I thought I was doing something right and pure. Incomprehensible! Perhaps this is why father and mother have only given me vague explanations about love…

Here it is almost blatantly explained to us not only how she is unable to make a distinction between love and sexual lust, but also that this inability comes from how she was raised by her parents. What is even more blatant is the aforementioned paradox of it all; we see a woman desperately and shamelessly chasing after a guy’s penis like a maniac in a society that strictly prohibits such actions, but with the oblivious belief that it’s merely a pure and beautiful act of love – a belief that subsequently has been formed because of said society.

And to make the situation even more layered, we see yet another moralistic contradiction in the conflicting dilemma created within the relationship between Okuma and Anna after Anna’s so-called ”conversion”. Despite the love of his life literally hunting after him to get under his pants, Okuma cannot accept Anna’s want for him since the Anna that he loves and admires so much is the ”idealistically pure” woman she was before. Not only does Okuma’s love for Anna’s purity create a dilemma in that she is unreachable for him because of her purity, but the fact that Okuma chooses to deny Anna’s lust for him because of this (quite ridiculous) principle creates an all in all immense contradiction. While this may not have been explored enough to add more depth to Okuma as a character, it did present another perfect example on the absurdly paradoxical moral sense of Shimoneta’s society.

Now that we’ve gotten some insight on the society of Shimoneta and all its complications, I would like to turn away from the show for a moment by asking a question: is this society really that far from home? Of course, even though our culture is to a degree ingrained with censorship, it is undoubtedly not nearly on the same level as seen in Shimoneta. But as I’ve previously stated, this show gets its point across through two major rules: simplification and exaggeration. So it’s only a question of what it is that’s been exaggerated.

While we might not always take notice of it, our modern day society is very keen on protecting us from all the violent and sexually charged words and imageries constantly pouring out from media. We’ve all probably had our fare share of blurred nipples, genitals and middle fingers, beeped-out curse words and cut-outs of too violent movie scenes. We’ve also had stories upon stories about movies and music artists getting banned in countries for their provoking and/or controversial content – one of the most recent examples being Tyler, The Creator who got banned in the UK (which YouTube music reviewer Anthony Fantano later did a brilliant reaction to). Not to mention all the various kinds of warning signs being sticked onto media products, such as the PG-rating and the Parental Advisory tag, and who could forget the legendary Hays Code’s strict control over the content coming out of Hollywood during its early days.

But the fact that we censor, ban and put warning signs on indecent content is merely the tip of the iceberg. I’d like to go even deeper by discussing the actual social evaluation of these indecent words and actions – in other words, what it actually is that makes them indecent. As I see it, the reason to why certain words are seen as ”bad” is solely constructivistic. It is the negative charge created by our social norms that ultimately makes a ”bad” word bad; the word itself is in reality not hurting anybody, and the only reason to why we even have bad words to begin with is the fact that we as a society label them as such. Although the same thing can of course be said about all words, since the only thing that gives language meaning at all is our own communicational use of it. So even if the negative charge of certain words is the construction of social norms, the fact that they are negatively charged doesn’t change; some words are still discriminating no matter the reason. Despite that, I’d still hold my opinion that the words themselves aren’t harmful because of two reasons. The first one is that society is in constant change, and with that also its language; what is a bad word today may be considered completely harmless in ten years. The second reason is that there’s a big difference between discrimination and just ”indecency”; a single word alone has a very hard time doing anyone harm, and it’s only in context to a certain sentence – say, an accusation – that it has even the moderate possibility of being actually offensive. More often than not, bad words aren’t even directed at anybody but are simply general expressions, and thus it’s not even a question of hurting anyone but only that it has a socially bad tone to it. In other words it’s only a matter of social norms; it may cause a little awkward atmosphere at the dinner table, but it’s not actually harming anybody. So the dilemma regarding the balance between freedom of speech and discrimination isn’t really that big of an issue in this regard, since one side of it isn’t even relevant. (Of course, accusations is another part of the dilemma, but once again it is in these cases not the singular words that causes the discrimination.)

While freedom of speech is very important, that is only one end of the spectrum. The other end is something that I consider to be of far more importance: sexuality. We live (and have been for a very long time) in a culture where sex and all its surrounding aspects is almost considered something shameful, and because of that we tend to hide our own bodies in different ways. As visual artist Carolee Schneemann once said in an interview:

Culturally we are very anxious about how we smell, how we touch, how we feel, if we’re menstruating, the forbidden aspects of viscosity, lubricity, ejaculation, etc. These are all very typical Americana cosmetic issues requiring lots of soap and deodorant. It makes us question: How are you in your skin?

It’s as if we’re ashamed of our own physical selves and therefore puts on different layers such as clothes and hygiene to hide behind. This I think doesn’t have so much to do with low self-esteem, which it may sound like at first, but rather having to do with (just like with bad words) social norms. The fact of the matter is that both sex and nudity are very natural things, and the only thing making them filthy or even unhealthy is our cultural perception of them. To get a deeper sense of this, I think it would be good to return to the show, as Shimoneta contains some great examples regarding the topic. I’m first and foremost thinking of the character Hyouka Fuwa, a woman who spends most of her time in the school’s science lab trying to uncover the mystery of how babies are made. With the objective mindset of a scientist she is out to discover the truth about reproduction in a highly natural, biological and scientific manner, but is ultimately unable to do so because of how the activity of sexual intercourse is considered perverse by society. In a way, Hyouka and Ayame represents two different forms of opposition against the concept of “indecency”. Hyouka stands for the erasure of the shamefulness surrounding sex, and the will to see it for what it is; a natural act. Ayame on the other hand stands for the more rebellious approach, taking advantage of the negatively charged concept of “perversion” by turning it on its head and using it as a symbol for sexual freedom. This is greatly exemplified in episode one, where Hyouka for her scientific purposes documents two bugs mating – footage which then Ayame uses later on for her own perverted terrorism.

As said, the only thing determining the perversity of words, acts or objects is how much we as a society make them out to be. This couldn’t be more brilliantly exemplified than in episode eight, when the character Oboro Tsukimigusa gets introduced. Sent by the Decency Squad, Oboro assigns to the school as a Prefect to clean it up of all things perverse. During her inspection of the school gym we see her taking away objects such as basketball hoops, ping pong balls and volleyball nets, while giving ridiculously associative explanations: “This apparatus is constructed in a way that resembles contraceptive rubbers”, “There is a danger of these balls being shoved up a person’s butt”, and “It resembles a leg-garment that can bring out the latent lewdness in girls.” Meanwhile, Ayame stands in the background commenting on how this awakens new ideas for her own agenda: “[…] she’s opened my eyes! The world is full of wonderful things yet to be discovered!” Not only does this show how provocation doesn’t come from the objects themselves but merely from our own perception of them, but it also shows a wonderful irony in how, by declaring stuff as provoking, Oboro is contributing to rather than preventing the provocation itself.

Now, with the conclusion that the whole concept of perversion is a completely constructivist one solely created out of social values, I would like to return to Anna’s character – or more specifically “post-conversion” Anna – in an attempt to reach a solution to the problem at hand. As we’ve previously established, Anna is, due to her obliviousness formed through censorship, unable to make a distinction between lust and love. But from what we’ve discussed thus far, we can also conclude that such a distinction is only the product of social norms. Thus I think we can take something very useful from Anna’s character, namely the erasure of this socially evaluating distinction between ”lust” and ”love”. Through Anna we can see a mindset where sexual drives aren’t considered sinful but just as beautiful as love, and by doing so we can perhaps get closer to a society in which the taboo of dirty jokes, sex and nudity is removed. (Of course I’m merely speaking in hypothetical terms here; I wouldn’t say Anna’s character has the actual potential of changing the world or anything.) The dilemma here though lies in that this approach is based off of the very thing that it opposes against, so I’m wondering if there isn’t another way to get to the same mindset – one that doesn’t require this process of nullification through obliviousness.

The ultimate solution might actually be lying in the opposite: knowledge, or more specifically knowledge through education. A general theme in Shimoneta seems to be how the youth of society gets brainwashed by a strictly censored education system, as we see high school students having no knowledge about sex at all. Here we can draw another very strong parallell to our own society; the one major argument for censorship of sex, violence and bad words seems to be oriented around youth. We’ve all heard the talk about how we must “protect the children” from all the world’s perverted material, as if sex and dirty language would be harmful to them in any way. Both our and Shimoneta‘s society seems to carry the assumption that young people due to their developmental stage don’t know their own good and thus aren’t ready for the “dangers” of sexual imagery and bad language. As Sofia Nishikinomiya says in her speech in episode four: ”Today’s youth are psychologically immature, filled with dirty thoughts and are unable to control their bad feelings. We adults have a duty to guide you to a higher moral ground.”

This is what I think ultimately has to be turned around, and what Ayame ultimately fights against (when she exposes her fellow high school students to various sexual images, she even talks about “educating” them). Misinforming teenagers, or not informing them at all, about sex and its surrounding elements isn’t protecting them in any way – if anything it’s hurting them, as they have to go through the radical process of puberty without any knowledge of what’s happening to them. Sex education is a fairly new invention, but is in my opinion one of the greatest things to have happened to school systems around the world. Instead of following some conservative values on sex as being a taboo topic around children and teenagers, we should inform them about these things, because the fact that they are a natural part of every human being is something we can’t get away from. And it’s only through continued knowledge about and attention to all things regarding sex that we can remove its shameful tag, and perhaps also the concept of perversion with it.

One last thing that I wanted to cover before wrapping this up is the censoring of the show itself. Because the show is to a very large degree censored; every dirty word is replaced by a sound effect and many provoking images are covered up by stickers. Here the connection between Shimoneta‘s society and our own couldn’t be more apparent, as the mere fact that the show itself is censored strongly proves how relevant its subject matter is. Just looking at TV anime we can see a heavy infection of censorship as of late, with cheap light beam-, smoke- or shadow-effects covering up the screen sometimes to the point that you barely know what’s going on. It’s kind of disrespectful actually, both against the artist and the audience, and I’m guessing it’s just one example from a whole media society bound to heavy censoring (which in itself makes me wonder if not Shimoneta is just a giant social commentary on modern day Japan). But even though the fact that Shimoneta is censored strongly proves its own point, I’d say it runs deeper than that.

The intention of the recognizable beep-sound that we so commonly hear covering up the bad words on public television was initially, of course, to make sure that these words didn’t reach the audience’s ears. Although nowadays it has rather gained the opposite effect; instead of hiding the words it is now highlighting them, and the beeping sound effect that we’re all familiar with has almost become a comedy trope. This I feel was kind of bound to happen too; hearing a sudden, high-pitched ”beep” in the middle of a movie or a TV-show is very attention-grabbing, much more so I’d say than just hearing the words that the sound is covering. When you hear that sound, you know with certainty that a bad word just occurred, so instead of doing its job and hiding the word it almost works more as an audio cue similar to that of sitcom laughs. Once again we see how the attempt of covering up bad words, objects or actions by blatantly declaring them as “bad” only gains them more attention. This I think the creators of Shimoneta recognized and used to their advantage, by instead of covering every bad word with the usual ”beep” they added in some funny and very fitting sound effects. Thus they managed to use the censorship as a way of enhancing the comedy rather than diminishing it, while at the same time reinforcing the show’s message.

So those are essentially my thoughts and reflections around the show Shimoneta to Iu Gainen ga Shonzai Shinai Taikutsu na Sekai. In conclusion, I think it did a great job at tackling topics around censorship in relation to sex in a very clear and accurate manner, while at the same time doing it with a wonderfully childish attitude. I will admit that it wasn’t perfect; while the actual subject matter and how it was handled was nothing but excellent, everything else was honestly kind of bland – both the characters and the visual aspects. Also, I felt like the fine line between awesome and ridiculous that the show was constantly balancing on sometimes was crossed a little too far to the latter. But for what it did, I loved Shimoneta, and it’s a show that I will remember for a long time coming.

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