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Why Studying Manga and Anime Matters: Faculty Spotlight with Dr. Sharalyn Orbaugh


My name is Sharalyn Orbaugh and I’m a professor of Asian Studies My expertise is modern Japanese literature and what I research is how narratives work to change people’s lives and their ways of thinking. I first began learning Japanese when I was an exchange student and I was in a very small island called Awaji-shima. My host family was so great and even the people who were staring at me all the time were so nice. And so interested in who I was. So, all of that made me want to learn the language so that I would understand better how I fit within their understanding of the world. I have two projects that I think have been important to me, So, the first one about contemporary stuff is a just an attempt to think through what kind of work popular culture can perform in the world. Can it change people’s minds? and how does that happen? I focused a lot on kind of queer representations of gender, sexuality, or ontology, like monsters or cyborgs and that kind of thing, to try to figure out how popular culture helps up draw the line between the human and the non-human. And then the other one, looks at a popular culture form called “Kamishibi” And it used both pictures and person performing script it was used very extensively in propaganda, in Japan, to try to make people who were on the disadvantaged side of things try to make them support the war. And then, what we can learn from that, about how governments or large organizations convince people to do things not in their best interests. Because a lot of my classes have to deal with that fundamental question of where is – where do we draw the line between what is human and what is not? what is socially acceptable and what is not? what is livable and what kind of lives are not really livable. I would like them to take away from the classes that question and continue to be aware of it and to be asking themselves – both when they are reading literature, consuming popular culture, or in their real lives – where do we draw that line, and why? And why is it that some people are pushed outside of that line? or some creatures are pushed outside of that line? I’ve taken it for granted all my life, that stories are fundamental to the way we understand our lives and the way we create our identities. So now, I guess what I am trying to do is to make it clear to people, who read my work, what kinds of changes can happen. either for the negative, or in the positive gender-bending manga for example. My younger-self and myself now have kind of different goals, but I am happy with where I’ve ended up.

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